Wednesday, October 07, 2009


The Palais des Papes, in Avignon

The grand horloge in Antibes

Friday, July 17, 2009

The intermingling of ghosts

Something's been bothering me about Facebook, and I think I've finally put my finger on it. It's the ghosts, and how they are rubbing up against each other.

I think my life history is somewhat typical of an American of my age and class. I grew up in one town, moved to another for high school. I transferred a couple of times in college and I studied abroad. I moved away after college and lived in several places, each time with a different set of roommates. I married and moved again. I had several jobs in a few fields until I settled on a career. The people I have worked with have come and gone.

In each of these places and times, there was a unique cast of characters. As I moved on to the next phase of life, some of these folks stuck with me, but most became gradually fainter in my everyday thoughts. Some names were better etched in my mind - someone who had embarrassed me or loved me or someone who had a particularly odd set of ears or habits.

The kaleidoscope of people through whom I see my past is special to me. No one else has had exactly the same influences or experiences. The names in my past float through my dreams like ghosts, haunting me until I can remember what year that was, and sometimes annoying me by showing up over and over again like poltergeists.

And now those ghosts have materialized as my Facebook friends. The girl I slightly knew in high school who signed my yearbook, but who had only stuck in your mind because of her unusual name, now pops up daily as she updates me on her job and family. My former boss and the first person I went to a dance with in 8th grade turns up, right next to each other, as I read my News Feed. Looking at the Chat list to see who is online is like a "This Is Your Life" script - former lovers, someone I knew in preschool, a couple of people I sang with in chorus, my nephew, and a co-worker.

This line-up is disconcerting. Even worse is when they make comments on my updates, and then end up in a comment-discussion with each other! "Wait!", I think. "These timelines can NOT intersect! The time-space continuum will be corrupted if my next door neighbor from 1963 ever meets and talks to the former receptionist at my last job!"

Facebook has me hooked, but if I ever give it up, it will be because of the ghosts.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A walk by the bay

Just over the Golden Gate bridge, in Marin, is a lovely setting that we used to call Fort Baker. We took a walk down there last weekend and discovered that about a year ago, the decommissioned fort had been turned into a luxury hotel named Cavallo Point. We used to take the boys down there to the Discovery Museum, which is still vital. Now there is more to see than the hands-on children's museum. The fort's old parade grounds are soft and green with grass, and there is a nice restaurant and bar that we will visit someday soon. There's a spa and a beautiful grove of pines and gum trees. The view of the bridge is quite unusual from this side of things. Most tourists go over to the headlands side of the bridge, or look down at the bridge from the view lot positioned just above this fort. The views of the city can be great from here, depending on the fog, of course. We enjoyed a sunny day with minimal mist across the water.

You can take a hike under the bridge on a bike path and look straight up at the freeway's struts. This funky little building looks like something out of a fairy tale, but in reality held the circuit breakers for the nearby bridge workers' setup.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Dogs unleashed

Our county seems to be full of people who are good with dogs. Everywhere, we meet dogs who were adopted from the humane society, have attended all the classes from "good puppy class" to "family dog two". The people know how to keep their dog close if an unfamiliar dog approaches, how to let the stranger dog sniff them first, and that it's best to ask first before dispensing treats to someone else's dog. The people all carry bags for the inevitable, and use them. There are strict leash laws in all the parks, and it's rare to see a dog who is unattended, romping free.

This leash law business has started to annoy me. Given all these well-behaved folks and their pets, why is it that the county and municipalities have gone the opposite direction? Instead of rewarding us for using positive reinforcement and special harnesses, the lawmakers have locked down even the least popular trails and parks. I suspect it has to do with the cost of insurance. One dog bite and the subsequent lawsuit could wipe out a park's slim budget.

In the media, we read about the huge numbers of dog owners who treat their pet like a child. The business of dog specialty food and accessories has exploded. I would like to see someone try to push back on all the laws against dog freedom. There should be laws protecting people from bad dogs, of course, and harsh penalties for those who let uncontrollable dogs do any damage. But let the good dogs be free!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sweet bird song

This bird's song starts each day in the afternoon, and he thrills us until the sun goes down. Although the sound is very full and loud, I can't seem to spot the singer. Does anyone know what kind of bird this could be? We have never heard him before, in all the years we have lived here in northern California.

I found it interesting to look at the wave forms of this song, using Audacity (a free voice editing application). Look at how clear each tweet is, even the warbley part at the right. Each time the bird produced this sound, the pattern was virtually the same. There are some sites online where you can identify birds by comparing these wave forms. But so far, I haven't found my little friend.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


There is so much discussion about what the government can and can't do for corporations and Wall St. companies. The amount already spent buoying up these companies is quite staggering. I'm not sure what it's up to - but doing a quick internet search, I see that in October 08, the estimate was already at 5 trillion. Now, that's 12 zeros. I pulled out the calculator and divided it by 300 million (US population). $16,666 each. So, it's probably higher now. Why not just give EVERYONE a million dollars? Forget bailing out the companies. Just put a million in everyone's account. What would happen? You can bet that a lot of people would buy a new house, or a car. Detroit - saved. Let's say they also made a rule that prices could not be raised for a year from their current rate. People would be spending in no time if they were millionaires.

What would you do if you suddenly had a million, tax free? Would it still seem like a lot of money? Would you travel, or save, or go on a wild spree? Lump sums have a funny way of quickly disappearing. But in this case, wouldn't that be a win for the country's economy?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Here we are in the month of March. The ides of March. March hares. March of Time - remember that series? In grade school, they showed it to us as a history lesson. Most of it was like watching newsreel footage. The narrator had a very stentorian presentation voice. It was a good time to put your head down and take a snooze.

Marching bands - our high school band marched at football games, and also competed in Washington, D.C. We took one band trip up to Canada, too. Our director, Quayle Andrews, was a dictator (or so it seemed to us students), and was very strict about everything involved in the band. I remember several people quitting band because of him, but I think that his passion was what made our school music program a good one. He invited artists to come to the school for special classes and to take part in our concerts. I remember Urbie Green and Chuck Mangione coming to Brockport.

March: in like a lion and out like a lamb; or in like a lamb, out like a lion. This refers to the changible March weather. This year, it was in like a lion, so we'll look forward to better weather at the end of the month.

Friday, March 06, 2009

On top of the world

When I was 16, I travelled to Switzerland as part of an exchange program. After staying with a host family for a number of weeks, the students in our group and their host siblings took an expedition to the mountains, where we stayed in a beautiful valley called Fafleralp, and took day hikes, learning to rapel and cross glaciers. One hike was an overnight one, very high up in the mountains, where we could get views like this one. I remember the experience of hiking along a trail and looking down to see the tops of clouds.

On the back of this snapshot, I had written "View from the top of the world". I was a very lucky teenager.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Going going gone

Interesting times we are living in. On one hand, we have a nation inspired by a new leader. There is talk of hope and change. On the other hand, the media fans the flame of fear and despair. People are living carefully, worried about losing their jobs. It's hard to sort out which vision is the "real" one. What makes a recession or a depression real? I remember the old joke, a recession is when people are losing their jobs - a depression is when YOU lose YOUR job.

Small businesses, shops and restaurants are starting to close, locally. Last weekend Barb went to her favorite Italian place, Cinecitta, to find it shuttered. I drove by the Oakland institution, CJ's Gingerbread House, and saw a sign: "Thanks for 35 years". I felt guilty, because I couldn't remember the last time we ate there. Barb tells me that we didn't go back because the food wasn't as charming as the exterior.

I do think that we have too much stuff, and that we could all do with some trimming back, live closer to the source, recycle and swap, reuse and make do. A guy at the bus stop, who takes the bus everywhere, surprised me today by telling me that he bought a new car. He bought a Chrysler! He announced it as a badge of honor - he is doing his part for the country's rebound. Well, we'll see.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Treasury of illustrations

I am so in debt to people like Barbie Miller, who are scanning vintage books and illustrations and putting them online. I recently found this blog, which has brought vivid memories of some of my favorite childhood reading material. I especially enjoyed looking at these images from the Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs. I can picture us sitting at the blue upright piano, plunking out these songs and singing along. The illustrator's name is Aurelius Battaglia, a lovely name.

Speaking of great names, did you notice that Michelle Obama has a cousin whose name is Capers Funnye, Jr.? He is a rabbi. I guess it would have been too much to ask for him to be a clown.

Saturday, January 03, 2009