Saturday, February 13, 2016

Not Being My Best Me


Yesterday was a faculty and staff development day at work. We had no students and most departments were deep in meetings all day. I went to a course focused on workplace diversity called "Is it OK to Ask?" We considered different workplace scenarios that might give rise to employment complaints or legal action -- like telling off-color jokes in the office, that kind of thing.

I was going to attend a second workshop in the afternoon, called "Being the Best You," which somehow involved Method acting. A coworker of mine took it in the fall and said it was worthwhile, but unfortunately only two people signed up, so it was cancelled. I guess we'll never be the best us.

(In the end, the cancellation was a good thing, because learning whether or not it was OK to ask took 3 1/2 hours. By the time that was over, my best me was done for the day.)

I spent the afternoon catching up on some odds and ends in the library. And now, we're off work for the next week! This is what's known as February Break, or Half-Term Break in English schools. Dave and I aren't traveling anywhere, and I'm looking forward to getting stuff done around the house and having a few days out and about in London.

On a completely different subject: Want to see something really annoying? Have you heard that banks are exploring charging negative interest rates to depositors -- in other words, charging you to store your money?

(Photo: Brixton, South London. Information about the campaign to save the small shops in the Brixton Arches can be found here.)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Hillary and Bernie


I was thinking yesterday about the upcoming primary election, and whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, when I suddenly realized I haven't done a thing to prepare to vote. Was I still registered at my mom's house -- even though she's moved -- or was I registered at my dad's, since I changed my driver's license to his address? Research was needed.

Fortunately the Internet makes such things much simpler, and now I (hopefully) have a ballot for U.S. citizens living overseas coming my way via e-mail.

I'm planning to stick with Hillary. She seems to be losing some momentum thanks to Bernie's geography-weighted win in New Hampshire and his apparent appeal to younger voters. I do like Bernie, too, both personally and policy-wise. But I don't think he can win nationally.

I have a sense of loyalty to Hillary. I very strongly feel that it's her turn. I know she compromises in ways that many find unacceptable (Iraq war!) and many see her as a calculating opportunist. There's been all this talk of her need to "show more heart," to be warmer and more spontaneous. To me, this criticism seems tinged with sexism -- do we expect warmth and "heart" from male candidates? Why isn't strength and intelligence and diplomacy and experience enough?

Personally speaking, I feel like I made a commitment to her when I switched my support from her to Obama in 2008. I telepathically promised I'd vote for her the next time around. That's what I intend to do. Bernie talks a good game, but we need someone who can be effective with opposition politicians (as much as is ever possible) and appeal to centrist voters. I also like her international experience, and we need a female president -- if only to test my mom's theory that the world would function differently if women were in charge.

On a completely unrelated side note, I was shocked to hear about the death of one of my former colleagues at the young age of 41. We worked together on the same floor and sat near each other, and we had an ongoing, unresolved debate about the greatness of the Beatles. (As I recall, I was pro-Beatles, he was less so. Mostly for the sake of argument, I suspect.) I was always a bit jealous of his youth and quick wit and early success. Strange how things turn out.

(Photo: Our frosty back garden, yesterday morning.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Bouquet and an Unsuitable Dog Toy


Just off Baker Street, near the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and the building where my French class meets, a flower vendor sets up shop from a sidewalk cart every Saturday. A few weeks ago I popped into Pret after my class and grabbed a soup and sandwich, and as I sat in the window eating, I watched him making up bouquets for customers. I noticed he had some amazing lilies and blazing stars. They seemed to go well together.

(I was probably subconsciously reminded of the bouquets my mom gathered a couple of times in Florida when I was a kid, made of blazing stars and pine lilies.)

Anyway, I couldn't buy his flowers that day. But last weekend he had the same selection, so I stopped and bought some. He insisted on wrapping them up with eucalyptus, for the aroma. And now they're living on our end table and looking pretty amazing, I must say.


Also last weekend, Olga and I found this hollow rubber dog toy in the wilds of the West Heath. It is entirely too small and delicate for Olga, who would gnaw it to shreds within minutes (or possibly swallow it whole). I brought it home to photograph it, because I thought it was cute, but I plan to return it to the Heath in the hopes another more appropriate dog comes across it.

Dave and I are temporarily running low on TV shows to watch. We finished "Transparent," and watched a couple of episodes of the bizarre but interesting "Mr. Robot" (which, so far at least, has nothing to do with actual robots). We could buy the final season of "The Good Wife," but we'd have to pay extra for it, and it's sort of jumped the shark anyway. There's a true-crime show on British TV called "Wives with Knives," which is a terrifically campy title, but I don't really want to watch that.

Or we could turn off the TV, like we did last night, which probably wouldn't be a bad thing. Not so many years ago I didn't even own a TV, so for me it wouldn't be a major challenge. I got in bed at 8:30 and read for an hour, which was wonderful.

Oh, and I solved our candle drippage problem -- a glass pie plate! Hello!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Stalactites and Stalagmites


Dave bought some pillar candles a couple of weeks ago, in an attempt to make the flat appear more cozy and atmospheric. He grouped three of them together on top of the TV receiver, and lit them. They did look great, but soon a puddle of wax had formed around their bases and we discovered that, sitting on top of the perpetually warm receiver box, that wax never quite hardened.

So we moved the candles to an end table, and set them on a piece of cardboard to catch the wax. The other night, we burned them again. The cardboard, we discovered the hard way, is insufficient -- we found stalactites and stalagmites of wax growing downward from the table edge and up from the wood floor beneath.

I spent part of this morning cleaning up hardened melted wax.

I suppose we need some kind of dish to catch the runoff, but we don't seem to have anything lying around. Is it not ridiculously stupid that I should read Marie Kondo and try to purge our flat of excess crap, and then have to go off to the charity shop to buy a flat dish with a rim to hold our candles?

Speaking of purging, I've also long intended to get rid of Dave's old computer, which no longer works  -- the monitor flickers off for no reason, usually while he's in the middle of trying to do something. He hasn't used this machine in a couple of years -- never even turned it on, as far as I know -- so I researched how to recycle it and the other day, I asked him to make sure there's nothing on it he wants. He got a bit prickly and said, "Why can't we just keep it?"

Apparently I've hit my Marie Kondo limit with Dave. I'm putting the computer back in his wardrobe.

I still have some boxes and cabinets to go through, but I can do those on my own!

(Photo: Skies over Soho, about two weeks ago.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

1993: The Call to Prayer


As some of you know, I've been working on transcribing my old journals and putting them online. I'm now working on the period when I was in the Peace Corps in Morocco, and I came across this entry, from Feb. 1, 1993. The backstory is, I was in the process of recording a tape to send home, and I'd wanted to record the call to prayer, which rang out five times a day from the local mosque.

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It's now 6:45 a.m. and I've been up for four hours. I woke up at 2:45 or so and I couldn't go back to sleep. So I figured I'd put my time to good use -- I pulled on two sweaters and my djalleba, my jacket and my hat, and popped Mom and JM's tape in the deck, and I went and sat outside the mosque to catch the dawn call to prayer. I went out about 4:15 or so -- I really had no idea when it went off. Naturally, I was WAY early -- the mosque's lights were off and the city was dead silent. It was so quiet that I could occasionally hear a door close or water running in one of the adjacent houses! But I sat down on a cold piece of sheet metal against a wall and waited to see what would happen.

At first, things were really slow and there were literally no sounds. But then Ait Baha slowly began to come to life -- roosters began crowing, one or two people shuffled past in the dark, a car passed on the main road. At one point, a fat man in a djalleba squatted along one of the souk walls, in the shadow of the streetlight, and took a dump. (That made me think about where I was sitting -- against that wall -- ugh!) Then an older man climbed slowly up the steps of the mosque, rattled some keys, and opened the huge wooden door. He said "bismillah" -- I heard him from where I sat! -- and stepped inside, switching on the lights and illuminating the colored glass windows.

For a while nothing happened. Another old man went into the mosque, another car passed on the road. Then, suddenly, the streetlights went out, as they always do before daybreak. The sky was brilliant with stars, the minaret was silhouetted against them, and the only light shone through the colored mosque windows. There was a faint glow on the horizon -- the lights of Agadir -- and purplish clouds drifted against the starlit sky. It was beautiful.

By this time it was nearly 5:30 a.m., and though I was enjoying myself, I was also cold. I was beginning to think there would be no call to prayer. Was I certain it went off every morning? Surely the imam doesn't have Mondays off?

Then I heard a low electronic hum, as the sound system came on, and two bright lights atop the minaret flashed on brilliantly. The song began.

It was beautiful and musical -- just what I wanted! As I was recording, a big truck pulled up to a nearby apartment building and the driver revved his engine and honked the horn. I was sort of annoyed, but amused too -- it would add to the atmosphere of the tape.

After a few minutes, the song ended. I trudged home, felt my way up the dark staircase and climbed into bed. I listened to the tape, and I was pleased.

Then a weird thing happened. I heard the standard prayer call: "Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!" So now I'm left to wonder what I recorded -- was it a sort of pre-dawn song, but not the call to prayer? Or was "Allahu akbar" the signal to conclude early morning prayers? I don't know. I have to figure that out. 

But either way, I'm pleased. What I recorded was far more beautiful than the repetitive cry of "Allahu akbar." And the mystery of its purpose makes it all the more alluring.

Lying in bed, listening to that standard prayer call, I was tempted to listen to the tape again, just to be sure I didn't dream that earlier song -- to be sure my memory of its music, echoing in the cold starlit dawn, was not simply a product of my imagination.

------

And now, thanks to my tinkering with iMovie and a digitized version of the cassette I recorded for my family, here's the call to prayer as I heard it. It's not the best audio quality, but it IS from a cassette recorded 23 years ago, and it gets slightly better as it goes. You can even hear the truck driver revving his engine and honking his horn.

Isn't technology amazing? I love that I can pull this moment forward in time and share it on the web.



(Photos: Top, my town, Ait Baha, as it looked in 1993. You can see the mosque's minaret to the right. Photos on the video include the mosque doorway and random pictures in and around the town.)

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Purge


I was a whirlwind yesterday. I cleaned the flat and then, purge-o-rama! Dave has a habit of piling clothes rather haphazardly on top of his wardrobe, until there are leaning, sliding piles. I took them all down and went through them, refolded everything, put away what he wanted to keep and bagged up what he didn't. He was very cooperative through this process, and we even found several items (a brand-new unworn shirt, a pair of navy blue pants still in their packaging) that I suspect he'd forgotten he had.

I also found some literally moth-eaten pants in a closet. Dave had been saving them because "they're nice pants," as he said, but he never wore them. As a result, we didn't discover the nibbled filigree from the moths until it was too late. I had to throw them out! I guess we should get some mothballs.

Anyway, now Dave's clothing is much more manageable. I cleaned out my own clothing, too, as well as our bookshelf and some other odds and ends. There's more to do, but we're in much better shape than we were. We carried six bags of stuff to the Oxfam thrift store, plus some jackets on hangers.

Although somewhat inspired by the Marie Kondo book, I didn't re-fold everything as she suggested and free my socks (for example) from the torment of being balled up in a drawer. That's how you store socks, as far as I'm concerned.

I really want to work on the cabinets in the dining room, where we have boxes we've never unpacked after our move from Notting Hill to West Hampstead. I mean, really. If we haven't used that stuff by now, a year and a half later, do we need it?

Probably not.

In the afternoon I took Olga to the Heath, and I didn't bring the camera this time, so there are no photos. But you know what they'd look like anyway. She got terrifically muddy (again).

Last night a wildly windy, rainy gale passed over as I sat in the living room. I think it may have been part of Storm Imogen, our latest named weather event. I thought she was supposed to strike today, but maybe she showed up early? Southern England is supposed to have crazy winds this morning, but I think that will mostly affect the areas in the southwest. It sounds pretty calm out there now...

(Photo: Near Oxford Circus, a few weeks ago.)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Husbands and Sons


Once again, yesterday was super-busy. I guess this is going to be my Saturday pattern! I had French class in the morning -- in which we discussed a new pronoun, en, that I still don't fully understand -- and then a few hours at home before I went to meet my friend Sally on the South Bank of the Thames.

We had dinner at a blustery outdoor food court near the National Theatre, where I had veggie curry on naan bread, and then we drank some hot mulled wine. It wasn't cold out but it was spitting rain and very windy. We walked over to the river and nearly got blown down a couple of times.

We'd met to see a play, "Husbands and Sons," based on the novels and short stories of D. H. Lawrence. It was very good, with a terrific cast, but it left me thankful for modern marriage laws and divorce courts! (Not to mention labor laws, as it took place in a coal-mining town in the English midlands.) There were lots of domestic dramas and tangled emotions and the inevitable industrial accident.

We really are lucky to be living now, you know? It may not always seem like it, with ISIS and Donald Trump and enduring poverty and strife in many parts of the world -- but life is so much better now for so many people. It's hard to conceive of growing up in a coal-mining community (let's say) where virtually your only option is to go down the mine yourself. Most of us can make choices. I understand I'm speaking from a position of relative privilege -- choices may be limited if you're living in a poorer community with lackluster education, or in Somalia or Zimbabwe or Afghanistan -- but it's more true now than it ever has been before. Don't you think?

(Photo: Seen on a recent walk home from work along Finchley Road, North London.)