Book of Marvels
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Four Hundred Tubas Posted by Picasa

My husband pointed his camera at a plaster mermaid on the proscenium over stage right, poised above thirty tons of red velvet curtain and gold tassels. "You want me to take a picture?" he asked. "For your blog?"

"I'm not going to write about this for my blog," I said, with a bit more arch than necessary. "I'm going to write about how the FBI is turning cell phones into remote listening devices."

Then, a huge sepia-tinted Wurlitzer rose from the floor in front of the stage and a man, already seated there, began to play Christmas carols. All the people sitting in the theater rose to applaud-- the couples in matching sweat suits, the families in felt reindeer horns and those in Santa hats, the young parents with babies and grandparents and great-grandparents in tow, the students whose friends were cradling their tubas on the crowded stage, the people in holiday glitter and the glitterless, who might have come in just to get out of the cold. It was the 27th free Tuba Christmas in Akron, Ohio, at the amazing Akron Civic Theater.

I'm sorry for all of you who missed it. Sorry, especially, for those of you who will always miss it, who live in fabulous coastal cities and have to pay a fortune for a night out. A night out that will never be like one in Akron, after all. Soon, the mighty Wurlitzer sank into the floor again. Four hundred musicians lifted their tubas--some decorated with silver garlands, some with holly, some with twinkle lights hooked up to battery packs--and the conductor explained that they would play each song all the way through, then again for the audience to sing along. They began with "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful," which sounded at first like the murmuring of melodious bullfrogs. The people sitting in back of us pulled bells out of their pockets and shook them at the word "joyful." It was hard to match my singing voice to the tuba register, but I reached into the depths of my chest and managed.

A few nights before, my husband and I had watched "It's A Wonderful Life" on television. I was passing through the living room and he told me it was coming on, so I sat down--thinking to stay just a second--and said, "I don't think I can watch this yet again." But I did, of course. And became immediately weepy, even before the story started. I guess this movie is one of those cultural artifacts that crank up the rusty parts of my emotional machinery, just as Christmas itself does. Because they're wired to the memories about the people and configurations of my past, to the possibilities and certainties I've left behind? It seems too reductive to say even that, vague as it is. The movie was intended to be a happy tearjerker, with its themes of loyalty and hard work and kindness and self-sacrifice. It was also a paean to ordinary, flawed people doing their best in small places. It wins my tears for that alone.

I got a little weepy at Tuba Christmas, too, for most of the same reasons-- after all, it was Bedford Falls all over again. And maybe for one reason more. I've wanted to drive down to Akron for this annual event for the last fifteen years, and it turned out that four hundred tubas playing together was even more wonderful than I'd imagined.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Five Things No One Knows About Me

I took this photo at the wonderful Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota last summer. Selected it today because it reflects my skittishness with the topic. I started this blog to write about things that I want to write about, in some bigger format. I don't actually like to write about myself.

But I was reading Wendy Hoke's Creative Ink blog to catch up on what the priest is saying at her weekly RCIA classes (always very interesting) and found that she had tagged me for a meme on this topic. I haven't quite figured out what all this blog language means or what to do with it, but here goes:

1. I am suffering today from a mirth injury. Instead of doing whatever I usually do after dinner, I sat down in the living room and watched Jon Stewart and then Steven Colbert a few nights ago. They're always funny, but they were either exceptionally funny that night or I was really primed to laugh. I laughed so much that my throat is still sore. I suspect my mirth muscles need a more regular workout.

2. About fifteen years ago, I was going to a movie with some friends and there was one of those huge cardboard cutouts of Christian Slater inside the theater lobby-- and he looked just like me! Really, it was like standing in front of a fun-house mirror, only one that changes your gender and age instead of giving you a huge butt. My friends agreed that Christian Slater and I looked as if we had been separated at birth. I still feel a sort of odd kinship with him. He probably does, too.

3. Even though I like the kind of long hot showers that elicit shock from my family in droughty California, I am fine going for days without bath or shower. I bathe quite regularly here in Cleveland--although my son asks if he sees me early in the day, since he's disturbed that I sometimes go without--but when I was in Kabul, it was often too much trouble to take a shower. There either wasn't enough hot water, or, if there was, the bathroom was too smokey from the woodstove. Or maybe I just didn't feel like walking all the way over to the building with the shower. It seemed like too much trouble to bathe in Afghanistan. I often feel that way about camping, too.

4. I seem to have an unconcious belief in reincarnation. When I drive down my street in the summer and see the women and their strollers congregate at the corner, on their way to the park, I catch myself thinking, "Next time I'm a young mother..." When I see the kids walking home from high school, I catch myself thinking, "When I'm fifteen again..." And sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror--disparagingly--I'll catch myself thinking, "Okay, I'm going to stop being middle aged"-- much as I often think, "Okay, I'm never going to eat ice cream again." As if getting older were a poorly thought-out decision I had made or the result of a decision I had failed to make-- something that I could now plot out on a goal sheet and change. [I guess this last thing doesn't reflect a belief in reincarnation--more a belief in some advanced power to manipulate time which I've failed to employ]

5. One of the things other freelancer writers often say is that they love their job because they don't have to get dressed up. But this is one of the things I hate about freelancing-- no impetus to wear anything other than pajamas. I worked in an office ten years ago, and I loved dressing up for it. Loved the shoes with the little heels and the suits and even the pantyhose. I often came into work with wet hair--and I never managed the art of makeup-- but I did have cool clothes. Shortly after I left that job, I spent one morning interviewing a congressman by phone, in my nightgown. I enjoyed the mismatch between the way I looked and the image he probably had of me, but still--I think wistfully of my downtown clothes. Posted by Picasa
Monday, December 04, 2006
The Last of My Little Jonathons

One of the farmers at our farmers market had the most gorgeous Jonathons this year--small burgandy-skinned apples, so hard you could probably dump a pile of them on a pool table and shoot them into the pockets without doing much damage. I like my apples firm! In addition to the outer beauty, many had gorgeous red marbling inside-- something to admire as I enjoyed each tart-sweet bite. The ones in this picture are sad remnants of this year's crop-- shriveled skin, not much marbling, but they made a good breakfast. And I'm looking forward to next year's crop.

Soon, our farmers market will move indoors. Just in time, too-- the temperature has dropped into the twenties and the wind is fierce. Last week, I went to the farmers market--it's the one thing I do regularly each week, more faithfully than church, so strongly do I value this community built around respect for food and the land--and it was brutally cold. It was hard to remove my gloves and hand over my money, and hard for the farmers to make change. I had the feeling that our hands would freeze and shatter, in an instant. Despite the cold, the farmers had still set up their amazing displays of bounty-- the cauliflowers in green, orange and purple, the bristling mounds of radishes, the crinkled piles of kale, the buckets of apples (but no little Jonathons), the mushrooms, honey, organic lamb, grass-fed beef, wonderful eggs, cheese, and so much more. There are the Amish families with their bags of rolled oats and flaxseed and wheat berries; they have pies, too, which I'm programmed not to buy-- what pies could compare to my mother's? I'm more attracted to all the hearty winter vegetables, anyway--the sweet potatoes and squashes and parsnips--that fill the house with their rich, caramel fragrance. I'm sure there is a necessary symbollism regarding the root crops, something about burrowing and feeding upon the richness below the surface, something about the things winter forces us to do. At least, in Ohio.

I received an email from the people at Support Your Local Farmer, LLC. They had read an old entry here about a bumper sticker I saw at the Lake Tahoe farmers market: Support Your Local Farmer Or Watch the Houses Grow. Turns out that they are the source of this slogan, and you can buy the sticker--as well as pro-farmer t-shirts--there.

I worry sometimes about the independent grocery store at the end of my block. I don't buy nearly as much stuff there anymore, and I appreciate the Zagara family's substantial investment in Cleveland Heights. Does anyone have any idea how the farmers market movement and independent grocers can somehow help each other? Posted by Picasa

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