Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spices, Not Food

The settling-in process continues in its leisurely way, and will be continuing to do so for at least another week. A person tends to forget how expensive it is to set up residence, too. It's mindboggling how much food and how many supplies one seems to have to get, even if not starting from scratch. I did bring a box labeled "spices" out of storage and found that in addition to the spices, it held instant Thai soup packages and a surprising number of bandaids, but I feel as though I have visited the Whole Foods and Giant Eagle grocery stores absurdly often without having all that much to show for it besides a depleted bank account. The rabbits are going through greens at a rapid pace, so there always seems to be something for them on the shopping list.
I do not actually expect to get anything done on my dissertation for the next week or so, but each day I do go to campus and seek out more books and take care of administrative trivia. There is some bizarre problem with my ID card this year, and even now that I've gone and supposedly had it fixed and gotten a new card, I still can't log in to order books from storage or interlibrary loan. This is irksome.
My apartment, at least, is looking more like a real dwelling. There are now enough boxes and miscellaneous items around that the rabbits are having a fine time exploring the constantly changing terrain of the living room.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Are We Functioning Yet?

On Monday morning, the management for my apartment complex indicated that they did not yet know when the carpet cleaners were coming, so I removed myself from the premises and experienced a rather long and crowded bus ride to the university.
It appears that my stop is just far enough out that one can get a seat, which I suppose is an improvement from my last Pittsburgh bus stop, where often two or three buses would pass by, too full to stop. It is indeed baffling to me that the City of Pittsburgh is bent on cutting bus service, as while I don't think there is a plan to cut service on the routes that go past the universities on the way downtown, service in both the past and present has not been truly sufficient. (Add to this that shortly after I went to Prague, the parking lot near the Fine Arts building was torn down and replaced with a park. I am all in favor of parks, but the area is not short on green space. Demolition of the parking lot also meant the loss of the ethnic food trucks upon whose wares my department subsisted.)
On the whole, I enjoyed my day on campus, as I got to chat with several other grad students, the secretaries and librarians, and meet with my advisor, not to mention get assigned a new carrel and hunt up some books to put on it. I also found, to my relief, that it looks as though all the books I had mailed from Prague have arrived safely.
I did not, however, have much luck doing anything online. Using the university's wifi system (of which it is very proud) seems to entail either installing software from a CD or configuring one's system using countless pages of instructions. As I am not too bad with computers, I thought I could configure it myself, but I grew tired of writing down instructions. Once I got the software installed, it messed with various other settings and makes me log on to my own computer, which is ridiculous as I'm sure anyone who stole it would be able to find a way to get at my data if they really cared to do so.
And, for that matter, now that I have the thing set up to log me in to the network, I find that this much-lauded wifi is very unreliable. In the Cathedral of Learning (photo of this memorable structure to be shown in some subsequent post), I never had a connection long enough to do anything with it. In the main library, supposedly a bastion of wifi access, the laptop resolutely insisted that there was no wifi out there. The situation appears somewhat better in the Fine Arts library.
Wifi at school would be of relatively little importance if I already had phone and internet at home, but I do not have these things and need to research the various options online. Even with advice from Kristen, the process is not going very quickly. I attempted to sign up for a basic phone line, but although the form claimed it did not require my social security number, it refused to proceed without it, and in any case people sat down next to me just when I had reached the point in the application where I was supposed to put down such supposedly confidential information. To add insult to injury, somewhere at the bottom of the page was a notice about how much Verizon values my privacy. It cannot value my privacy very much if it requires my social security number, address, and previous address when I am sitting at a bank of computers in a library. I was also annoyed by the assumption that one's previous address could only have been in the United States.
On the positive side, and it is a strongly positive side, once the carpet had pretty much dried, I let the rabbits loose and they have had hours of fun racing around the apartment. It is true they have taken many naps in the meantime, but it's quite a sight to see Calypso Spots speeding along with her lop ears flapping. During the morning, I brought quite a few things back from storage and so the rabbits also had an increasing number of boxes and bags to race around. To my excitement, I have managed to dig up my shower curtain (not, of course, the hooks to hang it with); quite a few towels; a large cooking pot and a Pyrex dish; my printer; my radio/CD player; and a good deal of clothing suited to colder weather. Most of what is easily accessible is, alas, of no immediate use, being largely bags of towels and diapers formerly used to keep the late George in a relatively clean and dry state. Though I had washed most of my fabrics before putting them away, I did notice that Ms. Spots reacted visibly to some of my sheets, and I am sure that, despite their having been laundered, she smelled His Majesty. They smelled clean enough to me, but it is my understanding that rabbits have a sharper sense of smell than dogs, who are far better endowed than humans, so I'm afraid she will be having that smelling-a-ghost feeling for awhile to come.
So, while it is frustrating not to have internet or a table to work on around home, all is going about as well as can be expected.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pittsburgh Attained

The Spotted Pair and I reached Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon, entirely without meteorological incident despite the deposit of excess rain in many parts of the midwest. While towns hither and yon flooded and unfortunate persons were carried away and drowned, we encountered nothing of the sort during the midwestern portion of the journey.
Instead, we visited my friends Deanna, Jesse, and Brad, so there was considerable talk of dissertations and other Czech-related matters, and even of non-Czech personal matters. Deanna was my roommate one summer in Prague, Jesse was in my Czech class the following summer and of course also had a Fulbright grant for the Czech Republic when I had Fulbright-Hays, and Brad and I have known each other for eons (that is to say, since undergraduate days) but his visits to Prague have not coincided with mine. I may perchance say more of these visits when I have a chance to use my own computer (or I may not).
The new apartment seems all right, but the carpet-cleaners hadn't shown up by the time I did, so no one knows when the carpets will be sanitized and this means I would do well not to cover them with boxes and furniture. I also don't really want to have to capture the rabbits when the carpet-cleaners finally show up, so Orion and Calypso Spots are mostly confined to the kitchen, causing Ms. Spots to favor me with still more renditions of her now much-practiced baleful gaze. She is not disgusted all the time, however. She settled down considerably when we stayed at Jesse's and both rabbits got rather flopsy and rolled around comfortably on the floor. They also managed to push open the X-pen when Brad and I were out dining, so I live in fear that Brad will discover someone has chewed on a valuable puppet or other item. (Brad did not seem too worried. Like Deanna and Jesse, he was welcoming to the long-eared types and has nicknamed them Rorschach I and II.)
As it is likely that my parking meter has expired, I believe I must depart the library and return to the apartment, laden with miscellaneous items such as a mini-vacuum, a bag of hay, and a carpeted item designed for cats that might please a couple of long-eared, short-tailed cats.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rabbits Detest Travel

Despite the fact that I was able to bring the rabbits into my motel room last night (before leaving, I got them a foldable exercise pen that can be put in any number of different shapes), they were not much pleased at our continued travel. Orion was relatively frisky inside the pen, but indicated that he thought he should at least have the run of the room and not be confined. Ms. Spots remained very irritable looking and wasn't sure she really wanted to be petted because, of course, it is my fault we are traveling. Both, however, ate greens with enthusiasm. They are not very interested in the apples and carrots I brought, but they do eat hay when we stop, and lettuce and parsley were extremely well received.
Still, despite having a good appetite, Ms. Spots has visibly lost weight. A year ago, she was much bigger than Orion. Now she looks about half his size, which shows that on the one hand he is overweight and not losing pounds, while she has certainly lost any remaining excess. I'm glad that her pre-trip vet visit indicated her to be in excellent shape, because otherwise I would be rather worried about this. She seems to feel that her task on the trip is to express their collective distress to me, and the fact that I don't provide the desired response (instant return to my parents' house) is taken as a sign of my bad faith.
I had thought this would be easier on them than plane travel, where they get cooped up in the carrier for about 13 hours and shoved under the seat, but Ms. Spots forgives me for plane travel.
We shall see how the rest of the trip goes.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are We In Kansas Yet?

The Spotted Pair and I have been on the road for awhile now, but we're still on the Colorado side of the Colorado-Kansas border. For this, I particularly blame the hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic inching its way east to Denver on I-70 through the mountains. The scenery was gorgeous, and it was nice having some rain (I like places where it rains in the summer), but I really don't care to drive at a speed not much above that of your basic pioneer wagon train. I mean, if I had wanted to cross the country at that kind of speed, surely I could have found a historical reinactment group with a covered wagon to spare, and the rabbits could have spent their days climbing around the inside of the wagon chewing on boxes of books.
After all, most rabbits dislike car travel and Calypso Spots and Orion are typical of their species in this respect. They objected to being put in the back of the car in the first place, despite my having set up a nice little area for them with towels, litterbox, hay, and so on, and they spent the first day or two in complete rejection of the situation. Orion seemed to take the view that the world was ending or that at the very least he would soon be slaughtered, so he did not want to come out of the cage I had set in the rabbit area. Ms. Spots did not take quite such a dire view of the situation, but she was royally angered that her otherwise lovable human had planted her in the back of a car for an entire day and more. She was willing to eat the first night, so my only fear about her (a serious one) was that she might never forgive me.
Now that the Spotted Pair has kind of gotten familiar with the routine, they are still unhappy, but coping. They like to be out of the cage and resting on their towels, they gladly eat their hay, and sometimes they feel magnanimous enough to allow me to pet them. This evening, Ms. Spots clearly wished to be petted, although she was not quite ready to show her usual enthusiasm, so I had to be content with mainly petting her rump. She did incline her head somewhat in my direction, so I could tell that her heart was softening. Since she is normally incapable of being angry or distant for more than half an hour or so (this is about how long it takes her to get over a cross-country flight), I am relieved that we will probably be able to return to our usual relationship before long. Orion may have to be re-accustomed to his recent level of pettability, but I think that can be done. He is skittish but resilient. If Calypso Spots provides a good example, I expect he will eventually follow it.
I am displeased that we are now in the realm where flies want to join us in our travels, but since neither rabbit has wounds, this should not be a problem. Vigilance is the main thing when dealing with flies. I have had to deal with flystrike (maggots) on animals in the past, and I hope never to have to ever again.
But in general, I think we are traveling about as well as can be expected. The car was not really designed to travel laden with hundreds of pounds of Czech art books, but I did persuade it up the mountains, albeit sometimes in third gear at 40 mph.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Almost on the Road

The preparations for the drive to Pittsburgh are almost complete. Several of my friends have even confessed willingness to host me and the Spotted Pair on our way, for which we are very grateful.
I am losing track of my various last-minute activities, however. My sibling has taken up use of Dragon Naturally Speaking due to incipient carpal tunnel, and reports that it is an impressive piece of software. As I happened to have an unused disk for Dragon Naturally Speaking sitting around, I gave that to John since he is more comfortable lecturing than writing. It is to be hoped that it proves useful.
Cesar, meanwhile, persuaded me into trying a samba class. While I would not mind learning to samba, our class brought back recollections of why I used to abhor and avoid dance classes... I do not do well with "all levels" classes where everyone else already has a pretty good idea what they're doing and the instruction mainly consists of trying to follow along what you can see in the mirror. How am I supposed to "do four samba steps in each direction" if I don't yet know what a samba step consists of? I was disgruntled about this, but admittedly the attempt to catch on did involve getting plenty of exercise. I decided to regard it as a workout rather than a lesson, but I would have preferred to get some idea what I was supposed to be doing. Cesar had a better idea what he was doing, having seen more samba performed, but thought that the male body is really not designed for this dance. We concluded by drinking beer, and then, when John showed up after his Russian conversation class, drinking more beer. I gather the Russian class was more satisfactory, although John did think that it would have been hard to handle if he hadn't studied Russian previously.
The Spotted Pair has been repeatedly told about our upcoming trip, but as neither Ms. Spots nor Orion has any real experience with lengthy car trips, they have not shown any apprehension about it. Ms. Spots has, however, been preparing herself by molting. She has evidently been paying attention to the weather reports.
Many of my friends have inquired what prompts me to move back to Pittsburgh. The answer is actually relatively straightforward, if not all that brief. Apartments are considerably cheaper there than in the Bay Area (although not as cheap as sleeping on my parents' couch); most of my furniture and many of my books are there; my dissertation committee is there; I can get free interlibrary loan there; and I have friends there too. I can't say I am crazy about the weather in Pittsburgh, but other than that I tend to like the place.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007


The plums are all gone and now we're on to apples and pears. A good deal of apple pie has been made and consumed, so now with the pears ripened unexpectedly quickly (they have to be picked unripe, but they went ripe awfully fast after that), we are digging through the pear recipes. Or, rather, my mother is. I am ostensibly packing and returning library books.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Moving Right Along...

The weekend was more sociable than dissertation-focused, as it happened. As my birthday (and departure for Pittsburgh) approaches rapidly, John, Cesar, Megan, and I celebrated the birthday on Saturday by going out for Thai food and then taking a swing dance class at ODC. I wouldn't say that my dancing was quite at its best, but we all did fine at the class and those of us who stayed longer enjoyed additional dancing and the opportunity to watch those more adept than we are.
On Sunday evening I was invited to attend a graduation at Psychic Horizons. Oddly enough, I went to an introductory event at Psychic Horizons long ago; I suppose I heard of it through a shamanic-related mailing list or some such thing. At that time I had a reasonably positive impression, but one can only pursue a limited number of interests at a given time. The two graduates were suitably feted and congratulated, and afterwards they regaled me with some tales of a few of the more bizarre readings they had done during their course of study. One time, for instance, they were asked to find out why a house seemed to be haunted and see if it could be made to settle down.
Monday was notable mainly for Ms. Spots' excellent veterinary report. She is in fine shape, has lost a little weight, and ought to be in good condition to do the cross-country drive. Rabbits do not, in general, like driving or road trips, and she is no exception, so I am a little apprehensive about subjecting her and Orion to a week or so of travel. However, with familiar belongings around them and plenty of air-conditioning, they should be fine. The main thing is not to let them get too hot. We shall see.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

El Cerrito Gardens, Part 2

I am quite certain that five or ten years ago there was nothing remarkably exciting about this yard. In fact, I am sure it used to be quite drab.
Not anymore. Perhaps inspired by the impressive garden that has long existed a short distance away (to be featured soon), the inhabitants of this corner house have planted lots of delightful things.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Dancing the Blues

Yesterday, while briefly rummaging through the offerings at the local bookstore, my eye was caught by a book purporting to tell me how I could remain fit and youthful after fifty, and not succumb to all the ills of my parents' generation (which is a much healthier one than my grandparents', I can assure you). The gist seemed to be that one must immediately begin to exercise six days a week.
It is unlikely that I will ever manage to exercise six days a week, as I have a prejudice against any form of exercise that is not also relatively enjoyable, and so many of the things I need or like to do are sedentary. On the other hand, I am opposed to the idea of sliding into physical decline, and I have been perhaps unusually sedentary since Christmas or thereabouts. I was pleased that Cesar and I had already made plans to go to a blues dance class that evening.
In the last two or three years, Cesar has become well acquainted with the dance-class scene in San Francisco, so I have been after him to clue me in on some of the better venues. I suppose I could have gone back to frequenting Berkeley's Ashkenaz, but it seemed like if I finally knew someone local who also liked to dance, there was no need to go alone. After all, until one visits a place, it's hard to know whether it is more a couples hangout or just full of people who like to dance.
The blues dance class was pleasant and pretty easy, since apparently blues dance doesn't require learning any steps. (I have an extremely poor memory for dance steps, although I can follow fairly well.) It was the first dance class I had attended where the instructor wanted participants to give a rundown of their dance experience, however. While few people had much blues dance experience, it sounded as though they all spent a lot of time doing swing, lindy hop, tango, and ballroom. While I did get good enough at west coast swing that several good dancers used to seek me out at the Live Oak Park swing dance evenings, this was at least seven years ago and there has not been much dancing in my life since then. My dance background is very spotty, considering that I really cannot recall how to do the pavane, the galliard, the minuet, or any other thing that requires my keeping track of what comes next.
After class was over, I got in a reasonable amount of dancing. The etiquette at this particular venue appears to be that one must not dance with the same person twice, which is a little more extreme than I am used to. At Live Oak Park, it seemed permissible to dance several songs with the same partner before moving on, although frequent exchange of partner was considered a good idea. It was even acceptable to return to a previous partner. Of course, I suppose I was in better form then too.
The atmosphere was pleasant, most of the music was good, and all of the dancers seemed pretty competent. I would have been happy to have danced a little more.
At the same time, I was most disconcerted to find that the parvovirus or whatever it was that afflicted me a month ago seems to have left its mark on my joints. I knew that I was still feeling problems in one of my fingers, but even the warmup, let alone the dancing, seemed to bother my back, and all of my joints seemed rather unhappy, and continue to today.
I take the view that my joints are just going to have to get over this viral residue and participate in dancing, skiing, and other activities, but it was a hint that I might need to exercise six days a week to convince them to cooperate.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Love in the Litter Box

Orion and Calypso Spots engage in another passionate grooming session. I hope that our upcoming drive across country doesn't unsettle them too much.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

El Cerrito Gardens, Part I

There has been too much text and a dearth of pictures here of late. I therefore commence a long-intended series on Bay Area gardens.
Each of these is from a different garden passed on the way to Fat Apples (where the pumpkin pancakes are very fine).

These roses belong to what has always been a very charming yard. One year, if I remember correctly, it even won a local gardening award. It's the first time I've ever seen them quite like this, however. I guess too many people couldn't resist picking the blossoms. I'm not sure why else there would be netting over them.

This struck me as quite an enchanting vista.

This house, while its front yard is small, packs in a fine selection of colorful flora.

But, of course, at least half the yards still look pretty much like this. It used to be most of them.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Some Congratulations

A surprising number of my friends have either just started or are about to start exciting new jobs.
Megan, for example, having spent the past year doing an Americorps stint at Habitat for Humanity, is now an actual Habitat employee. I tried to get her to explain what the new job will entail, and she tried to tell me, but all I really comprehended was that it will involve policy, housing, land, and volunteers. It sounded like a good thing, though. Affordable housing is more and more difficult to find in much of the US.
Dawn, who spent last year teaching in Toronto, has gotten a job teaching German and, I believe, beginning Spanish and flute in Indiana. She's also bought what looks like a very fine house. We hope that this job, which makes use of several of her skills, will be really interesting and satisfying.
Cesar recently began a brand-new social services job. I gather he was applying for a job the organization had advertised, but was told that his qualifications were perfect for a new job they were in the process of creating. As with Megan's job, I am not sure quite what it entails, but I have heard a lot about it. In part, Cesar will be putting together a newsletter for and presumably by the clients, and/or a more literary effort. And in part he's supposed to teach (or find teachers for) the clients, who are, as they say, "at-risk." I am extremely curious what he ends up teaching. I grasp that elementary time-management skills would indeed benefit a population that tends not to wear watches or get to appointments, but Cesar is also pondering something about bird calls, although this is not at all one of his areas of expertise. He did say that the other night he persuaded a homeless Apache met on the street to demonstrate the call of an eagle. We'd like to know whether the recall of a tribal teaching turns the guy's life around, but it seems unlikely that we would find out.
Denise, one of the founders of my writing group, has finished her PhD and is starting a job at Cal State Chico, where apparently she'll start off teaching Spanish Phonology. Luckily Chico is not hundreds or thousands of miles from where she currently lives, so she can commute while she and her husband figure out their housing situation and what to do about their kids' schooling. Or perhaps they have already figured this out, being an impressively decisive pair.
April, who just graduated from my own PhD program, has found a teaching job in Iowa, while Naoko, who I believe will be graduating next year, was offered a tenure-track job and also two or three well-deserved fellowships.
I hope I have not forgotten to mention anyone...

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Roaming the Mission Arts Scene, for Starters

I had sort of hoped that Saturday might be devoted to learning to kayak, but no one I suggested the idea to seemed to be available and it did cost money. So I went to the library instead.
Cesar did have a plan for the evening, however. We managed to get John to join us for burritos before he went off to see a movie with other friends (who are evidently more of a dissertation-distraction than we are), and then began roaming the open studios and such of San Francisco's Mission. It seems that the Mission is becoming less and less a working-class Hispanic neighborhood and more and more a place where the barbershops and dry-cleaners of yore are turning into small galleries. One can only have mixed feelings about that, as while small galleries are a fine thing, I'm not sure there needs to be more than one per city block. Once in awhile a person needs a barbership or dry-cleaners too.
But we enjoyed ourselves and saw some pretty good art, listened to some excellent Indian music, and joined the salsa dance party on the Casa Sanchez back patio. We also got to see some dancers on stilts who lit up the performance with fancy torch-handling.
Cesar says this neighborhood-wide arts extravaganza occurs every couple of months or so. He took some pictures, but I don't yet have copies.
On Sunday, my writing group met down in Los Altos, where the weather is warmer. Before I departed, I heard my father remark that if we were lucky, the sun might come out by 4 o'clock (my mother tells me that this did not come to pass). Usually things warm up as soon as I get south of San Francisco, but it was drizzly and cold almost all the way. Even Los Altos was cooler than usual, so my sleeveless dress was a bit unwarranted as I kept my sweatshirt on most of the day.
The company was agreeable, however. Betty put one of her Voyager Tarot cards under each person's lunch plate and, somewhat miraculously, each person managed to sit with a strangely appropriate card. Mine was one called Breakthrough, which Betty said was related to the Chariot in the major arcana. She said this one refers to having the momentum to leap forward and surmount obstacles or reach new understandings. It sounded like a good card to get when a person is finishing up a dissertation and preparing to go on the job market.
While our group is supposed to be a fiction group, we've listened to a good many nonfiction projects over the years. This time everything was nonfiction, as Janet presented a new version of something she's been trying to work out in the gray area between fact and fiction (we argued for her to just go ahead and call it a novel and get rid of references to the "real" story) and I tested out a section of a dissertation chapter. The section in question deals with the Parisian cultural scene of the 1920s, a topic that has been covered in great detail by expatriate American memoirists, biographers, and scholars like Shari Benstock. The Czech experience in Paris, however, is not quite so intensively studied, so without attempting a history of the Czechoslovak expatriate community, I tried to show how Paris was presented in Czech periodicals and correspondence, and how this related to Toyen. Whether there is enough Toyen in the section is hard to say, but my audience seemed enthralled by the quotations about Montmartre and Montparnasse, so I suppose my committee cannot accuse it of being dull.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Strangely Annoying Trends in Merchandise

In my sometimes role as curmudgeon, I find that certain things in the world around me just strike me as stupid. Some of them, I feel, ought to be universal targets of scorn, while others are clearly a matter of individual opinion. Of course, the utter triviality of some of them will astound the reader, who will wonder why anyone would even care.
Something I imagine few have noticed but more might care about: why have American drugstores apparently ceased to stock heel and toe protectors for shoes? Before I left for Prague, I'm quite sure this was still a normal ordinary drugstore item. I do not always remember to put these on new shoes, and over Christmas I actually had to take two new pairs of shoes in for repairs because I had done significant damage to each of them in under about four hours' wear apiece. One pair had been worn on the tram to go to the Slavia and then was worn on the tram home (I am not sure whether the under-seat tram heaters were on in July or what, but part of the soles appeared to have melted during that excursion). The other pair was worn to a holiday party where I mostly sat down, and then in the morning for a walk around the Mission with John and Cesar. I don't know what I did to those shoes either. The shoemaker was incredulous at the damage I had managed to do to both pairs. Well, now I cannot find heel or toe protectors anywhere.
What is with the current fashion for fat pens? Do Americans feel that their world-famous obesity should be shared by their writing implements? I have always liked my pens and pencils to be svelte. As a small child, I was deeply puzzled by the adult assumption that little fingers would do better with big pencils. No, they were much harder to write with. I recall being overjoyed to discover a miniature pencil of anorexic dimensions in my father's desk (perhaps an election pencil?). Finally (for some brief period until it got lost) I had a pencil suited to my little-kid hands. Well, now I am grown up and have adult-sized hands, although not particularly big ones. I can reach just over an octave on the piano if I stretch, which is one fundamental reason I am not a concert pianist. I suppose that someone with gigantic hands might prefer to use fat pens, but I do not find them comfortable to write with, nor do they allow me to write very nicely. I refuse to buy them, but I do need a new pen.
On the related topic of small notebooks (something I require many of), all right, I do understand that the reason most of them are lined is that most people prefer lined paper. I will not buy a lined small notebook for myself, but I realize that this is a minority preference. What I do not get is why during the past year or so it has been almost impossible to find notebooks that do not have either a magnetic flap closure or an elastic band. Yes, when I first saw these I thought they might be sort of neat, so I tried the magnetic flap. Within a day or so it was clear to me that this was a really flawed design. First off, how many people really have trouble keeping a small bound book closed? Small bound books tend to stay closed of their own accord, and if someone else is prying into your notebook, a magnetic flap will not stop this, you need an old-fashioned diary with a lock and key such as drugstores sold back in my youth. Well, on the magnetic flap issue, I'd like to know how many people actually find it easy to write or draw in the book when there's a magnetic flap in the way. Perhaps it is not such a problem for left-handers, but most of us are right-handed. I was always having to either hold the flap out of the way with my left hand in order to write with my right hand, or let the stupid flap act like a bookmark somewhere else in the notebook. As one gets nearer the end of the book, the flap is harder and harder to keep out of the way. I suppose the elastic bands are less intrusive, but who wants to keep messing with an elastic band? I want to whip my notebook out and immediately jot something down, not have to unwrap it and then, over the next half hour or so, keep wrestling with flaps and straps.
Then there is the question of purses. This is decidedly largely a matter of fashion and individual preference. Still. While I mostly carry a backpack, I've found that it's best to augment that with a smallish purse on a long strap. Aesthetically, I've always seen many nice possibilities, but for practical purposes the said purse has to be large enough for a wallet, notebook and pens, and of late a second or third pair of glasses. (I do not wish to recap the saga of my Czech glasses, but let's just say that for various reasons I now have four recent pairs of glasses, none of them truly multipurpose.) I've had two quite acceptable simple black leather bags. The second is now a bit decrepit looking. I was appalled to find that none of the places where I have previously seen or bought this sort of thing offers it anymore. The store where I found the first one, which was the better one, now has purses that at first glance look similar, but are actually nearly twice as big and partake of the current fashion for puffy bags with excrescences. I have no desire for a puffy bag with excrescences, even if it is masquerading as something smaller and simpler. I was also disappointed to note that stores which for the past several years had been tempting me with very elegant fabric bags (probably all by the same design firm) no longer have anything like them and are offering completely uninteresting products that I would only buy in dire need. I mean, they are a step up from the fashionable puffy-looking junk, but they are utterly uninspired.
Last and not least, I was relying on the Dansko shoe company to keep producing the shoes I wear most of the time. I am on my second pair, and these have been chewed a bit, although not as badly as my Dansko clogs, which Ms. Spots seems to think are a chew toy. Dansko appears to have gotten new management that imagines its constituency will be best served by the same sort of parade of new designs that every other shoe company serves up. I am not opposed to having a few new designs each year, but what has happened to the classic versions that form the basis of a person's footwear? (A visit to indicates that the "Margrete" shoe is still offered, but it is apparently no longer sold by stores in Berkeley. What can these stores be thinking? What will I do when I need a new pair? And have I missed my chance to get them in a fun color as well as in black?)
Well, that is clearly enough trivial complaint for one day.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

American Bridges

I'm not often moved to comment online about disasters, as there are far too many of them worldwide. This does not mean I am not just as interested and appalled as the next person.
The Twin Cities bridge collapse particularly captures attention in this household, however. On the personal level, we're acquainted with the bridge in question and are relieved that no calls have come about lost or missing relatives. On the larger scale, we're unhappy to hear that the Bay Bridge is in worse shape than the 35W (never mind that we drive it occasionally, it is much, much longer than the 35W and is full of cars all day long) and that thousands of bridges around the country are in similar condition.
Admittedly, I've known for years that American bridges were in bad shape, but one doesn't generally envision them just collapsing for no apparent reason. It's also unsettling to hear that one reason there have been so few deaths on the 35W was that it had no real superstructure to fall on anyone. A great many American bridges, the Bay Bridge included, are suspension bridges or have some other sort of hardware that could fall onto the surface.
At the same time, I must say that I am not impressed by efforts to make the 35W sound like a disaster on the level of Hurricane Katrina. While it's shocking, disruptive, and killed at least five people while injuring and distressing many more, there is really no comparison. I suspect that more than five people are killed in the Twin Cities in ordinary traffic accidents each day, although I hope I am wrong about that. (I was heartened to hear that biking and public transit are popular methods of getting to work there.)
One can only hope that 35W will actually spur bridge repair across the country, though I am skeptical that this will happen.


Friday, August 03, 2007


Megan and I were recently discussing a phenomenon that she says she has observed lately among people in their mid and late twenties, namely an obsession with domesticity. She tells me that her peers have suddenly gotten all immersed in household life, so that not only are they into such potentially creative and useful pursuits as knitting and cooking, but that topics like tea towels and heirloom vegetables have (she says) ousted social responsibility and politics, which were previously of great importance to most of her friends.
I can't speak for them, as it is all news to me, but on the positive side, I think it is relatively normal for people of that age to take some interest in their immediate personal surroundings and conclude that it is no longer quite enough to have a towel, a change of underwear, and a Swiss Army knife. After all, many of them are cohabiting and some are even beginning to produce offspring. In those circumstances, a degree of interest in one's home life is desirable.
On the negative side, certain generations do seem to develop an excessive interest in domesticity, and I would be disappointed if Megan's generation proves to be one of these. The domestic arts have their place and their value, but they should not be the focal point of most people's lives, should they? (I'm open to discussion on that since I can't really speak for the world's population as a whole.)
Being close to moving into a new place, my own thoughts are somewhat more home-focused than usual. The thought of rejoining my furniture, towels, dishes, and so forth is rather appealing, while at the same time visions of decorating a new space seem much more interesting than going at another chapter of the dissertation. This prompts me to go flip through decorating books and magazines in the hope of finding exciting ways of doing something new with my belongings.
In that frame of mind, I happened across a tome called Home Comforts, by one Cheryl Mendelson. The thing is supposed to be the domestic equivalent of The Joy of Cooking, a volume I have never actually owned (I do have a Betty Crocker cookbook from 1950 and various other cookbooks). The author claims, somewhat unbelievably in my opinion, to take great pleasure in keeping the house running perfectly. (I am not calling her a liar, as she clearly finds the subject interesting, but I am skeptical. My mother is the perfect housekeeper, but I am certain she would rather be reading a good book most of the time, or at least gardening.)
Well, whatever the truth of the author's claim to actual pleasure in housekeeping, I am all in favor of having a good place to look up things like how to clean drapes and blinds or how to prevent clogged drains. And I would say that this book seems to offer a good deal of that, although this afternoon when I checked for tips on how to keep clothing from eternal bleeding (I have been hand-washing a certain silk top for about 5-6 years, maybe even 8-9 years, and it still leaves a copious amount of dye in the sink), I did not find anything on this perpetually important subject.
Actually, while few have ever regarded me as likely to win a housekeeping prize, I was intrigued to find how much in the book seemed like the kind of thing I have always done or know I ought to do if I ever get around to it. I rotate my canned goods, although if I were more careful I would mark them with the purchase dates. For that matter, I always have something edible on hand. It is not my custom to run out of staple foods without replenishing them. Nor do I wash colors with light fabrics, although I do have some towels that seem to be permanently green rather than brown due to the implacable desire of a green T-shirt to bleed despite having been repeatedly washed by hand. And, while the author regards the cleaning of mirrors to be a low priority, I do not like them to accumulate spots.
We all, however, have our own little peculiarities. I do not find dusting very interesting, and would rather be oiling the furniture than dusting it. If there is an easy way to put away coat and shoes the minute I come home, I will do these things, but if not, well, too bad... which causes me to wonder about the facilities in my new apartment, which I have not seen in person. The floor plan shows a closet inside the front door, which is good, but will the closet be easy to use? Will it have a convenient space for me to keep shoes away from inquiring lapines?
One can only wonder about these things. In the meantime, I suppose I should turn my attention to the dissertation.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Begone, O Journal Article

The journal article to which I devoted a significant portion of my weekend has now been sent off. Both Cesar and Megan, in separate phone calls, inquired whether it was finally done and out of my hands, to which I replied that it was. This was shortly before it dawned on me that I had neglected to attach the electronic file(s).
I was really not sure why, in 2007, any academic journal needed to be mailed four paper copies plus a diskette or CD. John, who has been doing a good deal of peer-reviewing over the past few years, was incredulous that any journal would want to deal with envelopes full of paper copies and disks when one could simply email the file to the editor. Certainly I was very unhappy at the last minute when I was simultaneously feeding more paper into my parents' printer, writing up the abstract that I had forgotten to do earlier, wondering whether we had any binder clips in the house, digging through the envelope drawer and finding no unused specimens, and creating Word and PDF versions of my document. I kept losing track of where I had laid the four binder-clipped copies. At the same time, I was looking up the address of my future apartment building and hunting for my checkbook to write replacement checks for the application fee and first-month rent that had apparently disappeared in the mail, as these too were going to have to be overnighted.
So perhaps it's not too surprising that I forgot to turn off the laptop and swap in the CD unit (usually I keep the second hard drive in its place) so that I could create a CD (since the laptop has no floppy drive).
The editors, fortunately, were on their toes with the mail and promptly emailed with a request that I send my file as an attachment, so it is all (one hopes) truly done with for the time being.
Of course, if they like the thing at all, they might want revisions, but we can assume that that would occur at least a month from now, when I will be distracted by a different set of problems.

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