Monday, March 31, 2008
E. Muffin, who stands about 4 feet tall, was very exercised when we were talking about planets in the solar system and Lukie mentioned that Pluto was no longer a planet.
"Man, that petty," he shouted. "Just 'cuz it's small. It ain't right."
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Just seeing this Vermeer again for the third time was worth the trip. I can barely stand to stand before it, so I had to sit and look, and even so I kept looking away, as if I might sully such perfection with an uworthy gaze. The bread is detailed as the lunar landscape through a powerful telescope. The stone jug is pocked and richly textured. The basket and lantern hang in the background but are as beautifully wrought as any objects in any painting ever done. Look at the play of light on that brass! The detailings on the tiles along the floor, on the porcelain jug on the table, and on the rough plaster around the window are magnificent. I am unworthy even to discuss the young lady. She is profoundly precious to me with her potent inexplicable dignity. That expression suggests not the empty disgruntled experience of a maid struggling through dreary commonplace chores, but hints rather at a rich inner life. She dreams perhaps of her lover, or imagines the plot of an exotic drama seen years before, or imagines her children fully grown. I adore her. Of course the four Vermeers at the Rijksmuseum are show-stoppers, but there are Rembrandts by the dozen, and the greatest of the greatest of that master's works are here. The prophet Jeremiah leans on cold stone, exhausted and yet contented by the power of his visions. The light in this early painting is gorgeous and perfectly evokes the requisite mystical fire of great faith and duty. This entire canvas would fit inside the chest of the central figure of The Night Watch, a painting so complex that even after several viewings in person and in reproductions I still find new details, and substantial ones at that. I never noticed until this trip that the main guy has his left glove off and hanging from his right hand. And the self-portraits...they're too much. Few artists capture so well the ambiguities of facial expression, and Rembrandt often used this particular genius to full effect in presenting himself at various stages of life. I adore these paintings.And this Maes? Forget about it! It makes me cry. And the Frans Hals? And the still lifes? Even in its current sorry state, with large chunks of its collection locked away during rehab, the Rijksmuseum is a fantastic place.
And the Big B in Rotterdam was a treat too. I saw a lot of my favorite dudes on this trip: Petrus Christus, Dirk Bouts, Heironomous Bosch, Gerard David, to name a few. I only saw one Van Eyck, and it was a sub-par effort in association with his brother--so I was sorely tempted to take the train down to Ghent to see the motherlode again.
Maybe next time.
It took about 23 hours to get back home--I had a great time on this trip but doubt I'll do another 1-week European vacation. Too much time spent getting there and back to make 6 days worth it at my advanced age. Of course next year I'll be full salary and able to afford direct flights, which helps.
I took the above picture from the dizzying tiny balcony at the top of Delft's New Church tower (built in the early 14th century). It's wonderfully terrifying up there if you can manage the claustrophobic climb. Every major wind gust sends tremors through the old stone structure.
On the way home Yahtzee and I spent four hours in Copenhagen's airport. One of the nicest I've seen. And we flew home on Scandanavian Air--a new Airbus that was only two-thirds full. Had an aisle seat with two empties next to me, and a computer game/video console on each seat. Nice. I recommend them. Some day I'll actually get to see Denmark.
Now it's back to reality. Homework assignments, teaching, cleaning the house, doing laundry. Fie on't.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Today was a nice leisurely day. We went to Delft and strolled around in the rain. Nice to climb a 700-year-old church tower again!
Then Yahtzee went back to Amsterdam and Cha and I toured the magnificent Keukenhof Gardens. Because of the late cold snap, many tulips hadn't quite bloomed. What were out, however, made the side trip and aching feet worthwhile.
This evening we toured the Red Light District, including the Erotic Museum. We passed a Russian bombshell whore giving a tourist grief. "Give me the photo bitch. I don't want you putting me on the Internet! Relax? You tell me relax? Fuck you. I call cops. Give me the fucking camera."
I have to leave for Schipol Airport in about four hours. Time to have some more coffee and get ready for the long flight home. Copenhagen layover for 3.5 hours, ugh.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
Not much of the information in this excellect documentary was new to me, but the interviews with figures like General Garner, Larry Wilkerson, Walt Slocombe, Dick Armitage, and Paul Hughes illuminate the machinations of Rumsfeld and his coterie of ideologues to an almost uncomfortable degree, and one realizes how much detailed planning and work by competent folk in intelligence and the military and in the State Dept was simply ignored or outright ridiculed by blinkered neocons wit their own agendas. Many of the people interviewed discuss their attempts to do the right thing, and how they were repeatedly rebuffed by political hacks with no military experience and a bizarrre version of reality, and their pain, shock, and disbelief are evident. Slocombe is unapologetic, but you can see on his face and in his body language how uncomfortable his actions have made him, and what he really thinks but can't say.
Seeing those Rumsfeld sequences again--those snide, cynical clips that made him a media darling--really reminded me of what a fucked-up time that was. I couldn't believe at the time that people bought that shit, and watching it again I still can't imagine how gullible people were. The movie actually made me feel sick.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
In about 48 hours I'll be in dragging my tired ass off the plane in the Netherlands. Getting there is a bit brutal. On Friday:
- Yahtzee is meeting me at my house. His pop is driving us to Penn Station, which is five minutes away.
- we're taking the Amtrak to the New Carrollton station outside of DC.
- we're taking the orange line Metro from New Carrollton to the Rosslyn station.
- we're taking the metro bus to Dulles Airport.
- we're leaving Dulles for Frankfurt just before 9pm.
- we're flying 8 hours to Frankfurt in order to sit in the airport for two hours before catching a flight to Amsterdam.
All that's missing is a boat and a donkey cart.
The flight to Amsterdam from Frankfurt lasts less than two hours; it is these short flights that give me the most anxiety, however, because when delays happen in my travels it's always some pointless layover/second leg that mucks up the works. I've spent the night at a Frankfurt airport hotel before because of a cancelled flight, and would like to avoid repeating that experience. Especially since Cha will be coming in from Milan via London and she won't know where I am if I'm not at the hotel when she arrives.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I really enjoyed The Price of Salt. It's written in an evocatively descriptive but curiously detached manner, and contains one of the most startingly immediate "love at first sight" scenes in any novel I can recall. It also features some of the best writing about working retail at Xmas time.
The front cover has a blurb about it being "the novel that inspired Lolita." Screw that--I mean, yeah, there are obvious similarities and I'm sure Nabokov knew it--but The Price of Salt stands on its own as a great book. Why not put on the cover of Lolita "the novel that blatantly ripped off The Price of Salt?"
I must admit I disliked Therese. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and shake her. She's so childish, and so selfish. But she's nineteen, and smitten beyond her experience. She treats her moronically over-patient boyfriend shabbily, and he's a decent enough chap, though her failure to break with him drives him to borish behavior at last. Carol is like something out of Henry James--Mme de Violette, Mme. Merle, Gilbert Osmond, the Governess in The Turn of the Screw, or Olive Chancellor--one of those characters who intentionally or not engage in spiritual vampirism. Therese is left drained and nearly helpless, swooning for more.
The end is atypical and unexpected.
I note that in my life I've cut myself seriously with kitchen knives three times (spoiler alert--this total includes today). Immediately before each injury I've thought "man, you are going to cut yourself," and my failure to listen to my own wise counsel has cost me dearly.
As soon as I thought about switching to a butter knife today, the stubborn frozen patties separated and I drove with my right hand a stainless steel steak knife about a half-inch into the palm of my left hand. I gave myself about ten seconds to shout imprecations before I switched to first aid mode.
Now I have to type a homework assignment without bleeding all over the laptop.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Strangely, I am both a television spectator of the game and its quarterback. At one point I throw a pass to the running back in the endzone and it bounces off his hands right back to me. I throw it again with the same result. Finally I simply shuffle-pass it to him for a touchdown, but none of the refs are paying attention.
Then the game is over. There is a Great Dane in the house who keeps sneaking out of the kennel and coming into the bedroom where I'm sleeping. I put him back in the kennel and move some furniture in front of the door. The Dane tries to get out by squeezing through the bars, but only gets as far as his splayed hips. It is pitiable. He keeps grabbing my hands and clothes with his teeth, trying to prevent me from going.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
My second Jules Dassin film, and certainly not my last. I didn't like Naked City as much as Night and the City, but I liked it a lot nonetheless. Hot dames, Irish homicide detectives, and acrobat gangsters who play the harmonica. What more can you ask for?
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The Mrs. is on an airplane at Dulles right now, preparing to take off for London and thence to Milan. She'll be touring a group of American teachers over to Venice and back, at which time she'll fly back to London and thence to Amsterdam, where we'll hook up at Rembrandt Square next Saturday evening. I miss her already.
One more week and I'll be back in Europe for the first time in six years. Unbelievable that it's been so long, and very out of character. I'm losing my status as a member of Rick Steves' "Europe Through the Backdoor" club*. I hope to hit Rotterdam, The Hague, and Haarlem--and, weather and time permitting, perhaps a jaunt down to Belgium?
*Oh, don't even.
The pedagogy test was a different animal. We had to choose a work from a list and explain how we would teach it to 9th graders. You never know what books are going to be on the exam, but I choose wisely in my recent re-readings, for Things Fall Apart and 1984 and Romeo and Juliet were on the list. I wrote about characterization and theme in Things Fall Apart. We had to discuss potential problems the students might have understanding the story, and how we would address these problems, and we had to cite specific examples from the text to show how we would teach our chosen skills using the book, and how we would address the potential barriers to comprehension. I feel I aced this question.
Question II, however, was a catastrophe. I never finished. We only had an hour to answer both questions and I barely got through part III of IV on the second essay. Ooops. We were given a student writing sample and had to describe a strength of the student's writing, two weaknesses in the writing, two grammatical or other errors, and then we had to create an activity to address weaknesses in the student's writing. I didn't get that far. Have mercy on me, oh great certification test judges in the sky!
Friday, March 14, 2008
The last thing I need is for students to know where I live.
I took today off and re-read Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. I also brushed up on appositives, gerund phrases, and all that other jazz.
And so I finish my Praxis II prep with a true great, an era caught bright and gleaming as though in amber by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I've visited West and East Egg twice before; I've driven past the optician's billboard, and stood confounded by the shore in the dark with Jimmy Gatz. But I was surprised to note during a third reading how much of The Great Gatsby I'd forgotten, most particularly its sudden violence, which seems the least forgettable bit. I suppose in ten or fifteen years I'll forget it again, but the cocktails, laughter, and drunken flappers will remain, and a vague sense of tragic Gatsby, willing himself into a world bent on excluding him, hands out toward that green lamp by Daisy's dock.
Again, I'm reluctant to rank, but this is one of the greatest novels of all time. The structure, the expansive and mysterious symbols, the themes which grow to include the sad fatigued corruption of an entire continent, the compact elegance with which a gigantic story is told--marvelous!
I took a personal day tomorrow with the intention of reading a few Shakespeare plays and brushing up on some fine points of grammar for the test Saturday. Sadly, tonight I'm feeling wretchedly sick in the sinuses. Not a good time to get a bug. Hopefully it's nothing and I'll shake it off ASAP.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The gym teacher says that because I forgot my uniform I have to referee a girls' game and act as score keeper. Two teams of girls are dashing back and forth across a modified hopscotch board, trying to catch or stop a young lady bouncing a football like a basketball. I have never seen such a game, and have no idea how to referee it. Fortunately the young ladies are reliable self-policers, and one has even begun keeping score on a chalkboard. Within minutes it is 9-2.
When class ends I am walking with my classmates back to the locker room. Some of them are high school classmates from 20 years ago, others are current students of mine. Some of them ask me if I know anyone who can buy beer. They are going to a party at my sister's house. "My sister can buy her own beer," I say. "She is is 36." They are blown away by this information.
Then I am sitting with the gym teacher at a long table. He is showing me old faded black and white photos of me in high school doing stupid things. He offers me a teaching job which I accept. Then other teachers join us. We talk about musicians who are teachers we all know.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I managed not to read The Catcher in the Rye until age 38. I'm not sorry I read it while prepping for the Praxis II test, but I wasn't exactly blown away by the book. Don't get me wrong--I liked it fine--I respect Holden and his suspicions about phonies and his sorrow about lost innocence; I think the novel is sad and at times funny, and that it does for Manhattan socialites and prep school students what Babbit did for members of the middle class. But like many of the books routinely touted as one of "the greatest novels of all time," I found it a bit underwhelming. Of course I always get uncomfortable with such rankings anyway. I suppose it would be easy to rank The Catcher in the Rye as amongst the greatest novel of all time if you'd read say five novels, which is true of many teens.
I prefer Paul's Case by Willa Cather. Today Paul and Holden would be given IEP meetings and then dosed up with Ritalin.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The Dazzling Urbanite sent me the above YouTube clip. It's always good to hear from him. I was transported back to about 1982. I'd sit in my room, watching a 12-inch B&W TV with rabbit ears when Ghost Host Theater came on at midnight. I'd put a blanket up over my head and over the TV so Mom couldn't see the glow under my bedroom door.
My cheesy horror show pedigree goes back even further, however--to Channel 17 out of Philadelphia, and Dr. Shock's Mad Theater:
Same goes with iTunes. I don't have an MP3 player. I never downloaded a song until last week from iTunes, when I started searching for a song to use in class.
Now I curse iTunes, and the money they've sucked from me. Every bit of spare time I have is spent searching for weird albums I can't find at Soundgarden or Record and Tape Traders. iTunes is the greatest thing ever, and I fucking despise it.
That's why I'm reluctant to try new things until they're quite old. I get a bit obsessed.
*I was on the Internet for the first time in 1983. It was the summer after 7th grade, and I was at Virginia Tech for Science and Engineering camp. We built toothpick bridges, played with computers, played softball, and smoked lots of...ah, er...hams. Yeah, that's the ticket. Hams. Back then there weren't even Trekkies online. VT students were emailing Monty Python skits to each other on screens which only displayed a BASIC prompt and green text. I witnessed this behavior. It was the first time I ever heard of "The Philosopher's Song."
Tonight, at least, is the last meeting of Education Law class. I'm turning in an 8-page paper which isn't up to snuff, but I have a 4.0 through 27 credits and am past caring. So what if I get a couple B's at this point? Who cares? I'm tired. I choose not to revise, polish, or otherwise improve it.
One and a half weeks until Europe. I am so ready. And then by the end of April I'm done all my MA and teacher's certification course work. I'll be able to coast through to June, at which point I'll have six weeks of uninterrupted leisure time. Maybe I'll read War and Peace. Or go to Peru.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Saw these cats at Towson University's Kaplan Auditorium this afternoon. Really fantastic. Tuvan folk music is like a melange of Chinese opera, Tibetan spiritual, Persian classical, and Irish jig (with a dash of cowboy/western theme music and Peruvian Andean piping thrown in).
That sound they make in their throats, however, is otherworldly. It's like crickets, birds, horses, wind, and something cooked up by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Very evocative stuff. I closed my eyes and was there, right along with them, a bird soaring overhead, a running stream nearby, galloping along on a fast horse. Lovely.
The dude at the far left can sing and play the flute at the same time. At one point they all were singing and playing jaw harps at the same time.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
A novel about a novelist writing a novel about a novelist writing a novel. The characters and various imaginings of the various novelists slip between the various narrative threads and intermingle with memories, myths, and pamphlets about Christian morality. Some of the characters drug their creator in order to have freedom to do as they wish, which occasionally involves The Nasty, said Nasty leading to the birth full-grown of yet another novelist. Cowboys, Finn MacCool, a Good Fairy, a demon, a mad king who is half-bird--these are only some of those present.
Many of the characters and writers written by other writers work together to destroy their most immediate creator, who receives treatment right out of Juliette. Treatment that had me chuckling quite regularly. I read great swaths aloud like one struck mad, trying out brogues and tones and voices. A pleasure from cover to cover.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Thursday, March 06, 2008
It's usually a wonderful thing to lose count of the bottles opened, but this time it wasn't. Bottle after bottle opened was past its peak, and dramatically so. We're talking vinegar. All of these wines were excellent last year when we did the same thing. What a difference a year makes.
I was particularly disappointed, because I'd planned last Friday as a kind of final blow-out until Amsterdam. I wanted to ease up on the liver and kidneys for three weeks, taking a ride on the wagon to prepare for eventual debauchery.
Tonight, however, I stopped at The Wine Source in Hampden. I couldn't hold out. Mr. C asked me why I was so restless this morning, and I couldn't bring myself to say "I have the shakes." Then in Teaching Reading in the Content Area class tonight I told Chuckles how dry I was and he laughed, pulled his flask out, took a swig, and replaced it in his hip pocket.
I'm enjoying my cabernet sauvignon. I toasted the dead soldiers above, poured down Yahtzee's kitchen sink. Ouch.
Strangely, the students were incorrigible and terrible but I took it in stride, handled my business, and had fun. The student who had a knife on Monday flipped her lid today, splashing fingernail polish on her classmates, scrawling "Fuck this school" on her desk in red enamel, ripping her folder of classwork into tiny shreds and flinging this confetti into the air. I approached her during this outburst, asked her to stop, then asked if I could help her, and when I got no response I asked Lukie if I should call the school police. She approached the student, had a brief interaction, and then called the office to ask for assistance in escorting the student out. By this time the student had left the classroom and taken her act into the hallway. Her mother was in the hall while this transpired, and rumor has it she has been removed from the school for her behavior.
This precipitated a blow-up in the classroom, which I handled by erupting myself. "I left a job teaching college for THIS?" I screamed. "You're crazy!" a smart-alec replied, and I went off on a drill sargeant lecture. I don't know where it came from. "Maybe I am crazy! Or maybe YOU ARE. Most of you are failing this class, and most of you are going to repeat 8th grade or go to high school and drop out next year. Why? Because you don't give a damn. If you decide to act like children, I will be more than happy to treat you like children, but my hope is you will act like adults because I'd really like to treat you the same way I treated my students in college. I know how smart you are and what you can do when you give a damn. This behavior STOPS NOW or you will dread having to deal with me for the rest of this year." I learned this shaming technique from Lukie, who is able to do it without shouting. She can turn a classroom of tough teens into guilty self-reflective young adults with only a disappointed look and a speech about what she does for them every day.
There was silence after I finished my rant. Kids were looking down sheepishly. Right in front of me a young man started goofing off to test me and I kicked the base of his chair and got right in his face. "I AM NOT PLAYING" I hissed, hands splayed on his desk. He apologized, and said "My bad." "I know it's your bad," I said, and after glaring at every student in the room continued my lesson without further ado.
I hate having to do this. I hate teacher tone. I admire kids who rebel and misbehave. I used to be one of those, and was regarded as a trouble-maker; this reputation kept me from getting into GT classes. But I've reached the point where I know my laid-back, buddy persona is a fucking joke. I'm The Man when I need to be from here on out.*
The second class tried to play games too, and I was having none of it. I lectured them as soon as the whining started: "I don't care who likes whom, or who has candy, or if you would rather be riding your dirt bike around Dru Hill Park. I care about idioms and characterization, and all your drama is stopping us from getting the work done. The work is why we are all here. The chit-chat stops now!" There was grumbling, eye-rolling, and a bit of surprise at my outburst, but they did their work.
Then I had to walk two miles to fetch my car from the tire shop. I'd already walked three-quarters of a mile to work today. Fortunately it was a nice day, and only a couple people gave me shit outside the projects at North Ave.
*That said, I know the kids are going to challenge me again and again to make sure I'm serious, and that I'll have to modify my tone and approach continuously. They have years of experience at driving teachers batty; I am still new at behavior management.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
But at least we get to kvetch a bit, and meet others in the program. Many of the others are from Panama, part of a growing contingent of international educators flown into Baltimore in order to take teaching positions Yanks won't touch with ten foot poles. I chatted today with a Panamanian who speaks French, who reads widely in Spanish, French, and English, and who recently started teaching U.S. Government at a B'more high school. It was a pleasure to speak French again, even briefly, and to discuss Rimbaud's synesthesia.
The poor Panamanians are having a hard time adjusting to the rough realities of B'more's school system (some of the Filipino teachers have had truly tragic experiences as well).
But my new friend and I were able to laugh a bit. He taught in Metz for a year, in a rough French public school, and says B'more is not much different, though the kids are even more aggressive and less educated here than in poor, ethnic, urban France. I told him I knew Metz only from driving through and stopping at a fast-food restaurant. It was a foggy Sunday, I was driving from Luxembourg to Zurich, and Yves Montand was singing "La Bicyclette" on the radio. Nothing was open along the highway but a crappy Checkers-style diner where they served American "cuisine." I have only a vague impression of Metz as a sort of amorphous Scranton, PA. Scranton, PA, with a looming Gothic cathedral.
The tough class ate me alive today. I allowed them to do so. I caved in, and because of my stupid seminar I couldn't hang around to enforce the detentions I doled out, leaving that duty instead to poor Lukie. Again, I blame myself in part, and the wretched and mind-numbing City curriculum. Were I forced to endure such inanities, which resemble "education" to the degree that George W. Bush resembles a statesman, I'd rebel too.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
I had a miserable day yesterday, and wanted as I lay in bed late last night to call out sick from teaching today and to skip my law class tonight. But I picked up this short book including two short occult tales by Mircea Eliade, and an hour later was completely caught up in the stories and forgot all about flattened tires and teens with weapons.
These are stories that could have been written by M.R. James, if James were a scholar of Eastern religions and esotericism instead of Western medievalism. They are in the same vein, with perhaps a dash of Arthur Machen. Good stuff. I felt renewed and enthusiastic about language arts and literature again at the end.
Monday, March 03, 2008
One of the kids I bounced flattened the passenger side front tire on my car. I'm pretty sure I know who it was. At least he only took the cap off and let the air out instead of slashing it.
I put the donut tire on and drove to the auto parts place in my neighborhood. I needed an air compressor anyhow.
12 days with the students until Spring Break. Europe. Amsterdam. Coffee.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
I recall that just about the time I discovered R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz and other esotericists (via Colin Wilson) Graham Hancock's The Message of the Sphinx came out, based in part on Schwaller de Lubicz and Robert Bauval's work. I liked that book fine, though its reasoning was occasionally shabby. I picked up Hancock's latest on a whim and see that our paths of inquiry are still converging. I've been reading a lot of the same books he has, including those by Terrance McKenna, Jeremy Narby, Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, etc.
Supernatural is primarily worth a read because of its audacity. What on one page is admitted as pure speculation will in two pages transform mysteriously into reasonable theorizing, and then a chapter or so later will become established fact and basis for further theorizing. At times I had to laugh out loud at this process, but not always in a deragatory manner--I found some of Hancock's leaps delightful. (I also like the descriptions of Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs as "therapists." I've met Jacobs--he's a history prof who hypnotizes people to "recover" their alien abduction memories. Whatever your thoughts about his procedure I don't think Jacobs is a "therapist.")
Despite its adventuresome theorizing I don't think all of Hancock's ideas are meritless. I'm also curious about the fact that shamans in Peru drink ayahuasca and see visions of entwined serpents, and that Professor Crick took LSD and discovered the structure of DNA when he had a vision of entwined serpents. I also think prehistoric cave art is shamanic and likely derived from some sort of altered consciousness. These are curious coincidences, worthy of speculation and inquiry.
But I would recommend reading books by McKenna and Narby and Eliade and Jung and Pinchbeck (and Crick's book about panspermia) instead of Hancock's. There's not much new here, and what is new is likely to occur to you as you read the better books.
Or you could just watch Ken Russell's Altered States.