"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

3.31.2008

days like these

A couple of random links at the end of a very long day of far too many whining, irresponsible students (OH MY GOSH - WHY would you email your professor 2 weeks before the exam asking for a make-up due to a tennis match, then not reply to the professor's email until 30 minutes before the time she told you you could make it up to say that you couldn't make it up then?!?). Days like this make me question my life choices.
  • Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville will be re-released this summer. And half a million women in their early thirties just sighed in memory of their riot grrl days. (I saw her one summer in Nashville and I have to say, it wasn't as impressive as it should've been.)
  • Abstinence as a feminist stance? Only at Hah-vahd. (Seriously. This is an interesting take on what it's like to be a person of non-mainstream conviction at an elite university.)
  • I bet Mom and my newly-retired Daddy can almost taste the Tennessee-UConn match they'd love to see in Tampa next week.
  • I am so tempted to go see this show on Thursday.
  • I already wanted to read this book. After reading this review, I want to read it even more.
  • How is there not a newer Bradt Guide to Peru than the 2002 edition? Bradt Guides are the only country guides I like, because they are comprehensive and are written by outsiders who have lived and worked in the countries. These are the people who are giving us a guide to the Congos! Why can't they update a place as simple as Peru?!?
  • Yeah, so I'm planning a trip with friends for late summer...

ummm...

D'oh! Hillary Clinton apparently failed to pay health insurance premiums for her campaign staff for a month or two there.

a nationalist orthodoxy

This is the one I haven't known what to do with.

You see sites like this all over Kosova. Abandoned Serbian Orthodox churches surrounced by barbed wire that was put there by the KFOR peacekeepers to prevent further looting and defacing. It's one of the first things Steve showed me on the road into the city from the airport - a little white church, completely cut off from the community.

The church pictured above was constructed by the Serbs in the late 1990's, smack in the middle of downtown Pristina, by the University of Pristina. The majority of Albanian Kosovars being Muslim, this was about like constructing a giant middle finger in a city park - it was among the most insulting and inflammatory things the Serbs could have done.

The church was never finished, because NATO began bombing the Serbs in 1999. But other churches in now-abandoned Serb villages were. They were where people were baptized and married, where they took communion and were sent to their final rest. They were churches.

The history of the Serbian Orthodox Church is complicated, and it is inextricably tied to the Serb nationalism that Kosovars hate so much. The former seat of the church - the patriarchy - was in Kosova, in Peja, which in Serbian is spelled Pec. The Communist Yugoslav government suppressed the church, and after Communism collapsed, the church was accused of supporting Slobodan Milosevic's plan to unite the Serbs in one country through any means necessary. Kosovars, meanwhile, have a long history of opposing the church; the Kosova Liberation Army kidnapped some priests and killing at least one during the 1999 war. Serb churches were destroyed en masse in 1999, and again in rioting in 2004.

There's blood on everybody's hands.

I don't know what to think. I'm constantly perplexed by the ability of Christians to hate one another and to hate others. That Christians would be closely connected to a nationalist project to violently overtake their neighbors' territory is not the least bit surprising. It's not terribly different from the Crusades. Or from overwhelmingly Catholic Rwanda, where thousands of good Christian people had no trouble perpetrating a genocide. And while nowhere near on that scale, the continual demonizing of some branches of American Christianity by others is a sign that those of us who are part of a religion that is supposed to be defined by love are instead controlled by our fear more than ever.

The Serbs treated the Kosovar Albanians very poorly. The war and the leadup to the war were terrible for the Kosovars. We heard stories of living in exile, of entire families killed, of homes destroyed. While the diplomats have to be careful not to favor one side over the other, I don't. The Serbs were horrible in Kosova.

But the remaining Serb villages in Kosova are sad. They're obviously economically depressed, the level of reconstruction is generally lower than that in Albanian towns, and you don't stop for gas or anything else there. The people are isolated. And there are these churches...

It's taken me two weeks to write about these churches. All I can come up with for a redeeming lesson here is that the melding of church and state into an idolatrous nationalism is always dangerous. When you conflate God's mission with that of the state, the church loses its witness and its power to love. When you make politics more important than piety, you may just find yourself cut off from the community you're supposed to be serving. Once it's there, barbed wire is hard to cross.

oh, well

Seems someone already scooped our idea for a site about Stuff Baptists Like. In a manner of speaking.

My favorite so far, concerning #94, "Highly Specialized Bibles": "If I ever get the chance to publish a 'Stuff Christians Like' Bible, I'm going to have it wrapped in lush velvet, illustrate the Song of Solomon and call it simply, 'Purple Rain.'"

3.30.2008

a heap of broken images

in review

Things I learned this weekend:
  1. I do NOT like having to be at work at 8am on both Saturday and Sunday.
  2. Running a conference registration table is one of the most boring jobs in the world.
  3. You can deal with a huge number of the 2,571 emails in your inbox when working the registration table at a conference.
  4. It's really easy to park on the Drag at 7:30 on Saturday morning.
  5. The Advisor does not hold the vino very well.
  6. When under the effects of the above-described low tolerance, The Advisor dances.
  7. I have enough shame that I will not take pictures of the event described in #6.
  8. I do not have enough shame that I will not get someone else to take pictures of the event described in #6.
  9. Bitter kola nut is disgusting. It dries out your mouth with the first tiny bite.
  10. Three-year-olds are mostly interested in the first present they open.
  11. They also appear to believe that the presents come from a magical birthday fairy, as they exclaim, "look!" after opening every present. :)
  12. Ann built a groovy patio.
  13. If I keep making factual, non-disputable statements about Tutsis in conference papers, Tutsis are going to yell at me at panels.
  14. This is obviously a freak year for the NCAA and nobody's bracket should count for anything.
  15. IKEA does not sell wall-mounted pot racks.
  16. If you want to hear a doozie of a guest speaker, come to my class next Wednesday. I can't discuss this here; if you're interested, email me. You have to be able to pass as a student. (Then again, I have a student who has children my age.)
  17. I need more sleep than this.

judging taste

Like there's something wrong with it...

come she will

Nothing's better than a springtime hat parade.

democratic transitions

As for the last of the Texas delegate counts, well, it's a little messy. BOR has actual counts. As of 9:13pm, Obama is claiming victory.

Complicated though our democracy may be, it's not nearly as corrupt as the shadow that passes for democracy in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's citizens went to the polls today. The excellent bloggers at Kubatana are maintaining a very extensive record of reports from those who experienced voting irregularities in today's elections, as does the BBC. In at least one place, however, lines for voting were shorter than lines for the ATM. (Since Zimbabwe is experiencing 1,000% inflation every day, money devalues through the course of the day. While you're waiting in line to get out cash in the morning, the money in your account is worth less and less.)

Kindof makes a little confusion at the Expo Center seem irrelevant, huh?

3.29.2008

oh, the dilemmas

So here is my agenda for the evening:
  • 5:30 - Birthday party for The Twins, who turned 3 yesterday
  • 7 - Fancy banquet for the conference at which I've been working all weekend.
  • 8:30 or whenever I can sneak out - Show for a friend's band at a hipster coffee house
  • 10ish - Afterparty for said friend's show

Now. I am a Southern girl, and I know how to wear the appropriate outfit to a particular occasion. For a three-year-old's birthday party, you wear something cute and springtimey in a fabric that can easily be washed in case the birthday cake starts flying. For a fancy banquet full of Africanists, you wear a cocktail dress and heels. (Or, in this one case, you can wear an Africa dress, but do you really want to try that around so many stylish African women? The answer to that is an emphatic no.) For a hipster coffee house and afterparty on somebody's spakin' new backyard patio, you obviously wear your new Kosovo Liberation Army t-shirt and jeans.

So what am I supposed to wear tonight?!?

guess that's that

While we were traveling and not paying a bit of attention to Baptist news, it seems the Sheri Klouda case was dismissed.

bye bye burqa

Hahahahaha!

3.28.2008

hrmph.

I hate Davidson.

That is all.

this is headline news?

Seems there won't be a (ahem!) pole tax in Texas after all.

This is currently the headline at the Statesman.com.

I'm not sure what that says about our fair city.

In other news, you're just going to have to read this headline for yourself.

yep

Here's a description of A Series of Unfortunate Events someone posted on the Freakonomics blog. I'd say it's pretty apt:

"I’d compare them to an effort by Umberto Eco and Edward Gorey to condense all Victorian (and then some) fiction into a postmodern mystery series for Middle-Schoolers, if you can picture such a thing."

If you still haven't read Lemony Snicket's oeuvre, you are missing out.

vacation photos: 2 hours in turkey

So, as part of my super-fun reroute through hell after American Airlines unnecessarily cancelled all of its flights out of Dallas, I "got" to take Turkish Airlines from Chicago to Istanbul, and then on to Pristina. I was happy to go anywhere at that point, so why not Turkey? Anyway, I didn't really get to see anything, but I was in the very cool Istanbul airport for just under 2 hours. The first thing I saw was a sign for "delights." In Turkey! And I went to Starbucks, talked to a Turkish employee of Starbucks, and got Turkish dinars as change. It counts!*
The flight out was pretty cool as well. I got to see the Aegean and the Dardanelles. Pretty cool.

(*I'm counting it, but I will definitely go back, if for nothing else than to raft the Euphrates. And, you know, to get a real cultural experience. :)

hmmm

So Hillary can't sell out an Elton John concert fundraiser? This directly contradicts everything I thought I knew about one of her core groups of supporters.

3.27.2008

just a thought

I don't want to be sold financial services by a spitting up baby. Especially in the middle of a good basketball game.

Am I alone on this?

man of the people

A candidate for those of us who spend half our lives spelling our names:

it's only ... five months

There are 155 looooonnnnnnngggg days until football starts. The spring game is on Saturday. Here's a little primer for the upcoming season for the Texas Longhorns. Looks like it may be another long year.

vacation complaint #1

I forgot to mention the one thing I did NOT like about Montenegro: the bus station toilets. Here's the thing. If I have to PAY to use a bathroom, it should be a real bathroom, not a squatty potty. If there's anything worse than a pay squatty potty, I don't know what it is.

We'll now stop complaining, because Montenegro really is lovely. And the woman who directed me to said squatty potty turned out to be a reporter for the national television station who speaks fluent English and who helped me to figure out why the Montenegran SIM card (t-mobile, seriously!) for my cell phone wasn't working and then told me to call the next time I'm in-country so she and her friends could show me the country's wonders.

What a great place.

"always giving, never asking why"

This is such a great song:

"a month of sundays"

Here's an interesting read for those of you who are trying to figure out how to get the young, hip types who don't go to church into your churches. Here's a hint: what you see as "seeker-friendly" can be a bit off-putting to those outside of the fold.

trendsetters

Well, seems everybody's headed to Kosovo these days. We are so ahead of the curve.

3.26.2008

bless their hearts

I'd just like to thank the Texas 22nd for giving me a perfect example of a tax code violation to use in my civil liberties lectures. Tom DeLay may be out of the picture, but it seems there's still plenty of crazy to go around. Or at least people who don't understand the 1st Amendment.

incoming!

Ha! Check out the John McCain Foreign Policy 8-Ball.

vacation slides continue

Just in case there are a couple of readers I haven't bored to tears yet...

Montenegro is seriously beautiful. It's one of the most spectacular places I've ever been, up there with Switzerland and South Africa in terms of dramatic landscapes. Despite the fact that Montenegro is now an independent country (the world's second-newest state), the Serbs never really hated Montenegro, so it didn't suffer as much war damage as did some of its other neighbors. Add to that the facts that the people are totally friendly, it's relatively easy to get around, and things are still pretty inexpensive and you've got a great vacation destination. Seriously. You should all go. Montenegro means "black mountain," as does Crna Gora, its name in the local version of Serbo-Croat. While there is, apparently, a specific black mountain, almost the whole country is mountainous. Coming from Kosovo, there are mountains for four hours, then you come out onto a wide plain where the capital, Podgorica, sits, then it's back into the mountains as you head in any direction.

I chose to spend my time in Montenegro on the coast, where the mountains dramatically drop to the Adriatic Sea and a small coastal area with lots of cute little resort towns. Since I arrived in the dark, I didn't see most of this until leaving the coast. Kotor, the town I decided to visit, is amazing. It's a very old walled city that sits at the base of a mountain fortress on the edge of southern Europe's biggest fjord. With its narrow streets and stone paving, the town looks like something from a fairy tale: I kept expecting to see a Disney princess jump out and burst into song or something. Here's a view of the hillside fortress from one of the city's many churches:
Here's a view of the old city from the entrance to the fortress:
It didn't hurt that I stayed at the lovely Hotel Vardar (check out their website for a view of the fjord and the bay from the top of the fortress):

Kotor also has lots of cute little piazzas with cafes where you can sit and enjoy a coffee and the sunshine for hours on end. The best part is that, despite the fact that I was there in the low season, the cafes were still full of locals. People actually live and work in Kotor.

Here's a view of the fjord looking out towards the bay.


And the fortress:
It's kindof hard to see, but if you click on the pictures to enlarge them, you'll see the hillside fortifications.

The fjord is absolutely beautiful. I'd never seen a fjord before. The pristine blue waters were almost irresistable, except for the whole "it's cold outside" thing.

Sadly, I only had a day to spend in Kotor before heading back to Podgorica, where I spent the night in a freezing cold hotel room with inadequate heating in order to catch a 7:30am bus back to Kosova. Within ten minutes of leaving the station, our driver ran a red light, got pulled over by the police, and we sat on the side of the road for an hour. After an hour, they let him move the bus to this market/restaurant, where we sat for another 2 1/2 hours while the driver waited for the police, was picked up by the police, went to the police station, and came back from the police station with matters settled. It was, perhaps, not the best way to end my Montenegran experience, but I will definitely go back to try out the country's whitewater rafting and other outdoor activities, as well as to hang out at the beach.

particularized


"We like to generalize; God likes to particularize."

That was the recurring thread in Joel Gregory's magnificent sermon at the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta in January. We generalize. We put people into categories like "African" or "poor," label situations as "tragic" or "unsolvable" or "tribal wars," and dismiss our own culpability in the world's systems of oppression as a product of living in our time and place.

But God doesn't work that way. God doesn't see "AIDS orphans" or "refugees" or "victims of war." God doesn't label people as "businessmen" or "lawyers" or "teachers" or "doctors." Nor does God define others as "terrorists" or "extremists" or "jihadis."

God sees people. People with names and faces and families and stories. God sees you and God sees me. God sees Olivier. Because in the kingdom of God, where everyone is created in the image of God, simple categories just don't work very well.

Labels let us push a person away, give us an excuse to remain disengaged. Particularties, however, have a way of drawing us in and forcing us to act.

Generalizations are a lot easier.

blessed assurance

Thank-you, Lord Jesus. Thanks to deregulation in the form of an open-skies agreement, travel to Europe is about to get a whole lot easier. What does this mean for us? Well, for one thing, it's highly unlikely that any of us will ever have to schlep between Heathrow and Gatwick for connecting flights to Africa again.

For those of you who haven't had the joy of experiencing that particular nightmare, because only 2 American airlines have been allowed to land at Heathrow, if you were flying from, say, Dallas-Fort Worth, and needed to get to, say, Nairobi, the only way to do it was to either 1) transfer flights stateside to get on a Heathrow-bound flight, or 2) transfer between the two airports in London. Which is a total nightmare - you have to claim your luggage, clear customs, hop on a bus, and check back in, all the while praying that your four hour layover will be long enough to manage it all.

Those days, my dears, are over. Add to this the opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5 this week and I'd say that my travel to and from Africa will definitely be easier, and may even be cheaper.

Can I get an "amen" from the congregation?

you can't make this stuff up

Gasp! My favorite politician who changed his name for political reasons may soon have a tiny legal hurdle with having his name listed on the ballot simpley as "Pro-Life." Pro-Life is, it seems, running to replace Senator Larry Craig, who's announced that he (ahem) will not be running for re-election.

3.25.2008

what will they think of next?

When I was in 10th grade, the woman who'd taught the Honors Biology course for years and years quit or moved away, so the district was forced to hire a new teacher. Their replacement was an older woman named Dr. Martin, who had been a longtime research scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but whose children had asked her to leave the lab for fears about her health.

At first, Dr. Martin seemed a little crazy, but as time went by, we realized she was actually crazy. She also had a wacky accent, which meant that she'd talk about things like "bunding" - as in, "ionic and covalent bunding." And the Krebs Cycle became the (I am not making this up) "crabs cycle." She was also generally clueless and had very little control over a classroom full of smart, sarcastic fifteen-year-olds who could sense her unease.

Our parents told all of us to stop complaining. They just didn't believe that it could be that bad. That is, they didn't believe us until after that fall's open house, at which Dr. Martin promised us she would "bund" with our parents. Bund she did, because they came away understanding that their children were perhaps not getting the highest quality of biological education available in the school district.

Meanwhile, back in the classroom, Dr. Martin assigned us our major project for the semester, a report entitled, "My Favorite Disease." You could pick any disease, as long as no one else had picked it. (I was absent on the day they picked and so couldn't do diabetes. Instead, I got Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This isn't really relevant for this particular story.)

Tenth grade boys being what tenth grade boys are, of course many of them went for the STD's. Which was unfortunate, given that part of the assignment was to make a poster that could be displayed on the classroom walls. (And given that our teacher was generally clueless.) I won't go into the details on most of those, but one of the craziest came from my classmate Ford, whose favorite disease was hermaphroditism. For his visual aid, Ford drew a really remarkable picture of a pregnant man. It was completely wrong and absolutely hi-larious, and it stayed on the wall for a couple of months. When I'm with friends from high school, this still comes up in conversations. It was that funny.

I bring this up not to bore you with stories of my younger days, but because I've just read a news story that suggests that Ford was just ahead of his time. Yep. The conservative blogs are already having fits about this one.

As for Dr. Martin, well, the school took away the honors classes from her at Christmas break, and didn't renew her contract for the following year. Our classes were taken over by the department chair, Mrs. C., who very quickly informed us that our project for the spring semester would be a report entitled "My Favorite Disease." "We already did that," we replied in unison. Mrs. C. had been around the block a time or two, and when we said that, without missing a beat she replied, "Fine. Then it will be 'My Second Favorite Disease.'"

She wasn't joking. I got diabetes in round 2 and for my presentation checked my best friend's blood sugar and gave a shot to an orange. And I don't remember there being any more reports on STD's. Or pictures of pregnant men.

tears

I just talked to E. She and C are in the states for a couple of weeks' vacation before heading back to Goma over the weekend. We had a fun conversation, talking about how things are in Goma, their work, and what the next steps are to bringing healing to that broken city. There are sad things, too. My friend Eva's uncle got shot last Thursday at his home. I'm not going to guess why.

One of the things that E told me is that Olivier is not doing well. They don't know if it's the medicine or what, but, she said, "he is losing his mind." They will go to the doctor next week to see what can be done. He needs prayers.

My heart broke into a thousand pieces all over again when I heard that. (For new readers, you can read Olivier's story here. Please read it.) It's not unexpected; I guess drugs can only do so much to help a child who's living with Stage III HIV.

Things should be better for Olivier. He's living with a family. C and E made sure his school fees are paid. E fought tooth and nail to get him on one of the 65 doses of ARV's available for children in Goma.

But he runs away from school. And his body is breaking down.

E asked me to write him a letter over email that she could read to him. So I will do that. And send some of the pictures he took with my camera in August. And I'm going to find a way to take up a long overdue sponsorship for him so that the family he's living with can afford to buy the special foods he needs to eat to make the anti-retrovirals work.

But Olivier needs your prayers. And his city needs peace. There are thousands of children like him there who have nobody and nothing. If you'd like to help a kid like Olivier, $100 a year provides for school in a local, church-based sponsorship program. Thanks to the generosity of volunteers who donate their administrative skills, 100% of your donation goes directly to the child you sponsor.

love is in the air

Can we talk about how much I love the free wi-fi on my bus?

I love the free wi-fi on my bus.

That's all.

some understanding

Committee Member #3, just now: "And if you ever need to come and close the door and scream for a bit, the offer stands."

3.24.2008

one day all my vacation photos will be posted

The border crossing between Kosovo and Montenegro has to be among the most dramatic in the world. To get there, you or your bus must negotiate a rather terrifying series of hairpin turns up the mountain. Once you've crossed one side of the border or the other, there's a 10 kilometer no-man's land in between, because there's nowhere to put a border post up there. These pictures are of that area, taken from just over the Montenegro side of the border.
The wilderness around the border is absolutely pristine, primarily because there are so many land mines there that no one dares to hike off the road. Even the animal tracks through the snow are concentrated by the sides of the road. Because many of the mines were laid by informal militias, no one has a good record of where all the mines are.

swang has swung

Sigh. I missed this year's edition of Swang a Go-Go. Steve Not the Lawyer called on Saturday afternoon to make sure I was out of town. I was. (Why, WHY was it on Easter weekend?)

Since Swang involves four of my favorite things (dancing, a random collection of people, camping, & Two Tons of Steel), well, I'm sad to have missed it. Not that I could've gone even if I'd been in town. We would not be fresh as a daisy for Easter Sunday if we had been out dancing in the Hill Country until all hours.

Anyhoo, if you can't be at Swang, the next best thing is a little Two Tons for your Monday evening. Enjoy:

i feel sick

I just learned that infant mortality in the DR Congo is now at 41% per year.

If this were happening in our country, we'd be up in arms. So why aren't we agitated over the deaths of 41% of babies in a country on the other side of the world?

hmmmm

Someone at the State Department just reached my blog by searching for "Rick Warren" and "Nkunda."

You wouldn't think I'd had a single conversation involving both of those topics last week. But you'd be wrong. Heh-heh.

3.23.2008

your turn

So I need a hostess gift for Melissa the Missionary, with whom I will be staying in freezing cold Chicago next week. As longtime readers know, Melissa the Missionary and I have been engaged in the Battle of the Tacky Christian Products for almost ten years now. And I need something good to get her back for the "Jingle with Joy for Jesus" bell that showed up in my mailbox awhile back.

So, gentle readers, I'm leaving it up to you. What would better thank Melissa for her generous hospitality, a 10 Plagues of Egypt toy , a Pope Cake (which is perfect since she's getting her PhD from the Catholics, but may be hard as it apparently has to be ordered from Italy), or a Praise Workout Circuit Training video?

It's too bad they don't sell Miracle Wrap by the roll. Vote early and vote often, 'cause I've got to hurry up with this.

vacation stories

Traveling as a woman alone in the Balkans was an interesting experience. If there's one thing I've learned from travel adventures over the years, it's that if you're on your own, you have to trust people. You'll never find everything on your own, and you'll miss out on seeing amazing things if you don't take people up on offers to help out.

That said, I'm pretty independent when it comes to travel, and I don't like to be told what to do. The Balkans are interesting in that regard, because it's definitely still a male-dominated culture. Very few women travel alone, and those that do are "looked after" by the men in their bus/taxi/city. In Kosova and northern Albania, part of this may have to do with the fact that it's a predominantely Muslim culture, albeit a very liberal Muslim culture (they drink, and you don't have to cover your head anywhere but a mosque).

I got several tastes of this, um, cultural value on my trip, but none was funnier than the incident that happened on the morning I left Prizren for Montenegro. The trip to the coast is long - it took about 12 hours going and 9 coming back - and it winds through the mountains on hairpin turns for hours on end.

I took my seat about midway back on the early morning bus, but when the general manager came to collect my ticket and discovered I don't speak Albanian, he asked where I was from. He was (naturally) very pleased to learn that I'm American, and as he passed by on his way back up front, he snapped his fingers at me and said, "You! Sit in seat #1."

It wasn't a choice. I was promptly moved to the front row where the drivers could keep an eye on me and make sure I got off at the right place.

Now. I really appreciate kindness and concern. Really. But I have a rule about bus travel in foreign countries, and that rule says that only under the most desparate of circumstances will I sit in the front of the bus. Because I DON'T WANT TO SEE what is ahead. Nine times out of ten, it's too scary, or the bus driver is smoking with one hand and talking on his phone with the other, or children are running across the road while the bus slows down not a bit.

But I didn't have a choice on the road to Montenegro. And you can see that the view from my seat was fine as long as we were in Kosova proper. It got a lot scarier when we started to climb those mountains. Oy.

bizzy as a bee

Well, that was a crazy week. Last weekend, I was dining on sushi and Tex-Mex in Pristina with a bunch of diplomats. Sunday morning, I woke up in a tiny little pod in London then watched the NCAA selection show in the Raleigh-Durham airport. Monday, I woke up in Austin, showed a film about Texas politics (It's great and they love it. No, really.) to both of my classes.

And then I was interviewed for a story for Rolling Stone. (I know. How bizarre is that? Hands down in the top ten of completely unexpected life experiences. Maybe top five. I can't really talk about it, but watch for a story on the DRC in a month or two.)

After that, it was more work, ten loads of laundry to wash the eau de Balkans out of my clothes (apparently, chain smoking is the national sport), and then off to freezing cold but still sunny (mostly) Franklin for daddy's retirement party, an impromptou 5am trip to the ER (everything's fine), and, of course, Easter Weekend. The sister and I went to coffee with Matt Darling on Saturday afternoon and Ben Folds sat down at the table next to us.

It was that kind of week.

I have ten days at home now and am glad for it. 'Cause who knows what will happen next?

midwinter spring

T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

I
Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

II
Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house—
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other—
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember.'
And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.


III
There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of no immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.


IV
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

V
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.



"Little Gidding," the last of Eliot's Four Quartets, is my favorite poem. It's about redemption, about fire, language, memory, power. It is, ultimately, about Easter - "A condition of complete simplicity / (Costing not less than everything)."

3.22.2008

do you hear the peeps sing?

The Peeps Show is back!

The Major Peep Award is pretty funny, but The Trojan Peep may be my favorite.

Silent Saturday

T.S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages"

(The Dry Salvages — presumably les trois sauvages — is a small
group of rocks, with a beacon, off the N.E. coast of Cape Ann,
Massachusetts. Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages.
Groaner: a whistling buoy.)

I

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.
His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,
In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,
In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,
And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.
The salt is on the briar rose,
The fog is in the fir trees.
The sea howl
And the sea yelp, are different voices
Often together heard: the whine in the rigging,
The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water,
The distant rote in the granite teeth,
And the wailing warning from the approaching headland
Are all sea voices, and the heaving groaner
Rounded homewards, and the seagull:
And under the oppression of the silent fog
The tolling bell
Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried
Ground swell, a time
Older than the time of chronometers, older
Than time counted by anxious worried women
Lying awake, calculating the future,
Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel
And piece together the past and the future,
Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,
The future futureless, before the morning watch
When time stops and time is never ending;
And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning,
Clangs
The bell.



II

Where is there an end of it, the soundless wailing,
The silent withering of autumn flowers
Dropping their petals and remaining motionless;
Where is there and end to the drifting wreckage,
The prayer of the bone on the beach, the unprayable
Prayer at the calamitous annunciation?

There is no end, but addition: the trailing
Consequence of further days and hours,
While emotion takes to itself the emotionless
Years of living among the breakage
Of what was believed in as the most reliable—
And therefore the fittest for renunciation.

There is the final addition, the failing
Pride or resentment at failing powers,
The unattached devotion which might pass for devotionless,
In a drifting boat with a slow leakage,
The silent listening to the undeniable
Clamour of the bell of the last annunciation.

Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing
Into the wind's tail, where the fog cowers?
We cannot think of a time that is oceanless
Or of an ocean not littered with wastage
Or of a future that is not liable
Like the past, to have no destination.

We have to think of them as forever bailing,
Setting and hauling, while the North East lowers
Over shallow banks unchanging and erosionless
Or drawing their money, drying sails at dockage;
Not as making a trip that will be unpayable
For a haul that will not bear examination.

There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,
No end to the withering of withered flowers,
To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,
To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,
The bone's prayer to Death its God. Only the hardly, barely prayable
Prayer of the one Annunciation.

It seems, as one becomes older,
That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence—
Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy
Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,
Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.
The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being,
Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,
Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness. I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations—not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable:
The backward look behind the assurance
Of recorded history, the backward half-look
Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.
Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony
(Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding,
Having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things,
Is not in question) are likewise permanent
With such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better
In the agony of others, nearly experienced,
Involving ourselves, than in our own.
For our own past is covered by the currents of action,
But the torment of others remains an experience
Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition.
People change, and smile: but the agony abides.
Time the destroyer is time the preserver,
Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops,
The bitter apple, and the bite in the apple.
And the ragged rock in the restless waters,
Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;
On a halcyon day it is merely a monument,
In navigable weather it is always a seamark
To lay a course by: but in the sombre season
Or the sudden fury, is what it always was.



III

I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant—
Among other things—or one way of putting the same thing:
That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.
And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.
You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.
When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
To fruit, periodicals and business letters
(And those who saw them off have left the platform)
Their faces relax from grief into relief,
To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.
Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think 'the past is finished'
Or 'the future is before us'.
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death"—that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare forward.
O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.'
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.



IV

Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,
Pray for all those who are in ships, those
Whose business has to do with fish, and
Those concerned with every lawful traffic
And those who conduct them.

Repeat a prayer also on behalf of
Women who have seen their sons or husbands
Setting forth, and not returning:
Figlia del tuo figlio,
Queen of Heaven.

Also pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea's lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them
Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell's
Perpetual angelus.



V

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
And tragedy from fingers; release omens
By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
Or barbituric acids, or dissect
The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors—
To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual
Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:
And always will be, some of them especially
When there is distress of nations and perplexity
Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.
Men's curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled,
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement—
Driven by daemonic, chthonic
Powers. And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
We, content at the last
If our temporal reversion nourish
(Not too far from the yew-tree)
The life of significant soil.

3.21.2008

"...in spite of that, we call this Friday good."

T.S. Eliot, "East Coker"

I

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.



II

What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

The houses are all gone under the sea.

The dancers are all gone under the hill.



III

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.



IV

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.



V

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

3.20.2008

maundy thursday

T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"

I.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

II
Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

III
Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

IV
Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?

Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher's wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

V
Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always—
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.


===========
T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets tell the story of the last four days of Holy Week in poetry. "Burnt Norton" corresponds to Maundy Thursday. It uses the metaphor of the air and a burned-out building to meditate on what could have been and about being caught in time and place that isn't what we want it to be.

3.19.2008

let the madness begin!

Well, my bracket is entered into all six pools with various friends and colleagues. I'm a firm believer in doing ONE bracket, and you can argue with me, but I'll remind you that I am awesome at this, and I win the pool with my guy colleagues who enter six or seven brackets apiece. Only having one forces you to commit.

Anyway, my Final Four are UNC, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Texas, with UNC and UCLA fighting it out in the final and UNC winning. I have West Virginia taking out Duke in the second round. And, sorry, all, but I picked against Baylor. You have to keep emotions out of these decisions.

vacay photos: albania for coffee

So last Tuesday, I had coffee in Albania. (Who's kidding who? This trip was about crossing borders more than anything else. I crossed the border, got my stamp, and am therefore happy with my Albanian cultural experience.)

The tiny corner of northeastern Albania I saw looks pretty much exactly like what I think of when I think of Albania: drab, grey, wet, and generally miserable. Did I mention the dirt roads that are all there is until the superhighway is finished?
The no-longer-in-service coal mine?
And, of course, the Bar Amerika, where we had coffee before heading back to Kosova:
And there are some pretty cool mountains, which apparently we don't climb due to the little landmine problem.
There are also these little concrete foxholes/bunkers everywhere. I didn't get a picture because I'm not big on Taking Pictures of Military Installations in foreign countries, so you'll just have to take my word for it that it was 100% bizarre.

yep

"Why White People Like 'Stuff White People Like'"

vacay pics

So the coast of Montenegro is pretty spectacular. Almost the whole country is mountainous, then there's this dramatic drop to the Adriatic Sea. Here's a picture I got quite by accident of a place called Budva.

it's a miracle!

Ha!!!! This is a SCREAM.

3.18.2008

the high country

I took this picture in Montenegro, somewhere past Rosaje towards the Kosova border in the pine forests at high elevation. It's not at all what I intended to get, but I think it turned out kindof cool.

funny things my students wrote

Malapropisms abound:

"Senator McCain...voted in favor for the Secure Fence Act of 2006. To capitulate, these bills were central to current President George Bush's immigration reform..."

"Because of the proximity of his senatorial experience..."

more pictures of pristina than you could possibly want to look at

As far as formerly war-torn capitol cities go, Pristina (Prishtina, if you're spelling it the local way) is pretty nice. The roads are good, the apartments are cute, and the presence of thousands of expatriate diplomats and do-gooders means that there's a substantial contingent of nice restaurants, shops, and other distractions. It still has lots of Yugoslav-era architecture, as exemplified by the Grand Hotel:And the national and university library:

Mostly, though, Pristina is just a modern, Eastern European city:Albeit with a Tex-Mex joint:And more than one sushi place. This is NOT where we had sushi and karaoke on Friday:Despite the incredible reconstruction, there are still signs here and there of what was before, including this view from Steve's new apartment:Here's a panorama of the city as viewed from Dragodan, the hillside where many expatriates live:You'll notice Pristina's most distinctive architectural feature in the second photo above, the former Yugoslav youth sports center. My hostess refers to it as the "rack of lamb":
Moving closer in, you get a look at the large picture of a Kosovar revolutionary who was killed in the 1999 war. This is everywhere; it says something to the effect of, "now, it's finished," meaning that the goal for which he fought is now complete:There are lots of pictures, statues, and memorials to those who died fighting the Serbs in the 1999 war:As well as monuments to old Albanian nationalists who died a hundred years ago or more:
Of course, other signs of Kosova's new independence are everywhere as well. The "Newborn" sign above is the monument from independence day; everyone signed it that night. Here's the first thing you see at the airport: And signs like this are all over the city:Here's the new Kosova flag (which everyone hates), along with the ubiquitous Albanian flag:The six stars stand for the six ethnic groups that live in Kosova. One of those stars, of course, is for the Serbs, who, as you can imagine, are pretty unpopular with Albanian Kosovars.

And here's the president, larger-than-life:

This sign is everywhere. It tells people that because they love Kosova, they need to behave themselves:There's also a movement to get away from the "managed transition" that Kosova is currently in (In which international experts under UN, EU, and NATO auspices help develop the country's political institutions while ensuring its security. It's a fascinating experiment, but the UN peacekeepers are really unpopular.) This graffiti is all over the place and opposes an EU-ized version of that mission:

Overall, I found Pristina to be a welcoming and fun city. The hospitality towards Americans can't be beat - one gets the sense that if anything were to happen (like an attempt at mugging), everyone in a 100-yard radius would come to one's defense. I highly recommend a visit.