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A Lunch in Paris

After weeks of gracious hosting by lovely people all over the Pays Basque and Provence, we were back in Paris and I had an entire Saturday to wander around by myself!  First stop,

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Pain

the Bastille street market –  blocks-long aisles three-deep, offering every conceivable vegetable, flower, bread, cheese, fish, fungus, unpronounceable and mysterious sauce, jewelry, watches, CDs and DVDs in exotic languages, clothes, shoes, black market perfume and homeopathic remedies for an array of startling disorders, frequently involving the word, foie (liver.)  In France the liver is, apparently, the seat of most ills.  But not all, as I’m about to see.

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The Bastille Hippo

Next I sneaked into the corner Hippopotamus, a sort of French Denny’s considered too tacky for words by my hosts.  And it is tacky, offering Americanish food I can eat without the usual, hard-to-hide terror.  I’m deliriously happy, wolfing a Caesar-chicken sandwich and fries (without ketchup, a depth to which even Hippo refuses to sink) and looking forward to dessert – profiteroles gourmandes made with Ben and Jerry’s!  (Scroll down the menu in the Hippo link above to see photo of profiteroles.)

Still, this is not Denny’s and I find myself watching a peculiar drama at a table for two against the back wall.  A couple are sharing a little carafe of what looks like rose’.  His back to me, I see an expanding bald spot, leather coat and fashionable scarf draped over his chair.  They aren’t young, maybe late forties.  His back exudes confidence, a businesslike detachment.  He could be an accountant, insurance adjuster, bank officer.  But something’s wrong.

She’s facing me, her gaunt face scrupulously made up, big eyes made bigger with liner, shadow, fake lashes and mascara.  The makeup looks expensive and her short, dyed hair is either well-cut or a trendy wig.  But even though she’s painfully thin, her sweater is too small, as if she’s borrowed it from a child.  She’s so thin, and yet there’s nothing on their table but the squat carafe of pink wine, the glass-and-a-half size meant for one person.  It’s lunch time, she obviously needs to eat, and yet there’s no food on the table.  As I watch, she flirts with him.  Desperately.  She bats those big eyes, looks at him with vampy, retro-eroticism so often and with such clear intent that she becomes a caricature – Betty Boop as tragic figure.  He doesn’t seem to see or hear her, just relaxes with his wine.

I want to send her a note on a napkin saying, “Don’t do this!  I’ll buy your lunch!” but I’d never get the French right and I sense that I’m so “other” in her context as to be invisible.  I wouldn’t even qualify as an obnoxious, meddling stranger.  And I don’t think it’s lunch she’s after anyway.

The wine finished, they stand to leave and her coat slides from her chair to the floor.  He doesn’t lean to retrieve it, doesn’t seem to see either the fallen coat or the woman.  Shaking, she bends, her too-small sweater sliding up in back to reveal the bony vertebrae moving beneath transparent skin.  Her body, absent the makeup that has created her face, is a skeleton in a fragile veil.  A skeleton that has just played a dangerous game very badly, and lost.

He leaves a few euros on the table, shrugs on his coat and seems quite content as he walks out into the cold, bright day, never looking back.  She struggles awkwardly with her coat for minutes after he’s gone, her face still attractive but blank now.  The charade is over; she has no expression left.  Not a soul in this red plastic restaurant looks up as she passes and vanishes into the street.

And I’m left wondering if she was really there at all, but rather a ghost replaying some forgotten moment in which the one thing, or one man, that could have made a difference, didn’t.  The buildings of the Place de la Bastille are fairly recent, built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries but of sufficient age to have housed countless pivotal moments.  I choose to imagine this as one of those, in which long-dead bones in painted glamour and stolen clothes return to recreate with the oblivious living some amour fou or grim monetary transaction lost in time and unchangeable.  Unless, of course, the guy at the table had been able to see her.  😉

 

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The Tarasque

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Town crest of Tarascon with Good King Rene’s castle and the Tarasque chomping somebody in the Rhone

Some years ago I wound up in Aix-en-Provence in the summer. (Don’t ever do this.) We were living in a cramped basement apartment that was at least a few degrees cooler than it was outside, and there was little to do during the heat of the day but read and listen to the eerie, omnipresent chorus of the million cicadas that are a regional mascot and a fixture in Provençal fabric design. (Gorgeous tablecloths depicting bugs, go figure. It’s just a Provençal thing.) I don’t speak French beyond the Ou sont les toilettes, s’il vous plait? level, but there was one book in English in the university library, a biography of Frédéric Mistral, the 1904 Nobel Prize-winning writer and lexicographer of Provence’s Occitan language and folklore.

I love folklore, search for it incessantly, regard it as the Rosetta Stone of all hidden mysteries. In the back matter of the book was a reference to a museum in Arles devoted to the Provençal traditions Mistral celebrated in his work. I would have walked the 49 miles from Aix to Arles just to see it, but fortunately we had a car.

The temperature was in the 90’s; the museum was empty, stifling and airless, but I popped a salt pill and reveled in it. The place was and is a trove of wonderful costumes, dioramas, santons (tiny statues of countless Provençal characters), Mistral’s framed Nobel Prize certificate, and a Tarasque! It was love at first sight.

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The Tarasque’s statue in Tarascon

The Tarasque is a mythic, amphibious creature who lived in the Rhone or in the woods near the Rhone and devoured people, mostly those unfortunates who fell into the river due to shipwrecks and that sort of thing. Armies of skilled hunters failed at every attempt to capture and kill the monster, but as luck would have it, St. Martha (of Mary and Martha biblical fame) had moved to France in 48 A.D. shortly after the crucifixion and lived

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Note murderous townfolk.

nearby. She went to the Tarasque and sang to it, taming the beast and sealing its fate. The now-gentle creature walked with St. Martha back into town, where the townfolk immediately beat it to death. Moral: The Little Prince quite aside (“You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.”), wisdom lies in scrupulous attention to the character of potential tamers. Martha wasn’t up to the responsibility, and would have found no fan in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

The Tarasque became one of my many personal conceptual icons, and I included it in The Paper Doll Museum. But life strangely offered few opportunities to discuss Tarasques over lunch, and my interest, if not my fondness for the creature, faded. Until this trip.

Tarasc bookWhen, driving around the various ancient communes near Meynes, I saw a town name on a road sign -Tarascon. My beast has a whole town named for it! And a statue the size of a Volkswagen van, an annual festival in which it’s carried through town by men in colorful costumes, plus books and tourist gimcracks. I bought the refrigerator magnet. Our hostess Martine, no doubt uneasy at my sudden, frenzied ecstasy over an old French folk tale, graciously bought me the key chain.

There’s a castle in Tarascon that, unlike every even slightly perilous locale in the U.S., has

Tarascon gargoyle

Tarascon gargoyle watching the Rhone

no “Danger! Keep Out!” signs prohibiting exploration. It was built in the first half of the 15th century and does present certain dangers. But the French assume you’ll pay attention while climbing those crumbling spiral stairs five stories up to the roof from which soldiers of Good King Rene sent arrows and catapulted stones to fall on the invading armies of Aragon.

The roof affords spectacular views of the town and the church of St. Martha, in which her supposed relics may be venerated in a crypt supposedly built on the exact spot where her house stood. In the 1st century. We must assume they kept amazing real estate records! It’s interesting that Martha got the church, but the Tarasque got the town name, a statue and an annual festival that continues to this day. The official story is that the town feels guilty for having killed a tamed beast over 2,000 years ago. If true, the tale sheds light on the absence of the death penalty in France. But I don’t think that’s it.

The ungainly, impossible Tarasque with its spiked turtle shell, six legs, human-faced lion head and lashing, spiked tail, is a wonderful jumble of archetypal images. It’s a primordial,  nursery-brain dragon, both animal and human, lovable and deadly as we all variously are. The truth of the Tarasque is soon crushed into subconsciousness in three-year-olds by the slaughter of “reality,” but only after being tamed by a song. And always dimly half-remembered as the closest, most secret, scary and wonderful friend.  Because  the Tarasque is us.

 

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And now it goes with me everywhere.  😉

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Alors…

AbbieMausoleumAnother sojourn in France.  At this point I can no longer claim tourist status and by default join the ranks of those terribly sophisticated Americans who spend half their lives running back and forth to France.  They write knowledgeably and with verve about wine, truffles and the joys of living in Provence for a year.  The New Yorker keeps them on commission and major publishers battle to offer six-figure contracts for their memoirs.  They have unusual names like “Braque” and “Tani” and all live in NYC where they ferret out obscure French restaurants between trips. But frankly, I don’t make the cut.

I prefer a German Riesling and only vaguely understand “truffle” to mean some kind of fungus that’s not a mushroom. I live as far as it’s possible to get from New York without falling into the Pacific and wouldn’t survive a week alone in Provence. I’ve just been there, though, so I can write about it. Unsophisticatedly. Sort of A Corn-fed Hoosier in the Drome Provencal, to ride the titling coattails of Mark Twain.

First, while Provence in summer is, per Braque and Tani, apparently a scented dream of lavender fields, smocked artists and seven-hour al fresco dinners of daube and fougasse, in the dead of winter it’s history laid bare. The country home of our hosts, Martine and Franḉois, is in Meynes and was built in the early 14th century when the town was a Templar stronghold against attacks by French King Philip IV (heavily in debt to the Templars) after the failure of the Crusades. Beneath the narrow, cobbled streets there are still secret tunnels used by knights fleeing a fiery death at the stake. In the wintery gloom you can feel those centuries-old stories still breathing in the worn stone buildings, hear the desperate footsteps beneath the streets.

And those stories, only last week, weren’t entirely unfamiliar. Almost six centuries after the Crusades, in my little Indiana river town with a French name, the term “Knights Templar” was in common use as a designation within the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Town businessmen were Masons and my dad (very) grudgingly went along, memorizing pages of Masonic text in the bathroom as he shaved. He was a “Knight Templar.” Later I also memorized Masonic text as a Job’s Daughter, and went to dances at the Masonic Lodge with boys who were in the Order of DeMolay. Jacques de Molay was the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar and burned at the stake in Paris in 1314, but as a child I would know his name as well as that of Abraham Lincoln.

Walking Meynes’ cobbled streets at night, I wondered if martyred de Molay had also walked there, and what he’d think of a bunch of southern Indiana farm boys in crusader’s capes reciting no-doubt-inaccurate versions of his story. I decided he’d love it. Who would object to being celebrated in the heartland of a country that didn’t even exist when you went up in flames?

Provence also remains the very soul of the domestic arts. Nothing on earth could persuade

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Martine’s Provencal ceiling in Meynes

me to eat foie gras, given the horrors inflicted on ducks and geese to create it, so I won’t talk about the food. But Provençal interiors set an international standard for “Country” décor. Wondering what to do with 119 of those soup tureen lids you’ve got stacked in the garage? Martine lines them up to great effect on beams that have been here since before Chaucer was born.

A few miles away and two centuries after de Molay, Nostradamus was born and lived in St.

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Martine and I and Nostradamus in St. Remy

Remy, now a mecca for shoppers in search of those gorgeous (and expensive) Provençal fabrics, bedspreads and tablecloths. I bought a single tablecloth weight in the traditional shape of the Provenzalin (Provençal woman, in the local Occitan dialect, which is not French but related to Latin, a vestige of that Roman invasion Caesar documented in his Gallic Wars. “All of Gaul is divided into three parts.” Actually there were five parts. Provence was in one of them.) I have no idea what to do with one tablecloth weight, but had to have it!

facing_horsesThen, although nobody else was remotely interested, I was graciously driven many kilometers on bleak but hair-raising little roads to Pont d’Arc, where the French government has meticulously recreated in a cave 30,000-yr-old prehistoric art only discovered in 1993 in another nearby cave. The original art in its cave is now wisely protected from toxic human contact, and the new cave “parc” is a little Disneyish, but nothing can diminish the eerie beauty of the animals drawn by prehistoric people of a culture called Aurignacian. They (the painted animals) all have expressions of near-beatific elegance and a sort of prayerful amiability, even a bit of mischief in some, like portraits of beloved, revered friends. The Aurignacians may or may not have worshiped the animals they painted, but they clearly loved them. I bought a (badly translated to English but nonetheless lovely) children’s book, Equinox, written from the perspective of the smallest painted horse who waited over 10,000 years in darkness for the return of humans. The book isn’t available here, but can be ordered online at http://lacavernedupontdarc.org/nos-outils/. Or watch Werner Herzog’s documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams on Youtube.

Next: The Tarasc, my favorite French monster

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The Make Way for Ducklings icon, Boston Public Garden

The Make Way for Ducklings icon, Boston Public Garden

Just back from Boston, where Bo Bradley grew up and the setting for Bone Blind and half of The Paper Doll Museum.  I can’t get enough of the place and will have to take Bo home at some point.  For the wedding, maybe? 😉

This time involved happily sitting on the ground on a trash bag for

Lear and the traditional Fool, not my Fool from last week.

Lear and the traditional Fool, not my Fool from last week.

a free production of my fave, King Lear, on the Common.  It was a slapdash affair, costume-wise, with Lear and the Dukes looking like they wandered in from The Student Prince, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia in trendy contemporary businesswear and the Fool in a vaudeville hobo outfit complete with bowler hat.  But after five minutes it didn’t matter, and the Fool was stellar!

But most interesting was, of all (usually boring) things, a house tour.  Over many years of spending huge amounts of time in Boston, I’ve always rented somebody’s third floor in suburban Newton Highlands.  Boston is so crowded and expensive that people who have the old Victorians

Annie Cobb house, Newton Highlands, MA

Annie Cobb house, Newton Highlands, MA

routinely do this, and the accommodations are quirkily wonderful, like artists’ garrets only big and airy and surrounded by trees.  I love Newton’s architecture and even based a whole mystery, Bone Blind, on it.  (The dead body found in a candlelit tower like one of these you see all over Newton, the police detective about to retire and go into restoring Victorians, and the horror novelist who writes about them.)

But what I didn’t know until this absolutely not-boring tour was that many of the houses I find so intriguing were designed and built by Annie Cobb, America’s first woman architect!  Architectural designer Laura Fitzmaurice has exhaustively researched Annie and her houses, all of which you can see here complete with photos.  But even if you’re not fascinated by Victorian architecture, scroll through to the end where Fitzmaurice provides a professional, delightful and refreshingly feminist biography of yet another woman who was almost lost to history.  If the Newton Highlands Historical Archive ever creates Annie Cobb t-shirts, I’ll wear one!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Antithesis of Everything!

The Antithesis of Everything!

This is not a book review, although How the Mind Works is a book. This is merely an escape hatch for all who are made uneasy by the likelihood of a planetary takeover by robots.

I know; I wasn’t concerned about it either. If the incessant failures of our tv’s “record” system is any indication, it will be fifty years before any technological Artificial Intelligence will be able to boil an egg without incinerating four city blocks in every direction. Or else freezing the egg and then sending a coded message blaming an unnamed “illegal error” for which there is no remedy. Artificial Intelligence, I thought, is annoyingly stupid. We’re more likely to be taken over by wolverines.

But then I went to a play about Artificial Intelligence. It was a bad play, but beforehand the theater had arranged one of those “panels of experts” to talk about the play’s theme. I tend to enjoy articulate academics to the point of reverence, and one of the experts was an articulate academic, a professor of some esoteric hard science involving computers. And she said yes, it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. Computer-generated Artificial Intelligence will replicate and quickly surpass human intelligence, probably within ten to fifteen years. We are doomed.

Having a lifelong aversion to mathematics as the visible face of something vast and horrible, I found the idea of being supplanted by machines that are nothing but mathematics deeply repugnant. A robot brain can’t “feel” music, wonder if we are alone in the universe or even experience the meaning of “alone.” No robot brain will Awesomeever stand in awe at a tree. I felt sick. There was nothing to do but find an opposing articulate academic who would refute the expert at the play.

Enter Steven Pinker, now my favorite science guy since Carl Sagan. How the Mind Works was published in 1997, isn’t new and is riddled with that fallacy common to all science writing. The fallacy that says, “The awareness of a person standing slightly behind you on the left is registered in the (whatever) area of the brain.” Okay, but if you have one of those not-uncommon moments in which you sense somebody standing slightly behind you on the left, but when you turn to look there’s nobody there, what was registered on the (whatever) area of your brain? Science fallacy says it could only have been some meaningless, misfiring synapse in an otherwise normal, orderly brain. I say who knows what it was, but it was something.

A tolerance for the fallacy must be cultivated if one is to read science writers, but it’s worth it. Thanks to Pinker I am no longer nauseated at the prospect of robots obliterating the essence(s) of all sentient life. In over 600 agonizingly detailed pages, Pinker has convinced me that there is not the slightest chance that Artificial Intelligence will or even can replicate the incredibly messy and complicated interacting systems that have evolved into the human brain. As an unforeseen side effect, however, he has also convinced me that maybe being supplanted isn’t such a bad idea after all.

It’s common knowledge that most men are at base pathetic, sex-driven idiots. But after the mind-boggling success of 50 Shades of Gray and its sequels (my reference, not Pinker’s), there’s no longer any way to pretend that most women aren’t also pathetic, sex-driven idiots. Per Pinker, the goals and practices of male and female idiotic behavior are very different, but the results are tediously the same – endless, imagesmindless reproduction. Gack. One wishes it were not so.

Still, How the Mind Works is fun to read. Pinker’s wit is droll and omnipresent, rescuing every potential slide into pedantry with impeccably timed one-liners that both make the reader laugh and solidify the concept being analyzed. And an unexpected spin from discovering Pinker is the discovery of Rebecca Goldstein, an intriguing (articulate academic) author who married Pinker in 2007. I’ve just ordered two of her novels – The Mind-Body Problem and The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind.

It’s summer and the movies are all dreck, so check out Pinker and Goldstein and settle in to read until October. Especially How the Mind Works if you’ve been worried about, you know – AI. It’s not gonna happen!

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imagesI was born and grew up in Indiana, graduated from IU and still identify with the term, “Hoosier.”  I know Indiana but I do not know, and in fact am sickened by, the right-wing farce it seems to have become.

The state’s  appalling “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” quickly revised only four days after its signing by Republican presidential hopeful Governor Mike Pence, weirdly granted not only to actual people, but to corporations and all forms of business, the right to refuse service to anybody on the basis of its (the business’s) religious beliefs.  In Indiana, businesses are capable of thought, which can include the choice to espouse various beliefs. Among these beliefs is one insisting that no “Christian” gas station, pharmacy, restaurant, etc. should be forced under law to provide services to people whose personal identities do not meet the approval of the gas station/pharmacy/restaurant’s religion.

Okay, maybe I’ve been gone for too long, but this pathetic nonsense is not the Indiana I carry with me everywhere.  In the “real” Indiana there is only one rule – “Do the right thing.”  Everybody knows what “the right thing” is, and while it may be done uneasily, quietly, even covertly, it will get done.

Is Indiana racist?  Yes and no. Slavery (the enslaved were largely Native Americans and white indentured servants)  was constitutionally banned when Indiana became a state in 1816 and the few remaining black slaves of southern settlers were legally freed in 1820, long before the Civil War.  Indiana fought for the Union despite, at its southern end where I grew up, its shared border with mostly Confederate Kentucky.

But yes, there was and in places probably still is, racism.  Not the Jim Crow sort of the true South, but a queasy, uncomfortable sort that everybody knew was not “the right thing,” but nobody knew quite how to change.  The answer was to dress it up and hope that helped.

There had been segregated public schools in Indiana until the practice was legally abolished in 1949, so that by the time I was in grade school I had black classmates.  Well, I had one, and his name was Ronnie.  His dad was a porter at the train station and my dad knew Ronnie’s dad and thought highly of him.

The schools enforced a rule that demanded a birthday party  invitation to every child in the birthday kid’s class.  There was no idea of “private” birthday parties.  Either everybody was invited or there was no party.  And so Ronnie was invited to mine and I to his.  Except there was another, silent but zealously observed rule that forbade white and black people from setting foot over each other’s doorsills socially.

And so Ronnie’s mother, dressed to the teeth in hat and gloves, would arrive at our house and hand to my mother a beautifully wrapped gift at my party her son could not attend.  But she couldn’t come inside.  And for Ronnie’s birthday parties that I could not attend, my mother, also in hat and gloves, would deliver Ronnie’s gift to his mother at their home.  But she couldn’t step inside.

It was a fidgety, hybrid racism, although no less cruel for that.  And by the time a few hundred kids who’d chafed at the birthday party rule hit high school, it was over.  A new black family moved to town, including attractive teenage twins, Jeannie and Joey.

Basketball is a religion in Indiana, and Joey played first string while Jeannie happily taught us all the new dances learned in whatever enviably sophisticated big town they’d come from.  So we elected them homecoming king and queen, effectively ending at least one entrenched pattern of racism.  The whole town was relieved and the birthday party rule died.  Everybody knew it was The Right Thing.

Is Indiana anti-Semitic?  Not if anti-Semitism is perceived as The Wrong Thing.  All the grade schools had basketball teams, and all the boys (not girls) could play.  But in jr. high the only basketball teams were sponsored by the Y.  The Young Men’s Christian Association.  My classmate Eddie was Jewish, and as a non-Christian he was not allowed to join the Y in order to play basketball. Social death for an Indiana guy!

Eddie was devastated, but the jr. high principal, Tab Tolbert, quickly organized local business owners whose contributions supported the Y (including Eddie’s family) to urge a bit of alteration to the Y’s rules.  Eddie was suited up and on court within a week, and a few months later the entire jr. high attended a convocation in celebration of his bar mitzvah.  Eddie, in yarmulke and tallit, chanted in Hebrew and everybody cheered as if he were Eddie Cantor.

Hoosiers do the right thing.

Is Indiana homophobic?  Again, sort of but not really.  Not as long as the “right thing” decorum is maintained.  The accountant for my dad’s business and half the businesses in town was gay and everybody knew it.  The man was welcomed as a Mason and member of countless civic organizations,  He generously supported artistic endeavors and always showed up at diners and functions with a successful woman hospital administrator who may also have been gay.  Nobody cared and nobody would have dreamed of refusing to pump gas into their cars on religious principles.

But this was a long time ago.  So what’s happened?

Is Indiana full of religious fanatics?  It would seem so, although again it’s necessary to look at the root of “doing the right thing.”  That “thing” arguably derives from the Golden Rule, often attributed to the figure of Christ although in fact it is an essential tenet in every known religious or ethical system.  Hoosiers, as I know them and am, want to treat others as we wish to be treated, and probably were first introduced to the idea in churches.

Lots of churches.  Denominational identity was big when I was growing up there, and everybody knew who was Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish or whatever.  There was no judgment; it was more a matter of, again, that frenzied need to know the right thing to do.  If you invite your Catholic neighbors over for barbecue on Friday, be sure to grill a few catfish filets because they won’t be able to eat the ribs!

But somewhere along the line Indiana seems to have fallen prey to a right-wing creepiness that’s antithetical to both churchly and secular Doing the Right Thing.  At least a sufficient number of people with sufficient power have managed to pass a law that makes a laughingstock of my home state and trashes what I know to be its core identity.

Indiana is strange, a relatively unknown place and culture within the larger American one.  It’s a jumble of at-times old-fashioned agrarian mores in the south, and old-fashioned immigrant mores in the north, but essentially it’s sort of stalwart.  A significant number of Hoosiers may be floundering in a maelstrom world spinning too fast, and for a moment may have grabbed on to the unstable bit of sociological flotsam that is right-wing fundamentalism, but I hope it won’t last.

Because it’s not The Right Thing.

 

 

 

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The Beginning

The Beginning

A few days ago I witnessed a violent confrontation in and above the massive eucalyptus tree in the canyon behind the house. There was much outraged squawking, mid-air collisions and black feathers tumbling loose in the wind. I imagine the dialogue went something like this –

She: What part of NO! don’t you get? I told you already, I need some space, maybe some time at the beach. I’m not doing this again, NO!

(Crashing leaves, he falls but manages an upward swoop and returns)

He: Beach? What, you think you’re a seagull? Take a look in a mirror. Come on, honey, it’s spring and you know what that means.

She: I do. 35 interminable days sitting in a pile of twigs full of smelly egg shells and screaming kids. Been there, done that. I’m going to Mexico, maybe shred papel picano for a trendy new nest decoration or learn to sing corridos.

He: (Leering) Crows don’t sing and you’re not going anywhere. The biological imperative, remember?

She: (Wings threatening, black eyes blazing) Take your biological imperative and…

(Savage swooping and screeching above the eucalyptus, collisions and slashing beaks,  both fly away in opposite directions.)

The Middle

The Middle

At dusk she’s back in the eucalyptus, and from across the canyon he executes an elegant series of calligraphic maneuvers toward her, a black pen writing across lavender sky. In his beak is a succulent grub and a bit of pink ribbon snatched from a neighborhood birthday party. These he offers on the branch at her feet.

She: (Giving in)  Awww…

In the morning their conversation has changed. Both fly back and forth with sticks and twigs and bits of string. They still argue, but the tone is different, the squawks individual and opinionated.

He: I still think the pepper tree would have been better.

She: No, I don’t like the smell and the sap irritates my claws.

On the second day he flies in with what looks like a red cocktail straw.

She: (Loudly) Plastic? I thought we were going green this year. No synthetics!

He shrugs black shoulders and tosses the cocktail straw into the air. It falls and catches on a lower branch of the eucalyptus. They both fly in and out all day, each trailing building material from beaks. They rustle and squawk, heads bobbing with effort, until gradually a dark lump is visible at the top of the eucalyptus. The nest. Both try to sit in it but it isn’t big enough and over and over again one falls out, wings flapping.

On the third day they seem hurried, rushing more and more palm strings, twigs and wooden popsicle sticks into the eucalyptus. They’re making clucking sounds now, and cooing.

He: Pretty nice, huh?

She: I love it. Wonderful view and way too high for the raccoons and cats.

He: So you’re not, you know, upset about Mexico and all that?

She: (Pensively) Some day I’m not going to do this, you know. Some day I’m just going to fly away, learn things, just be me. Don’t you ever want that?

He: Sure, I think about it, but then spring comes and I forget. Spring comes and we have to make more crows. Why fight it?

She: If you don’t know I can’t tell you.

On day four she’s alone in the eucalyptus. She’s silent and still. I can see the flat edge of her tail feathers hanging over the edge of the nest, a black smudge amid purple stems and green leaves.  She can’t leave now. She’s trapped.

The End

The End

From the balcony upstairs, only fifteen yards from the nest, I read to her from murdered Rosario Castellanos’ play, The Eternal Feminine.

“It’s not good enough to imitate

the models proposed for us that are answers to circumstances

other than our own. It isn’t even enough to discover who we are.

We have to invent ourselves.”

I know she tried. Maybe next year…

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