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Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

It's my favorite day of the year. There is something magical about Christmas Eve. In Britain the day is easily referred to as 'Christmas Eve', whereas in America people tend to say 'Christmas Eve Day'. It makes sense here not to make much of a distinction as the days now are rather dark and gloomy -- but anyway, I do like just 'Christmas Eve' as that has a more magical and mysterious ring to it ...

Christmas for me is about expectation, anticipation. The joy of it is in the planning, the culmination, the moment 'just before'. It is mystical and momentous, a time of smells and memories, music, sights of wonder, children, sugar plum fairies and so on. How lucky I am to have this day in my calendar -- this day of 'angel dust'.

Memories: One of my favorite memories is the Apollo 8 Mission when the astronauts read from Genesis -- just as we were all about to go off to church for midnight mass. At the time that was the most highly watched TV program ever! Being a New Englander there are memories of many a White Christmas, of eager anticipation for gifts (I was very demanding and probably still am!). I loved the 5 Christmases I spent in Germany and the joy on my husband's face that first Christmas Eve when the snow fell in the evening and there was white magic everywhere -- and that special quietness of the snow falling.

One of the things I miss here in England is the regular singing in church of Silent Night. I loved singing that favorite carol in candlelight just after Communion finished. It surprises me that Silent Night is not even in the hymnal we use in my church. That was another favorite memory of living in Germany.

My sister just sent me this -- a bit silly but still a good laugh! Merry Christmas and hope it a magical Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas hmmmmm bug -- Ahhhhh

Christmas again. I love the music. I am bored with the waiting. Waiting to get things done. Here I am today twiddling. My husband is farting around doing this and that -- he won't be bothered ('bovvered') until Christmas Eve. Then he will start asking me if I got 'something' for this person or that, or sent them a card. And did I remember 'whatever' ...

So on we trudge toward the 'big' day/week, depending on where you live in this world. In the U.S. I always feel let down after Christmas Day. Big preparations and the decorating splurge all feel flat by the 26th of December. On this side of the Atlantic Christmas is a two -day holiday and for most people lasts through New Year and on through Epiphany. Many Americans, in an attempt to stave off the 24-hour blow-out, keep their lights up -- especially the outdoor festive fare -- until Valentine's Day! Which seems to me rather pathetic.

Yesterday the tree went up -- we picked a nice bushy, traditional English Christmas tree -- which was also the cheapest! And imagine this, it's also our preferred type of tree. Smells good, too. I also managed to make a traditional Christmas log, for our dessert -- in the freezer (what a delicious chocolate mess I made) and am slowly checking things off the 'to-do list'. I think I've bought all the presents and wrapped what needs wrapping. Today ma belle-soeur arrives -- ah check off the list that I've made her bed!

Quite a bit of discussion this year in the media about Christmas cards. Personally, I love Christmas cards. Especially getting them. Sending them is a chore, but it is nice to think about the people we have managed to keep in touch with over the years. It is an expensive thing to do, however. I divide my cards into three parts -- across the oceans, Europe and the UK. The postage runs about £25 - £30 and on top of that there is the cost of the cards -- which cost less than the postage, for sure! I don't send cards to people because I feel I have to -- I send them because I want to, which for me is the whole point of the exercise and somehow makes each Christmas an inclusive time of the year.

So, now it's on with the decorating -- almost done!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I am not impressed with myself -- over a month since last posting. Since then I've been to the US and returned. Big changes for us. The plan is to spend a year, at least, in Olympia, Washington. It's odd that I feel so at home whether here or there -- I just sort of meld into each nationality, both seeming familiar.

It will be very interesting to live on the west coast, which to me is so very different from the East. I'm looking forward to the new adventure and the exploration into that difference. The people in Olympia seem very nice, very warm and friendly. It really is the land of the car and more wide open spaces than I am used to. I love the mountains, especially the majesty of Mt. Rainier; and the freshness in the air, despite all the cars and highways. Olympia's location at the southern-most end of the Puget Sound, is perfection -- it has all of the charm of a small town, yet the sophistication of a discerning, well-educated population.

The present is very tenuous both in the UK and the US. We are lucky to be retired and to have our home almost paid for and a steady, if not enormous income. I look at my children and grandchildren and wonder if retirement will be a thing of the past by the time they are my age. Life has been good to the children of the 60's and we have consumed it, which is probably not so good for everybody else.

But first it's Christmas. More about that anon!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Slave Owners, Indian Scalpers, Thomas More & Me!

Other people's genealogy is generally a bore -- unless of course it's Barack Obama and he's related to Dick Cheney. Eighth cousins, I understand. At the time I read that if you come from an old New England family most likely you will be related somewhere along the line to all other Old New England families.

The past two weeks I have been indulging in Internet genealogical research for my own family. Because I have ancesters from old New England families and also old Southern families there is a lot of information available. The challenge for me is going to be finding Irish, German and Swiss families most of whom came in the later half of the 19th century.

Like Barack Obama, I too have some 'interesting' famous ancesters, as well as some 'interesting' politically incorrect 'black sheep'. Very black sheep, possibly ... In a way I'm quite pleased about this as political correctness is as much a bore as genealogy is! On the other hand, since it involved owning slaves, as well as an Indian scalper champion, I am at the same time quite appalled. Probably the most prominent person I am directly descended from was Thomas More, who was a traitor to some and is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church (the patron saint of politicans and statesman, in fact! His day is 22 June). He was certainly a very questionable character both in his own day and in ours ... Oh, yeah -- it takes eight 'greats' before I come to him, and it's worth pointing out that I have 255 other grandfathers with eight 'greats' before their names!

As I progress through one name and another, all the time the numbers increasing beyond my own comprehension, I am overwhelmed by a sense of 'oneness' and 'timelessness'. Direct Descendents particularly intrigue me, because each one of them is so essential to my own creation, just as I will become essential to my own future descendents. Then when you consider the chances of your own conception just from the right time and place of your parents and the race of sperm rushing to be the first to find that 'egg' -- and so existence has found yet another level of chance. And this is the same for each one of us -- we are eternally embraced by each other through the ages, locked in a genetic universe ever changing and ever challenging.

UPDATE: Today I received a very kind comment about my writing, which is attached to this entry. It caused me to reread what I had written and as a result must correct a complete mis-statement. Thomas is not my 8th great-grandfather, but my 13th! Thus I have not 255 other eight-great grandfathers, but 4,192!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rage

Lately I've been thinking a lot about 'rage'. It seems to be part of the human condition -- I think everybody must suffer it at some time in their life. It seems to me that it's what we do with our rage that determines our life.

There are people in my life who would deny that they have ever been 'enraged' and yet it is one of the most telling features of their personalities. And just because one seems to be even-tempered does not mean there is no rage -- does it lie there unrecognized? Is it supressed and controlled or directed and managed in some mysterious catharsis that is incomprehensible to others?

I am always leary of people who have modulated and controlled manners of speech -- somehow you can see beneath the facade to the rage underpinning the character. Of course I could be wrong, but I always felt that about Margaret Thatcher's voice ...

Rage is most obvious in children -- the terrible two's, three's and four's! But the manifestation is so different -- some have out of control tantrums, others bully in stealth, some tell tales and some say nothing, prefering to sit out the loud hysteria that quiets and lulls their behaviours but not their psyches. Usually, we calm down for a while, until the onset of puberty, when emotional hell breaks out as we reach for and demand equality with adults, come what may, ready or not!

In general, I feel that my rage has been spent -- burnt out -- doused! Once upon a time I would vent and rant and though my husband can still elicit such behaviour from me from time to time, in general I feel rather 'becalmed' and 'boring'. But there are some people who never recognize or come to terms with their rage at any level. They are the grumpiest of grumpy old men and the grumpiest of grumpy old women. The live long day is a rampage of complaints and diatribes about how badly everything is done and how the solution to all of the ills that engulf them is obvious if only this or that was done. Victor Muldrew is not a fictional character! He is an every man ...

For a long time I've been witness to rage within a family -- between adults -- who love each other, I think. I wonder how it can be soothed ... in one instance it is between father and daughter, in another it is between brothers, and in yet another instance it is between a two small boys and their mothers. In only one instance is it recognized, in the others it is denied. And so it would seem to be that the rage will work through succeeding generations and the past will work its way into the future.
Interesting item in the news today: supposedly Barack Obama and Richard Cheney are 8th cousins! Further investigations into the subject of genealogy has shown that such relationships are not surprising and that 50 generations back we are probably all related to one another! So where the hell did the rage start and when are we going to learn how to deal? And where along the line are you my cousin or my uncle or my aunt? And is the rage yours, mine and ours?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Chris Dodd for President

Universal Medical Care, Ending the War in Iraq, Education, Energy are just four of the issues that are of great importance to me and Chris Dodd has some inspired thinking that would make him the most worthy Democratic presidential candidate.

But there are other issues that he has thought deeply about, issues that show leadership and ability: He intends to restore Habeas Corpus to the Constitution and to give Seniors retirement security. In addition, his agenda calls for national service that would give a new sense of American community. Chris Dodd was himself inspired by John F. Kennedy -- he joined the Peace Corps and served in the Dominican Republic.

Senator Dodd first came to my attention at one of the early debates last Spring. I was liked his answers during the debate and when he was interviewed afterward. Of all the candidates, he was the only one who did not sound 'rehearsed' -- he did not 'soundbite-speak'. Rather avuncular and serious, there was about him a steadfastness and straightforwardness that impressed me.

It seems to me that rather too much in this pre-primary turmoil has been spin and 'spit and polish'. Too much attention is being paid to not saying the ' wrong' thing, instead of saying the 'right' thing -- the honest and believable thing. Too much attention is being paid to 'image' and not enough to substance. Too much is being said without anything being said. There has not been enough 'heart' -- except for Chris Dodd.

This is the time when Democrats can take control of the spin doctors. This is the time when we can listen for the real meaning and dispense with the rhetoric. I hope the voters in Iowa will live up to their reputation as free thinkers and give their votes and the national spotlight to Senator Chris Dodd.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Happy Anniversary Roberta and Pete!


It's an open secret as to HOW LONG they've been married as of 22 September 2007! But I won't give it away -- but it's longer than I've been married, though not as long as a Golden Wedding!Pete and Roberta are two of my oldest -- make that 'longest' -- and dearest friends. And above is another of my longest and dearest friends, another Roberta! The fellow on the right is Pete's brother, Art. We grew up together in Burrville, in northwestern Connecticut. Now they live on Cape Cod. You can meet them on the pottery trail, Good Light Pottery. Jean was the other of the group. She now lives in Naples, Florida. We haven't all been able to be together very often since our early 20's, but when we do it's non-stop talking and laughing.
Gosh, I really do love these people. This is the last picture taken of all of us together. We were at a Nickerson family reunion at Burr Pond. Pete's Dad was there, too -- flirting with all the women! So was my brother, Bill. When growing up seeing each other is so taken for granted. This was a very special occasion because all six Nickerson siblings were there -- my brother was paraticularly close to Roberta's brothers, Robert and Charles ...
Another great afternoon -- our last all together. Time we had another ...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

1327 and All That!

I decided to read again The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. It’s been a long time since I first read it and the passage of time has improved greatly my appreciation of it, I must admit.

This morning I lay comfortably in bed thinking over the dilemmas the book describes: theological arguments, the dangers of being a heretic, the role of inquisitors, the history of the
Pope in Avignon and the debate about poverty … not to mention the story of the Cathars and other ‘heretical’ groups at the time. And here I am in a small corner of the Lot, in Quercy, thinking how much we have learned since then! Oh! if only it were so!!!

No one really knows how old our little house is, but it’s old enough to have been built with walls 29 inches thick! The neighbour says, with a Gallic shrug, 3 or 4 hundred years – not back far enough to bear witness to those medieval times, but old enough to witness lots of troubles, including World War II when German soldiers came through Aynac and camped in a wood which we can see from our main gate. Our neighbour was a boy of 14 and his family was required to provide food for them. The point being that while there has been over 60 years of peace and while the outlook is now of Paradise itself, there is a whole ‘Lot’ of history I can’t begin to imagine. Aynac does have a church that has been around since the 12th Century, so the church bears witness to the times of 1327 – no wonder it’s in need of some repair! Oh dear! Is it the church that’s 12th Century or the Chateau!!! I must learn to take pictures of signs …

Somewhere recently I heard that the most peaceful century was the 2nd Century ad – now that gives some food for thought! If you are a Westerner now it would seem as though the benefits of peace so outweigh those of war that we would never go that way again. And yet, and yet not so long ago and not so far away bloody fights persisted in the former Yugoslavia. The EU long a harbinger of peace and good will among like states has now become a kind of ‘state overlord, I suppose’ even a kind of peace safety network – but is it still a network of ‘like-mindedness’? Are we building bridges so fast that they are likely to collapse because the necessary structure is not sound? I look around this idyllic place in the world, where the sky at night is free from light pollution, clear and divine – where the past days the green of the trees and land and the blue of the autumn sky is so perfect and I think about the rest of the world – and our undiminished need to tame it and control it. It’s hard here to imagine the billions of China and India, where there are also green fields and blue sky, and where they are reaching out to touch our world more and more – and I think that perhaps we are illusionists living still in the error of our ways and that history will once more defeat us.

Monday, August 27, 2007

M. Marcel Bos 1913-2007





M. Bos est mort la semaine dernière.

He was a wonderful gentleman of the Cantal in the Auvergne and was 94 last April. We have been coming to our little French farmhouse in the Lot for nine years. M. Bos was the father of Paulette, the first person we met when we came to look at the house over 10 years ago now. Paulette’s father lived with her and her husband, Georges, in the farmhouse right next to ours.

Every day M. Bos would walk past our gate and we would try to pass the time of day with him. His accent was a strong dialect that was difficult for fluent French speakers to decipher and next to impossible for us with our feeble and shameful ability with the language. Nevertheless, over the years we were able to speak about the weather, about his health, and about wild mushrooms.

When we first knew him he still worked every day in the vegetable gardens and from time to time would bring us Quercy melons (the best in the world!) still warm from the sun! Every year he arrived with a plastic shopping bag full of various wild mushrooms and wonderful cepes – last years cepes were amazing. On our day of arrival this year he came with freshly picked girolles, which were cooked that evening and were absolutely delicious.

It may have been our second summer here, so M. Bos would have been around 89 – my husband was working on the roof positioning the TV antenna. We didn’t really have a long enough ladder and I asked M. Bos if they had one we could borrow. He trudged along back to a barn and before I knew it was walking back, cane in one hand and wooden ladder over the other shoulder!

The family very kindly invited us to attend the funeral and also to view the body, which was laid out in his bedroom. We declined, due to our own sensibilities, but were very touched that they shared their sorrow with us. The arrangements for the funeral and burial were deeply a family affair. M. Georges Estival is a fine cabinet maker and I wonder if he made the coffin himself... The men in the family drove a van with the coffin inside and we were invited to join the family procession to the church in Maurs, not quite an hour away. Family carried him into and out of the church and to his final resting place.

The day of the funeral was glorious – not a cloud in the skies. As I sat in the old church it occurred to me that M. Bos might have been married in that church and perhaps his daughter was as well. It seemed a place of family traditions, but somehow, it was in a sense not religious. A mass was said and people seemed to know all the words – but out of 100 people only two received the sacrament. The priest spoke clearly – we could understand much of the French. (I learned later he was probably from Belgium!!!)

The cemetery is in a beautiful, hilly place overlooking the hills of the Auvergne – one could easily imagine Les Chansons de l’auvergne echoing their haunting melodies. We joined the other mourners and sprinkled sand over the flag-draped coffin and the dear sweet man was laid to rest. Is it not reassuring in this divided world to know that genuine endearment can happen despite language and cultural barriers; that when hearts are in the right place loving friendships can be fostered and sustained; and that when I think on the dear friend, all losses are restored and sorrows end. (Shakespeare Sonnets)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Truth and the lying liars who tell it.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of ‘truth’, about its use and abuse. When is ‘living a lie’ ‘living a lie’?

Truth is not about getting one’s facts right. It is not answering a question with a yes or a no. It’s a way of life that takes the good with the bad straight on and unequivocally. It is the better way because it keeps us free from chaos, though chaos may engulf us.

But I do believe that we each make our own ‘arrangement’ with ‘Truth’ or ‘honesty’ or ‘integrity’ and it’s the ‘arrangement’ that we decide upon that determines or own moral character.

The paradox is that the Truth and the Lie are the opposite sides of the same coin. As with good and evil one cannot exist without the other. What is truth when used vengefully, when used to cause harm and pain? Is it not then contaminated? Does it not then become a Lie?

Must the ‘truth’ be told? And if the answer is ‘not always’, then when is ‘discretion the better part of valor? Some of us will always be caught if we try to deceive or to cheat. We just won’t get away with it, while others seem to be able to live by the lie to ascend the ladder of achievement by it – but then one’s humanity, one’s wholeness becomes broken and life’s meaning is lost.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Auberge du Bon Laboureur


Jane and Chris Coleman and their son Alexander are newly arrived in France hoping for a better, more meaningful life than what was there for them near Cambridge. They are bringing back to life an old-fashioned hotel-restaurant in Graçay, France. We tend to stay in the area when en route to our place in the Lot and since our usual hotel is closed on Tuesday we trawled the Internet to see what we could find. It isn’t that easy to find small family-run places in that part of the country – at least we haven’t found it so. But some hunting and pecking yielded a small list of places to try and this place was on the list and only a few kilometres away from our hotel in Vatan.

The place was just ready for over-night guests, but the restaurant was wonderful. And yes, the cook is English! And yes, we did stay the night in a room which promises to be outstanding value in the not too distant future and a bed that made up for any finishing touches the room at that time lacked. Also the room is very large, airy and bright and has nice views over the rooftops of the village and church. There was still work to do on the bathroom, but the essential equipment was in place and we both enjoyed a great shower. The hotel is tucked away a bit in the corner of the market square. An old-fashioned coach gate opens into a courtyard full of promise. In time there will be terraces for eating outside and a walled garden – the wall, by the way is the original Roman wall!

Our meal was fine by any standards. Our first course was a home-made paté served with an excellent local bread. For the main course I selected a salmon en croute with a cream sauce that was generous and delicious. And the vegetables were perfectly prepared – unlike in many a French restaurant! For dessert – and Chris makes all the desserts himself – I chose the yummy apricot tarte. UPDATE: On our return visit I had chicken wrapped in ham that was succulent, tender and a perfect blend of flavours. The pear poached in spiced red wine was a heavenly ambrosian concoction of the cook!

We were able to stay there on our return journey, and were happy to discover that they have had a good summer and their reputation continues to grow! There is a lot of work to do, but the villagers a thrilled to have them and have been very welcoming. Alexander speaks remarkable French and is even making himself useful in the kitchen. Both Jane and Chris radiate enthusiasm for their new life. The pressure of life in England, of running around in circles and never getting there is to them, not what life should be about. And so they work toward their dream of a new kind of family life. One that is not about becoming monetarily wealthy, but a life that is rich.

Contact Information:
Telephone: 0033 248 514 219
jane.coleman@wanadoo.fr

Monday, July 16, 2007

Judgement Day

Yesterday in his sermon, the Vicar asked what believed, in fact if we believed in the Day of Judgement. The Gospel was about loving your neighbour and included the story of the Good Samaritan.

What I remember about the sermon:

The 10 commandments are the means to our liberation.

The fact that the Samaritan did all he could do for the victim and that the others did not implies that the others were not obeying the commandment of loving their neighbour.

But what is Judgement? Are we to face a list of our wrong-doings, sin by sin, throughout the days of our lives? Will there be a list and somewhere on that list will there be the date of 12 October and the fact that at 3.14 pm I beat my little brother to a pulp because he wouldn't give me his candy? Also, it seems to me that the idea of answering for our sins was somehow at odds with the teachings of our church that our sins are forgiven if we but ask -- the slate is wiped clean, we begin again.

But maybe that's not really what it is about at all. Somewhere in scripture, I believe it says there will be many tears and much gnashing of teeth. That image of 'gnashing teeth' has always been very clear to me, for some reason! So what could it be about, this Judgement Day?

Could it not be that it is about having the 'scales fall from our eyes' and the 'veil rent and torn' so that we can see who we are, who we have been and all the pain and sorrow that has made us that way as well as all the pain and sorrow that our ways have caused others. And this judgement is our catharsis -- our reconciliation with God. Judgement becomes revelation and cleansing.

So then what about condemnation? And Atonement? Redemption?

Ah! The Mysteries of Faith ...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Gosh, Time Flies and I Wasn't Always Having Fun

Except for going to Venice for my birthday weekend. That was fun and happy. And the weather, except for my actual birthday was perfect, too. The great thing about Venice is that it doesn't disappoint, it's more than you expect. Tourists are a problem, but how can a fellow tourist complain about that! And unbelievably it will only be far worse when the real tourist season begins. Unfortunately, we only had a very short time -- an afternoon, in fact, but there will be a next time, God willing, and three days is the minium time to see anything of what we hope. But it was a wonderful day spent with my son, who was able to show us around quite ably. He is living and working in the beautiful Veneto area of Italy in the district of the Prosecco grape and we thoroughly enjoyed the company and hospitality of the family of his girlfriend.

The following week saw the turnover of one Prime Minister to another. Feels kind of weird as we all wait to see which way the wind blows with Gordon Brown. Nobody can really tell if he bodes for good or ill, but we all hope for the best. So far at least for me, I am feeling more positive than negative. In the meantime, nary a day had passed and there was a terrorist plot revealed. This time by NHS doctors. This has given quite some pause for thought.

No longer can people ignore the fact that it is not only the uneducated or disaffected Islamic youth who hunger for our destruction. I read today that almost immediately Fox news sent out the meme that socialized medicine produces terrorists! Which brings us to another topic now out for public discussion: the medical catastrophe endemic throughout the United States, thanks to Michael Moore's latest movie, SiCKO. Congratulations, Michael, on a job well done -- and about time, too.

Many Americans have been impressed by the attitude of the British public towards the recent bombing threats. The press has covered the story, but the feeling here by public and media alike is to get on with life and take it in our stride -- be vigilant and get back to living our lives. Just so, say I!

Well for today and tomorrow the weather is supposed to be nice -- here in Southport, Merseyside. Then it's back to rain and more rain. France beckons in the near future, but the weather there has been off and on so who knows what it will be like by the time we get there. I'm off. Must write more often.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Enter Gordon Brown Who Reminds me of …

I have mixed feelings about the Prime Minister to be. I was put off the first time I ever saw him by how much he reminded me physically of Richard Nixon – the jowly face, the body language, even the way he had of speaking. That was a long time ago, but makeovers later and the Nixonian aura still persists for me

Gordon Brown is a hard fellow to warm to, as was the disgraced President. But one must try to give the man a chance. But I do think he’s a bit of a “strange” one, though that does not mean he won’t be a great leader. I wish him well and I hope we find him to be a leader of wisdom and depth who can rise to the challenge of a country suspicious of its leadership and worried about the future and the direction we seem to be heading.

It is a strange system that can simply change Prime Ministers at the whim, or not, of one man. Doesn’t seem very democratic. I really do wonder if Gordon Brown is ‘electable’ without becoming Prime Minister first. The United Kingdom, like the United States does not elect it’s political leader directly. The United Kingdom is, however, electing a government. Americans really don’t think that way. First of all, it’s complicated because the Head of State in the UK is a sovereign born to the role for life. The closest we have to a Prime Minister is the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate.

It is very valuable for Americans to study how politics in the UK works. It explains why our own government is the way it is. Our government was created to correct what were deemed to be the faults of Parliamentary Sovereign Britain. The most evident method of doing this was the system we have of ‘checks and balances’. This is an important concept to have developed, but there is a price to pay – government stagnation.

For example, in Britain, the government of the day can raise taxes within hours! (Un-American!!) In Britain the government of the day is elected for 5 years – in the U.S. the government can change dramatically every two years. The Queen has an interesting way of putting things to a new Prime Minister when she asks him if he or she can ‘form a government’. In Britain ‘government’ means do you have enough of a consensus to do the job? A Government is 'of the day'.

I love the concept here of the ‘loyal opposition’. For every ‘government’ there is a ‘shadow government’ and every minister in the government must stand up and defend the policies of the day and is answerable directly to his ‘shadow minister’ in particular and must also be able to respond to questions from other honourable parliamentarians. The most striking thing to me about Parliament is its intimacy and almost informality amidst all the tradition and politeness of the ‘honourable friends’.

Most Americans believe that ours is the greatest democracy in the world and our Constitution is the best in the world. I don’t believe this – other countries do have democracies that can rival ours. Somehow all the safeguards that the founding fathers came up with didn’t stop big government. It is a fact that when the Constitution was written , it was assumed there would be Constitutional Conventions held that would bring forth Constitutional reform – when the amendments to the Constitution are longer than the original document, it seems to me perhaps it is about time to start over again.

But I cannot in my wildest imagination come up with who we find to perform such a task and how we would ever be able to get 50 states to agree to its adoption. And so comes some more wisdom from the British! They have an ‘Unwritten Constitution’. I used to joke about this as an instance of British arrogance. Now I think it a mark of genius!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What a Difference a Year Makes

Two days ago I returned from a trip to visit my mother in Connecticut. As it happens, my last trip was almost exactly one year ago and it seems to me, as a non-resident, that there have been a lot of changes in that time.

Shortly after returning home last year – about a month later – I became aware of The Daily Kos and as a result there have also been big changes in my own awareness of how things stand in the US. But it is also true that my affiliation with DK has made me see things from a perspective that isn’t entirely reflective of how things appeared to me when I was actually there on this most recent trip.

The 2006 mid-term election seems to have brought the media up short and coverage now seems to be much more balanced and honest than it was on my last visit. In my own Congressional District (CT-5) a talented “youngster”, Chris Murphy, trounced the “unbeatable” Nancy Johnson. Murphy ran an excellent campaign and won despite the scepticism of many local Democratic Committees. Thank you Howard Dean and your grass-roots legacy – you have proved that the Democratic Party is still electable.

Back to the media – suddenly Wolf Blitzer sounds even-handed and not the pawn of a Republican media baron. He sounded absolutely companionable with Jack McCafferty. Even Chris Matthews seemed a tad thoughtful! Charles Gibson, disappointingly seems to be upholding the more Republican view – but in ever such a nice Charles Gibson kind of way! However, almost everybody seems to be biding time and fervently hoping that somehow the President can be stopped in his tracks and that Congress will do what it has to get the troops home. Some in the media are held hostage by the dilemma of the US having caused the debacle in Iraq, we have an obligation to stay until it’s sorted out – but I have the sense that most people see it as a never-ending quagmire that we will never be able to solve and so better to cut our losses and get out now. It’s really important that Congress steps up to the mark and the sooner the better. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid seem to be maintaining their popularity to the consternation of the Republican mafia – one just hopes the rest of Congress has the balls to see this thing through and do what they’ve been elected to do. They will be out next time if they don’t. Unless one is particularly interested in politics most Americans would rather ignore the Presidential Hopefuls – except for Barack Obama who attracts enthusiastic crowds wherever he goes.

I also noticed a big change in attitudes toward Green Issues. Possibly this is due to the violent and unpredictable weather the US has been suffering. But most likely this is due to the work Al Gore has done and his film An Inconvenient Truth. Even so, it doesn’t seem to have dented the American enthusiasm for the SUV – loads of those still creeping up behind me! I was surprised that the price of gas was so high – but why should I be – no election this year. Still one ‘helluva’ lot cheaper than Europe – half the price.

The country is holding its collective breath and seems to want some real change. Its good to see ads on TV promoting single-payer health care. There is a lot of momentum building in the political arena, but I hope that by the time its time to vote again that the masses aren’t so numbed by boredom with it all that it will be impossible for them to become politically engaged.

I missed the debate between the Democratic hopefuls, but saw the Republican efforts. All the political pundits I saw seemed to think that both debates were similar in terms of effectiveness. No one really blew it. Rudy Guilliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney came out on top. Of them all I agree most with the former mayor of New York, but I also liked the Governor of Wisconsin, whose name I can’t recall. He’s the only candidate of both parties who has actually outlined a plan for getting us out of Iraq – and no one I read or heard commented on that let alone discussed it. So much for someone who offers more than sound bites. And so it will go on, I’m sure.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Lark Ascending? Really?

One of the things I love most about the Easter weekend is the countdown from Good Friday of the 300 top classical favourites as voted by the public. I have quite happily spent entire weekends in the kitchen with the radio tuned in to this event.

The most interesting part of the countdown, however, is not so much the number one as it is hearing what comes before say the top 20. The top ten are always pretty predictable and usually the top five are to be expected. Except that the last two years it has been somewhat surprising -- even astonishing to me -- that Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending should have placed number 3 last year and number one this year! That is not to say it is not a lovely lyrical piece -- but number one favourite -- certainly not mine -- not even in my top ten!

The number one choices in past years have been fairly predictable: Last year it was Mozart's clarinet concerto, the year before Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concerto and before that it was the Bruch Violin Concerto -- which surprised me, and it held that position for several years! This year for the first time Beethoven had more entries than Mozart. Personally, I don't see how anyone can listen to Beethoven's piano concerto number 5 (The Emperor) and not give that the highest of all rankings -- it ranked number 5 this year.

Personally, I would like to see some opera in the top ten. There is not really a lot of opera among the 300. The Pearl Fishers duet is always popular among listeners and so is the 'Humming Song' from Madame Butterfly -- but there is so much more that is exquisite yet not often heard.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter

Just before he said it, it flashed through my mind, that it would be something if he would. Ahmadinejad's 'Easter gift to the British people' has made me reflect on the significance of Easter to people in the West -- it would seem that perhaps it is more significant to the President of Iran than to many of the rest of us!

In the US not much is really made of Easter. There are Easter Baskets covered in colorful cellophane for sale and horrible chocolate bunnies and horrible marshmallow 'peepers' (now in sickening blue, pick and green as well as yellow) -- but there is no holiday and it can pass by without anyone taking much notice. It should be perhaps noted that while there is not public holiday for Easter, it is usual that the schools time the Spring break to occur at that time. It is also a tradition that the White House has an Easter egg roll or hunt for children -- specially picked, of course! But overall, it's 'the holiday that isn't'.

When I was a child my parents made a big deal of Easter Sunday. In fact the period from Palm Sunday through Holy Week was spiritually very important to both my parents, as it is now still for me. It is in fact the most important of the holy days on the Christian calendar. As a small child I believed in the Easter Bunny and rushed to see the presents delivered to my place at the breakfast table. For years it meant a new outfit, a new hat and shoes (patent leather 'Mary Jane's' with the ankle strap and gros-grain bow), often a new spring coat and of course church. To this day I associate Easter with tulips and daffodils and always have them to bring the feel of Easter into the house.

In the mid-seventies in Washington, DC, my best friend and neighbor, David and I began to throw Easter dinners. What was interesting was that everyone we invited was so happy to have the dinner and to participate in it -- as if they rather regretted the lack of an Easter tradition. I don't know if there has ever really been a tradition in America as in Europe. Here Easter Monday is a holiday. Germany has a lovely Easter tradition -- eggs and Easter egg trees and pasqual lambs from the bakery and special bread, along with the religious celebration. I have some exquisitely painted and decorated eggs that I acquired when we lived in Bavaria. Unfortunately, at the moment I don't even know exactly where they are. Certainly the traditions of Germany are the traditions most prevalent in America. British customs are far more reserved and consist largely of hot-cross buns and all things chocolate -- especially chocolate Easter eggs.

Back to Washington -- David and I gave 4 or 5 dinners and no one who had ever come to one dinner declined to come the next year! The last one we cooked 4 legs of lamb and had nearly 60 people ... Easter became for us a joyful and festive occasion with plenty of food and lots of song and even a bit of dance: a celebration of life and of promise.

For truly Easter is just that: a celebration and promise of life everlasting ...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Prevailing Angst

I feel it wherever and whenever -- continuous fault-finding. Are you "green" enough, for example. Don't drive your car. Don't fly in airplanes. Don't drink more than one glass of wine. Don't eat certain fats. Don't spank (smack) your children. Don't raise your voice. Don't eat eggs or butter or fat. Don't get fat. Don't let your children watch television or eat at McDonalds. Don't use this product or that because it was tested on animals. Don't wear fur. Don't buy anything from countries whose workers have been exploited. On and on.

Television bombards us with ads to buy everything and encourages us to re-mortgage our house to do it. Everybody want his piece of each of us and temptation is rampant. Politicians promise and cajole. Commentators imply and pervert even-handedness. We want it all and we do not want to pay the price -- but we will anyway, just let's pretend that somehow we aren't. To borrow and phrase 'We are in the world and the world we know not!' More and more ordinary people (middle class people, of course) travel to exotic parts of the world we never dreamed of visiting twenty or thirty years ago. But how many of us ever go beneath the surface of the dream vacation/holiday and experience the culture of these foreign places? How many of us ever see neighbourhoods or meet families -- how many of us want to see beneath the surface beyond the hotels and swimming pools and tourist sites?

The prospect of seeing poverty and misery for myself is not what I want -- yet it is mine to behold and I will not. Not for me the stench of overcrowded cities and the unwashed forgotten millions upon millions with their open sewers and desperateness.

And we sit idly by secure in our comfortableness on a precipice of our undoing and as we fall they will survive because they will know how and we will be 'copelessly' overcome.

Friday, January 26, 2007

For Hillary Clinton's Blog

I believe you have all the qualities that are important for the President of the United States to have. You are smart enough, have the experience and the insight and political skills that are necessary to do the job. But I am concerned about the 'knives' that will come out should you become the Democratic candidate. On the one hand I am mightily impressed with your political success in New York State -- success that is well-deserved and with merit: you are a damned good Senator. Period.

On the other hand, nationally, you have a lot of political baggage that will make you vulnerable to unjustified, but damaging and extremely personal attack. Old and worn scandals and suspicions will no doubt re-surface and I fear for you, I fear for the party and for the nation.

It may not be deemed politial smart to address this issue. But as a proud member of the Democratic Party, I know that these are concerns shared by many others and that if you do not talk about them, not only will they not go away, it will be to your detriment.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

About Jade Goody: My Two Cents

I don't watch Big Brother. I think it's stupid and I think it's a lie. It's called 'reality tv', but it's anything but 'reality'. At least the situation the contestents are in, is anything but real. But since they are in a 24/7 situation what is unreal becomes real for them and eventually their behaviour adapts to this bizarre reality and anything can and does happen. The contestants privacy becomes debased. Our Century's version of the Arena, the Colleseum. The name of the game is to see how badly events can be construed so as to observe whose behaviour becomes the most outrageous and ridiculous. And then the 'blame fun' can begin, because as everybody knows each of us is ultimately responsible for our own behaviour.

Jade's behaviour was terrible. She behaved as an agressive racist bully. The media salivated -- every newspaper and all the main channels carried the story. The public complained. Ratings soared.

In the aftermath, Jade was abashed, embarrassed, and ashamed of her behaviour -- at least I believe her. The media and Big Brother made her a star because they were charmed by her 'salt-of-the-earth' 'honest' personality. As a result she has made some good money and until now been very popular. It is possible all of that is now lost. I hope not, for her sake, as I think she is someone who can do a lot to help us all realize the impact our behaviour has on not only the world around us but the world at large.

Racism is broader than the color of someone's skin or one's religious belief. It's bigger than gender. Racism is everyday abuse, too. Whenever we call someone a Frog, or a Kraut, or a Chink, or Wog, or tell an Irish joke -- whenever we denigrate anyone, this is racism. And as often as not, this racism is born out of anger. Deep-rooted, unholy anger that hurts not only our victims but ourselves and those we love as well.

It seems to me that to condemn Jade Goody does not help. I've seen headlines referring to 'uneducated' girls -- well isn't this another denigration, another separation another kind of racism? I think that Jade is going to come out of this a far better and more insightful person that she was before she went into that outrageous house/hell-hole. We should all welcome that and not bully her.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Winning Is not the Issue

There is all this talk among the politicians as to whether the Iraq War is winnable. As far as I can tell, the winning of the war was done a long time ago -- I mean 'Shock and Awe' and pulling down the statue and capturing Saddam. Installing a new government where there was none anymore. How much more is there to 'winning the war'?

Oh, the USA and whoever else was/is there they won the war -- they defeated the government and they rule today -- if you can call it that.

So, I request that the 'Powers that Be' stop talking about 'winning the war' and start talking about 'finding some peace'. In fact it would be a good idea just to figure out if we have any part to play in finding peaceful solutions or if that is in fact something we must leave to others -- with the possible exception of footing the bill.

And another thing ... anyone who talks about 'supporting our troops' by supporting the war -- isn't 'thinking'. Over 3,000 American soldiers have so far died because of arrogance and lies -- in a futile battle that has endangered the lives of my son and step-son and all other military personnel that have been sent into harm's way by ineptitude and faulty thinking.

So -- we won the bloody war. Big deal. It was never right and it never could have been. And no matter what -- just the fact that we are Americans makes us all tarred with the same brush of ineptitude and arrogance as our government. A government which didn't ask enough questions, a press which rushed open eyed to the spectacle and the public who went along and along and along. What a bunch of 'losers' we have become.

Nancy Pelosi, you've got a big job to try to do. God speed.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Seasonal Scream



I've taken down my first seasonal 'ornament' today. It's one of my favorites: A plastic, blow-up of 'The Scream' --er -- given to me a few years ago by my sister. Christmas had become such a Herculean ordeal for me that I had taken to adding a parenthetical Scream! Scream! Scream! after each use of the word whenever writing letters or emails. I was delighted to receive my surprise replica in the mail!

The 'Season to Be Jolly' was weird this year -- rather overshadowed by the darker side of life. I don't much like these times. Doom and gloom. And the weather -- Nothing is 'the same' -- except maybe the sun and the hours of day and night. Otherwise the flowers don't know when to give up, the leaves don't know when to drop and the birds don't know when to fly wherever it is they fly.

And then we were all treated to the lynching/hanging/execution of that Iraqi guy. Well I guess the media rather looked at it like a Christmas present the way they went on and on and on and on and on ... We stopped watching the news and reading the papers -- just skipped the first several pages of the newspapers we did buy. Honestly, it was as if we were brought backwards in time to when executions were calls for public gatherings and celebrations.

So, it was with some relief that New Year's Eve, spent as usual lately at home, glass of champagne in hand, with husband at my side, I felt a surge of hope that 2007 has to be better and that I want to be better, too. To be honest, I don't often feel that way on New Year's Eve and given recent events, it came as a surprise that I actually had this rather positive feeling.

Now if only I could get blogger to upload my
screaming picture ...