Monday, December 21, 2015

The longest night

Happy New Year!

Last night we rode Santa's holiday train

The winter solstice this year occurs on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 04:49 UTC. At the moment, I'm in Portland Oregon so that means the solstice happens here today, the 21st, at 8:49 PM. For me, the winter solstice marks the end of the old year and the beginning of the new so .... wishing all a good new year.

Baby Chance wasn't so sure about Santa
but he liked the candy cane, his first.

The train wasn't going very fast. Cyclists were passing us on the bike path that follows the tracks but it was enough to make for a thrilling ride and shaky cam photos.

Off into the longest night

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Somebody cares

Love Song to the Earth

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Shelby morning update

Nobody likes Shelby. Nobody, that is, except M. Lee. M. Lee is Shelby's one and only advocate here at the Bird Park. This morning the magpies refused to come down from the trees for breakfast and that can only mean that either Shelby is lurking somewhere nearby or he recently killed somebody and everyone is still spooked.

Of course Shelby has a right to eat. That's M's argument, circle of life, it's only fair, a hawk's gotta eat. Mine is that the Bird Park is not a natural environment. Peanuts, tiny puppy kibble and piles of seed do not naturally appear every morning in the Nevada desert. To Shelby the Bird Park is a fast food joint. Next Bubba will appear, then Hank and Tootsie Pie, Mable and Jack and in about a week they will have eaten everyone. So I run Shelby off.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Local news at 11:05, or if you prefer, 23:05

Barcelona street 01
Barcelona street

Moving on. Not that I have anything particular to say this evening. I'm just tired of looking at the last post. What did I do today? Mostly organized stuff, cleaned things. Printed out some notes I took this summer that I many eventually work into a poem. And I repaired a painting I did about 25 years ago. At some point it had picked up cardboard fuzz or something. Whatever it was I sponged it off with q-tips.

And I had a nice, long phone conversation with my daughter-in-law this afternoon. Seems Baby Chance is fully committed to walking now and, in fact, insisted on it during their mile+ forest hike today. By the time we see him in December I expect he'll be unstoppable. That'll be fun.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Tofurky Day

I posted this image on Imgur. If anything it will probably cause a shitstorm. Go figure. Anyway, Happy Gratitude day to everyone.

View post on

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Local news at 2:11

It's snowing. That explains why so many birds dropped by for breakfast this morning. Even Plonk's pigeon brigade stopped in, including one very lovely, all white bird. Nobody is there now as I write this but I'm sure the quail are cozy under the very bushy twin lilacs. Anyway, it's not very cold but it is sticking and kind of pretty.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bird Park November update

The little birds showed up today. Like I said, it takes them about a week to catch on that I'm back. Finches, they're not the brightest birds in the world. Now everyone's here, Maggie and her tiding, the quail, the doves, the finches and sparrows and Penny Robin. News travels fast. I put out apples a couple of days ago and Penny Robin came this morning. Robins love apples.

But wait a minute. The pigeons haven't come by yet. They're part of the gang. And Minerva, Charlie and the rest of the murder have yet to put in an appearance. I would love to see Charlie again. Before we started our trip last spring, he and I were beginning to bond. Last spring he established a secret meeting place so that he could get his very own peanuts and eat them in peace. Maybe this winter, once we finally settle in for awhile, we can pick up where we left off.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Holiday turn around

We're back in Nevada now. We got back to the states a month ago but went right to Oregon to visit family. Big changes. Baby Chance is starting to walk. Thea is now in first grade. Leo is in pre-K and Frank started pre-school. Of course it was wonderful seeing everyone but the gkids absolutely enchant me. We'll return in a few weeks for a holiday visit. Among other things we'll get to see Thea be a princess soldier in "The Children's Nutcracker", her first ballet, and afterwards we'll take all the kids on the Portland Holiday Express.

In all, we were gone seven months but I was certain that Maggie Magpie would show up at the Bird Park the next morning. I put the seeds, peanuts and tiny puppy kibble out and indeed she was. The surprising thing was that she was not alone. Lots of magpies came plus some blackbirds and this morning the quail were out there as well. The little birds haven't showed up yet. Generally it takes them about a week to catch on. When they do, the Bird Park will be in full swing. It's good to be back but M. Lee is already planning the next adventure.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gothic morning though a dirty window

This was this morning.

It's about midnight now and we're headed for the airport and back to the US. Travel time will be, in all, about 48 hours.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bosnia's Old Bridge

View of the bridge (Stari Most, 1558) .... taken from the top of the minaret (1617) at the Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque (1552).

View from the bridge .... the mosque and minaret are just left of center.

Sadly, after two days of shelling, the original bridge was deliberately destroyed by Croat forces in 1993 during the civil war. The commanding officer who ordered its destruction was tried as a war criminal and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Thanks to an international coalition, an exact reconstruction of the bridge began in 2001 and completed in June of 2004. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Modern art at London's Tate Modern
Life or art? Who imitates who?
Art installation at Tate Modern
August 20, 2015
George Monbiot, author and blogger at the UK Guardian, recently launched the hashtag #extremecivilisation and invited suggestions. Here, for your reading pleasure, is an excerpt from his blog at the Guardian listing some of the modern breakthroughs by today's geniuses which are sure to make our lives better and easier on planet Earth.

There may be flowing water on Mars. But is there intelligent life on Earth?
~George Monbiot

A couple of weeks ago I launched the hashtag #extremecivilisation, and invited suggestions. They have flooded in. Here are just a few of the products my correspondents have found. All of them, as far as I can tell, are real.

An egg tray for your fridge that syncs with your phone to let you know how many eggs are left. A gadget for scrambling them – inside the shell. Wigs for babies, to allow “baby girls with little or no hair at all the opportunity to have a beautifully realistic hair style”.The iPotty, which permits toddlers to keep playing on their iPads while toilet training. A £2,000 spider-proof shed. A snow sauna, on sale in the United Arab Emirates, in which you can create a winter wonderland with the flick of a switch. A refrigerated watermelon case on wheels: indispensable for picnics – or perhaps not, as it weighs more than the melon. Anal bleaching cream, for… to be honest, I don’t want to know. An “automatic watch rotator” that saves you the bother of winding your luxury wrist-candy. A smartphone for dogs, with which they can take pictures of themselves. Pre-peeled bananas, in polystyrene trays covered in clingfilm; Just peel back the packaging.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cool hermitage

15th century hermitage in cliff face

Fabulous 16th century hermitage built into the cliff face in Marjan Park - Split, Croatia

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Supermoon over the Seven Seas

Swami and Minerva on the Adriatic Sea
Adriatic sea from Split's bell tower
We're going to miss tonight's supermoon eclipse. It happens here in Croatia at the very inconvenient time of 3:47 AM tomorrow morning and I just can't seem to talk myself into getting up at three to climb the hill in the middle of the park to see it. I'm sure I'll kick myself when I see all the photographs in the morning. But we are hoping to see the supermoon rise over the Adriatic Sea this evening. The Riva promenade in front of Diocletian's palace is right on the water. That should be a good place to watch moon rise if it's not cloudy.

As for the palace itself, Diocletian built it some 1,700 years ago. It was his retirement home after stepping down as Emperor of Rome. Supposedly, he just wanted to kick back and garden but, being the iron-fisted bigoted bastard he was, retirement didn't stop him from having people put to death because he didn't like their religion. I think a lot of people must have been relieved when, after five years of "retirement", he died but Romans did built to last. Sections of his palace stand to this day and are the main attraction for the flood of tourists who visit here. We've spent the last couple of weeks exploring it and the rest of the jumbled maze of streets, stairs and buildings built into, on, over, under, against and often with the enormous stone blocks that were once the palace. The ancient city of Split is a small but amazing place.

So.... on with the night.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Late at night....

Late at night and almost beyond the edge of human hearing, giraffes hum....

Via New Scientist

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Happy Autumn Equinox 2015

Event Time in UTC, Time Zone

8:22 AM
Wednesday, September 23, 2015

That's 10:22 AM here in Croatia.

Once again, they are saying that tomorrow it is supposed to rain. In any case, it's nice today so gotta go. Have a good one.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Worlds within worlds

Split, Croatia

Our first day here we walked from our apartment to the water and thought, small town. Got it! On our second day here we entered the old city, a maze of Roman, medieval and 19th century overlays. Okay, it's not huge but, if you take a lot of photos, stop to read all the plaques and get an ice cream cone... before you know it, you're deeply into the layers and layers of history wrapped within it's walls.

Ok. Day three. As usual, gotta go. Photos to follow

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Amsterdam good-bye

Twilight in Amsterdam's red light district
Twilight in Amsterdam
red lights are brothels

We leave Amsterdam this morning and, rainy and cold as it's been lately, we're ready. I'm not exactly going to miss this place but I won't forget it either.

We did get to Rembrandt's house. Swami calls him Zoon, which means son in Dutch, but I think he just uses it as a nickname for Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Anyway, Rembrandt is one of my favorite painters so going there was on my must do list. M. Lee wasn't so impressed because the house is something of a "George Washington's axe", i.e. same axe... just with a new handle and a new axe head. But Swami and I had a great time. It was, after all, where Rembrandt lived. The location is the same. The light coming in the windows is the same light (more or less given pollution etc). There are paintings of his on the walls. But the tubes of paint, easels, and presses in the studios and the furniture, curtains, bedding, pots and pan etc. in the rest of the house are all props. Rembrandt went bankrupt and had to sell everything he owned to satisfy his debtors. However the Dutch are, if nothing else, great accountants. The auctioneers left a list of everything he had, down to the smallest paintbrush. From that, the museum did a good job of recreating the set. But we all liked seeing his etchings done on handmade Japanese paper. They were on exhibit in a less visited part of the house.
Rembrandt's house - Amsterdam
Me and Swami
at Rembrandt's house

Above all else, his house was a great studio with different rooms for different endeavors, an artist's dream. And yes, it's tawdry of me, but I did enjoy visiting the kitchen where, it is said, his outraged mistress threw pots and pans and screamed at him when he broke up with her.

Of course, this wasn't the only place we visited during our stay here but it's all the time I have at the moment to write about it. But I will say this. Visually, Amsterdam is a city right out of one of my childhood books. The houses are narrow and tall and lean on each other as, slowly over the centuries, they sink into the wetlands bog upon which they are built. The fisherman should never have built anything here but fishing huts but it's too late now.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Up next, modern art

Today we're headed to the modern art museum. I am ready for a break from the medieval world. Yes, the art itself, for it's own sake, is interesting. Some of it's even good. And it's interesting to watch how techniques and point of view evolved over the centuries but, holy god! They do love their martyrs. It gets oppressive, all the images of beatific people sitting in pots of boiling oil or water, being flayed, beheaded, hung or stabbed to death by ragged dudes with long swords. Funny. I haven't seen much on the subject of the Christians racing through the world in search of their bullshit "holy grail" ie another power grab murderfest, or whatever other discrimination of the "other" they can get away with, courtesy of church and state. Same old same old, ISIS to Kim Davis. Even if the art at the Amsterdam modern art museum is as ridiculous as the crap we saw in Ghent at SMAK I don't care. Bring on the black paintings and metal shavings hanging from the wall. I'm ready for a laugh!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Notes on Amsterdam

I don't have time or energy after a long day to do a proper post but here are some notes.

Swami liked the yellow boat
Swami has his eye on the little yellow boat

We are staying across the IJ River (eye river) from the part of Amsterdam known as the old city. It's the area dating from the 17th century through which the grid of canals was built. M. tells me that Amsterdam began as a favorite fishing hole. I can imagine how that went. First some guys just come to fish. Eventually their wives start bringing them lunch, then decide to set up fire pits and, because it rains a lot, shelters and so on. Eventually they start digging the canals to drain the land. Today the canals are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not the city itself. Some of the buildings look like they are slowly sinking into the ground, judging by the way they lean this way and that but, if they are, it's only happening over centuries. 

Also, if you are a pedestrian, WATCH IT! The bikes whiz by like bullets. Pedestrians are the bottom of the pecking order here. When planning this trip, we thought we'd rent bikes in Amsterdam but hell no! They all ride like devils so no one can also watch out for ice cream eating, selfie stick waving tourists. I've nearly been mowed down twice and didn't have either.

Good advice in Amsterdam
In Amsterdam, bikes whiz by like bullets.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Swami and friends

The whole world is on a first name basis with Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn but Swami calls him Zoon.  He tells me they go way back.

Swami and Rembrandt, Rijks Museum, Amsterdam
Swami and his old friend Zoon meet again
at Rijks Museum - Amsterdam

This little fellow looked really weary walking around saying hello to everyone at a kid's carnival in Bruges...

Swami and Robot
Roby working at a kid's carnival

... then he came upon his old friend, Swami.

Swami and Robot meet again
Old friends meet again

"A friend is, as it were, a second self." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fit for a king?

Ghent, Belgium

Touring a Count's house in Ghent, Belgium
Touring the Count's house
For an eccentric like me, the backstage lives of footnote characters is the best part of history. Their stories can offer a roundabout peek into color main players either lack or do their best to hide. So, though I respect the perfection and importance of the van Eyck brother's masterpiece The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which was at the top of our must see list here in Ghent, visiting the home of Count d'Hane de Steeuhuysein was more of an adventure. According to our guide, here's the deal.....

In 1815, when Napoleon re-conquered Paris, Louis XVIII fled for his life. Of course, he wanted to go to buzzy London but he owed too much money there so he went to Ghent and stayed with the Count instead. The house was not exactly fit for a king but definitely better than what Napoleon had in mind for him. The entrance was covered and included a marble stairs mounting to a large reception hall leading to a sweeping staircase. And, of course, there was a music room, a ballroom with angels peeking down from the clouds and the Count immediately put his servants at the King’s disposal.

French Kind Henry VIII's chair - Ghent, Belgim
Louis's chair in Ghent
Now Louis XVIII was very fat so using the stairs was out of the question. He took over the downstairs and the Count, his wife and their three children stayed upstairs. They were, basically, hostages of the king. Lucky for everyone, it only took the Duke of Wellington one hundred days to kick Napoleon back out of Paris after which the King made a hasty return. For his service and hospitality, the Count anticipated a generous reward … a better title, money, perhaps both, maybe more. Instead Louie sent him some plates and bowls. Nothing more. They are still there in the house, on display in a glass case… a few big, mostly white plates and bowls. They look like something you might see on sale in a charity shop.

Our guide at
the Count's house
Another detail I found interesting was that, while there, the King took his meals in a room facing the street and the giant windows were thrown open so the town people could stand outside and watch him eat. They did not come because they loved him. The people of Ghent did not want a French king but they did come to watch him eat. I can't blame them. Who would pass on the chance to watch a king eat? Did he wear white gloves and a plumed hat? Did he savor tiny bits of food from the tip of a silver fork or did he slurp and burp his way through a greasy feast? The guide didn’t say but I am intrigued by the image of the king gorging himself by candlelight as a crowd stares in at him from the dark street.

Our guide also explained an intriguing detail about the absurd, billowing, multi-layered, tightly corseted clothing women wore in those days. When dressed in this manner, a woman's personal servant was near at hand, prepared to slip a portable toilet under her dress because pulling up all those layers and layers of cloth, hoops and petticoats and sitting down on a regular toilet was an impossible task. Even at night, her servant was nearby. We saw where they both slept, the maidservant tucked in a cubbyhole above her mistress’s bed. Seems that privacy, as we know it, was unheard of.

Flaky angels
Of course everyone from that time is long dead and, over the centuries, the house itself fell into disrepair. Walls were added dividing it into separate addresses and even the grand staircase was moved forward to fit into a smaller apartment. One of the rooms along the street was turned into a pharmacy and the angels in the ballroom began flaking paint on the floor below. However, in recent years the city of Ghent bought and revived the old place. Divider walls were knocked out and rooms restored to their original shape and size. The stairs were returned to their original position and the entrance to the pharmacy was replaced by windows duplicating those through which people used to watch the king take his meals. The angels in the ballroom are still flaky but that's angels isn't it? Always delicate and unruly.

We're now in Amsterdam for the next two weeks.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thea said

 Today's quote from my six-year old granddaughter,
"Kids are totally cool, but not grown-ups.  The only reason grown-ups are cool is cause they're so easy to annoy. You can frustrate them and then they put you in your room and you get to be by yourself for awhile. And then you can make plans to run away and get all the candy in the world. I've gone bankrupt for candy."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

UK walkabouts

Wild parakeet - Greenwich Park, London
One of the wild
green parakeets of London
(Note: I've gone a little wild with the formatting this time so please leave a comment if this layout doesn't work on your screen. Thanks.)

Here's a list of the main places we've visited, in order since Bath, with a few photos and notes thrown in for good measure.

Chair and photo of
1960s "middling class" with
photo of parallel world look-alikes.
Parallel world look-alikes

Geffrye Museum of the Home
is housed in a building that was  built in 1714 as an almshouse for the poor. A series of period rooms along the hall that is the spine of the building allow visitors a peek at the homes of the 'middling class' from 17th century to the present day. In the modern section, reduced to one photo and a chair, I came face to face with a 1960s version of myself and two of my children. The likenesses between them and us was mind-blowing, definitely time shifting, parallel world look-alikes.

The Queen's Horse Guard.
The horse didn't like it
and neither did the guard.
Buckingham Palace and, of course, no photos allowed. The tickets were pricey but seemed like a must-do, given that we've been hearing about the place all our lives. We were prepared for it to be a total bust but it wasn't. In fact, it basically  fulfilled my wildest childhood fantasy of what a palace should be. And, having recently visited Brighton Pavilion, we had fun identifying treasures Queen Victoria had taken from there. Also, the highly theatrical, over-the-top decor of the music room and other less formal chambers, designed by George IV's personal architect John Nash was, simply put, mind-blowing. It was also interesting to see photos of the Queen and Prince Philip with the Obamas and other notables in the room where the state dinners are held. As for the photo of Swami and the Horse Guard, don't blame him. I put him up to it. He was every bit as uncomfortable as the horse. It was stupid of me to get so close and the guard let me know it with a masterful withering glance. Blocks later, I still felt like an asshole.

The Reckless Sleeper
by René Magritte

Tate Modern - We both really enjoyed the Poetry and Dream exhibit. It had works from some of my favorite painters, like René Magritte. And then there was the inevitable black painting and the white painting, some garbage, a broken chair suspended from the ceiling, an unmade bed in a corner, and even two sacks of sand all posing as art. I could not, did not contain myself.

"Art"at Tate Modern
Unmade bed
Stuff "art"
Tate Modern, Britain

Our art crawl through Europe has led to some interesting discussions about the current state of art or "art". This morning M. sent me two good links to articles on the subject, one at 3quarksdaily and the other at Commentary Magazine, How Art Became Irrelevant. Both are definitely worth a read if you're interested in the subject.

 Dotted line marks old Prime Meridian.
Solid white line marks the revised Prime Meridian.

Toeing the old
Prime Meridian line

Greenwich to see the new Prime Meridian Line as it has moved 330 ft (101 metres) to the east. The usual crowd of people was there lined up to be photographed straddling the old line where (we thought) East met West. Then we walked over to the  approximate new place where, using modern GPS technology, researchers have determined 0° longitude actually runs. According to London's Daily Mail, "it now cuts across Greenwich Park near a bin". Also we saw several deer and lots of crows, seagulls, magpies, squirrels, the lovely green wild parakeets, a grassy mound that's supposedly covering Roman ruins and walked the tunnel under the Thames.

Minerva dreaming - Greenwich Park, London
Minerva contemplating the crows
in Greenwich Park

Swami and Rembrandt
at Kenwood House

Walked Hampstead Heath and visited Kenwood English Heritage House, a 17th-century country manor where we saw, among other paintings, a self-portrait by Rembrandt and works by Hals, Turner and Vermeer. Swami especially liked the Rembrandt and the Hals.

Winchester Cathedral  Of course, the cathedral is ancient and grand. Here we took the tour. Our guide, one of several volunteers, was wonderful. She delighted us all with fascinating, quirky details about the history of the cathedral. The whole town of Winchester is built on a peat bog so, over the centuries, the massive cathedral was slowly sinking into the ground. In the early 1900s, it was in danger of collapse so a deep-sea diver by the name of William Walker was hired to do the repairs. Walker's job was to go down below the cathedral's base and find solid ground. At that point, bags of concrete were lowered down to him and, every day for six years, he worked in the total and utter dark far below ground, building a foundation. One hundred years later, Winchester Cathedral still sits firm on the foundation he built and the head from his diver's suit, a photo and plaque telling the story hold a place of honor within.

Swami and Minerva enjoying a sunbeam
at Almshouse of Noble Poverty
The Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Nobel Poverty is not a hospital in today's sense of the word but a medieval poor house also located in Winchester. Known as "England's oldest and most perfect almshouse", it still functions as established around 1135 by Henry de Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror. Noticing that we were a little underwhelmed by the grounds, one of the Brothers invited us to a tour of his quarters. He explained that being chosen to live at the Noble Almshouse depends "entirely on how you look, how you fit in. That's it". He started out at St. Cross as a porter and had been working there for about three years when a resident died and he was invited to become a Brother. I can see why. He was a gentleman, a singer and a member of the choir. He was also a cat lover. Several photos of his cat and cat decor brightened his tiny apartment. But the Brothers live a very simple life at the Noble Almshouse. They are not allowed pets so, these days, his beloved cat Effie lives with the Bishop. My memory of him is both sweet and sad.

Cambridge - King's College Chapel and Fitzwilliam Museum

King Henry VIII - Cambridge
King Henry VIII
in Cambridge

King's College Chapel was built by a succession of kings but Henry VIII finished it in 1515 and, for me, his presence overshadowed the rest. That's probably because I have fairly limited knowledge of English history. In any case, it is an amazing place though it seems more a tribute to kingly glory than heavenly. Ok, a massive Ruben's masterpiece hangs over the alter but the alter itself is otherwise quite plain. And I wonder if anyone has ever counted all the swords, crowns and other royal symbols chiseled into the towering walls, pillars and ceiling.

"At the Cafe" Degas - 1876
"At the Cafe" Degas - 1876
Fitzwilliam Museum
And then there's the mile high wooden screen that separates the nave from the alter Henry had installed to celebrate his marriage to Anne Boleyn. It's stained dark red brown, I am sad to report, by ox blood and, originally contained a carving of Anne's head and another of a woman hanging by her hair. In Henry's day, hanging a woman by her hair until it separated from her scalp was common punishment for I don't know what. M. Lee suggested perhaps for cooking a bad meal. The portrait of the woman hanging by her hair remains but Henry commanded the portrait of Anne's head be removed after he had her beheaded at the Tower of London.

The Fitizwilliam was nice but only a few pieces really stood out. "At the Cafe" was my favorite but, when it comes to Degas, I'm easy.

Me, Lee and Swami
on the Tames at Limehouse
Walked along Regents Canal to the Thames we were amazed to see all the narrowboats. Until now, we didn't know about the labyrinth of waterways running through the island. There are some 2200 navigable miles of canals and hundreds, if not thousands, of hand operated locks to move the narrowboats up and over hills on their way through the countryside at 2 to 4 miles an hour. Very cool if you're not in a hurry.

Frank and the walkie talkie

I'm trying to finish this while sitting at St. Pancras International. We're leaving England now and headed to Ghent, Belgium, where we'll be for the next week. Ok. M. Lee, Swami and Minerva are here with me but this morning I feel a bit the way my grandfather must have felt on his seven voyages around the world, alone and far far away.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Poetry Unplugged

London - Poetry Unplugged's open mic night tiny basement room
Poetry Unplugged's cave
Poetry Unplugged is the only open mic I've read at in London. It's not because I like the room which is the tiny basement of the Poetry Cafe. Yes, it has a certain funky charm but it also gets very crowded, stuffy and extremely hot. And it's not because everything read at Poetry Unplugged, or any open mic, spoken word or slam event, is wonderful because it's not. It's because Poetry Unplugged is early enough, it's not held in a shitty, noisy bar and, for the most part, the people who show up to read there are not pretentious dicks who swagger through their own reading then leave.

The credit goes to the MC, poet Niall O'Sullivan. He does a wonderful job of keeping things interesting, fair, fun and moving. That said, included below is a review of the event which, to my delight and his credit, Niall posted on his own blog.
One of the worst evenings I’ve ever endured was at an event called Poetry Unplugged. About 50 people were crammed into a sweaty basement, all perched expectantly on orange plastic chairs. How nice, I thought, to see such an enthusiastic audience for poetry. As one figure after another leapt up to read their doggerel, the truth dawned. They were all here not to listen, but to perform. They would suffer each other's poetic rants, but only for their moment of glory. A woman in a red wig recited a poem about her vagina. A man in a blue jumper did a lengthy lament on lost love. It was a very long night.
Duh. Of course people are there to read but it's not the feeding frenzy this nube describes. Generally people are pretty open to each other at readings but come on! Why wouldn't that include a little quid pro quo? Yet, for all the years I've read at these things, I am still prone to what is sometimes breath stopping shyness. At the reading two weeks ago it hit me full force. By my second poem I basically caught up with my breath but that night I never fully got into the words.

Uncle Monkey, Ugly Bear, Clarence and NaNo manuscript
Uncle Monkey, Ugly Bear and Clarence
discussing my NaNo manuscript
This week I was more at ease. The difference? Before reading I acknowledged my nervousness to the audience. Simple, right? No. When I got to the mic it was all I could do to glance at people and whisper, "I'm really nervous". Still it was enough to break the tension. It also helped I read Jazz which is more a performance piece than anything else.

I extracted it from the NaNoWriMo "novel" I wrote a few years ago. In fact, thus far these four paragraphs are all I have used from that entire 50,000 word manuscript. No worries. I may even write a second one some November. I loved banging through a month of crazy intensity, 2000 words a day, the world be damned, though no doubt it helped that I had zero expectations and no plot. I naturally share the NaNo point of view, "No plot? No Problem!". 

The cafe is now closed until the first of September. We leave London in about a week so that's it for me this time around.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Time travels and so did the Romans

Growing up in America, old was anything over 100 years. Over the last ten+ years I have had to seriously revise my thinking. But nothing has so changed my point of view as this trip, beginning in Spain where we saw early human artifacts dating back 1.3 million years.

We were not invited in for tea

Last week we visited four more historic sites just outside of London. The first was Canterbury, an area that has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

The Candle marks were Thomas Beckett
was murdered by followers of King Henry in 1170.

Of course, like every country around or near the Mediterranean in the first century, one day the Romans showed up and built their customary grid, theatre, forums and baths. By 597, Canterbury even had the beginnings of its Catholic abbey.

Swami at Canterbury Cathedral, Great Britian
Canterbury Cathedral today

And, of course, about 1000 years later (1534), Henry VIII kicked the Catholics out, appointed the first Archbishop of Canterbury and made Canterbury the Rome of his newly minted Church of England. These days the cathedral and the entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Roman tiles with paw prints and thrown stone
Paw prints and a thrown stone?
Did the potter  throw the rock at the dog?

Another day we took a train to St. Albans, not a UNESCO site, but like most of Europe, built on Roman ruins. On a walkabout, we came upon the Verulamium Museum and what a pleasant surprise. It's small, but very well curated, and full of treasures from Roman Verulamium and medieval St. Albans upon which the St. Albans of today is built. My sentimental favorites were the tile and potsherds with paw prints left by dogs when the clay was still wet, about a 1,000 years ago. Judging by the deep impression of this dog's paw, I'd say the drawing accompanying the sherd is pretty accurate.

Cardinal Wolsey exposed - St. Albans Cathedral, UK
Click to read
St. Albans side of the story

Wikipedia, generally my go-to site for unbiased information, let me down here. Their mention of Cardinal Wolsey's church reforms is shockingly different than the detailed account displayed on a wall inside St. Albans cathedral. There, in plain and bitter language, a much different tale is told.

Swami and friends at St. Albans
Swami and some old acquaintances

On the brighter side, the 800 year-old street market had the purse I've been looking months for and only £10. Plus Swami ran into some old acquaintances though I wasn't too sure about the middle guy.

Abney Park Cemetary 409 - London
Graves in the gloom

We also spent an afternoon wandering around one of London's "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries, Abney Park. Opened in 1840, compared to the Romans, it's new but the graves are disappearing beneath a wilderness of nettles, blackberry bramble, ivy and trees right in the middle of London. It's deliciously forlorn. I loved it. M. Lee not so much.

Village of Bath, UK
Village of Bath
the low, roofless building
without a roof is the Roman baths

And lastly we visited the village of Bath, so named for the thermal hot springs baths established there in the first century by, you know, the Romans. Except for the occasional newer home, Bath remains as it was rebuilt in the 18th century, a peaceful little Georgian village so, along with the Roman baths, the entire area is a World Heritage Site.

Roman bath - Village of Bath, Great Britian
Romans bath at Bath,
one room among many

Being such accomplished engineers, the Romans get credit for developing the springs although this was a sacred site for the Celts almost a thousand years earlier. But for all their Roman expertise, even at the sacred Bath, the occasional passing critter managed to leave a paw print or two in the tile.

Ancient Roman bath, Britian
Swami and Minerva enjoying a Roman bath

The Verulamium Museum, St. Albans

And, of course, the brilliance of the capstone is that the arch needs no mortar yet will stand for a thousand years.