Monday, August 31, 2009
Wherein, at 19:00 on Monday we're supposed to write a poem and post it by 19:05. I like it. I like having to write a poem in exactly those five minutes right there. Only, I did it a little teeny half hour early.
here we go:
This very last five minutes I’ll tell you
cause i’ve been stuck in the grammar mines and there’s dirt all over me and bits of wrong phrases in my hair and bad conjugations smeared across my cheeks.
And I really truly hate the grammar mines I am ready to throw this book chapter into the screaming scorching fire
five minutes four hours ago i’d have told you
gee, i’m really sorry, i should have noticed that before
and i would have had shoulders slumped and eyes looking down at the table
five minutes a day ago and i’d have exclaimed
!!! what a glorious day
sky full of sunshine and parasailers
garden full of cats -!!a new mouser!!
Jam cooking on the stove
Five minutes in an hour i’ll be sighing
Life is nice
Kicked back in the armchair, cold glass of kir, a good book
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I'm going to let off some steam here, just to stay sane.
this is a textbook chapter where we have something to say, supported by the data in the medical literature.
But. Question of style. My colleague writes Smith et al did a study, gives a sentence about the study design, gives a sentence covering the major results. Goes to the next paper, same thing. Some sections are more of an annotated bibliography than a synthesis with something global to say. It takes some rearranging, but I can smooth that out. Conjugating verbs and choosing prepositions is the easy part.
And then, what keeps me flipping over to facebook or Free Cell or Blogspot instead of staying the course, there's the bias. My friend is an enthousiast. He wants hypnosis to work. He thinks it does work; it just hasn't been studied well enough to prove it. Usually, he's a good enough author to keep most of his personal perspective out of it, and just tell us what's known, what worked, what didn't, where the grey zones are. But not always. And since I don't share his belief but am rather waiting to be convinced by the evidence, this drives me nuts.
'Somehow, a recent study of Classen et al (2008) attempting to determine ..... ' found no effect.
Alright, using 'somehow', which conjures an image of shaking one's head and wondering how on earth they came up with this, it must surely be wrong, might just be a language thing.
A little further on, there's a study that found a small and not statistically significant decrease in measures of depression in patients undergoing therapy using hypnosis. It was a 5 to 8% difference, and only one study, but the next sentence waves that aside and hails the therapy as a 'strong alternative to conventional psychotherapy'. Let's slide a may be in there, and cut the strong.
I will get through it, and we will meet in the middle and get a good, balanced, chapter out of it. But it's slow going, frustrating, and I'm very, very glad this is not my real job.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Too late! But never mind. I'll just make you suffer through archival material.
This is not strictly speaking in my town, but you can see it from there. And you can go hiking up there, and biking and horseback riding among the green fields and hills.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
It must have been a tranquil life, swimming lazily 'round the pond, hoovering up whatever came your way. When things got slow and you needed a little excitement, you allowed yourself to be caught, posing for photos, taking a look around topside, before being released again to the murky depths.
I was up Peterborough way some years ago. If I'd known of the queen carp of Kingfisher Lake, I'd certainly have stopped by to say hello.
Friday, August 21, 2009
A colleague has given me this chapter to correct the english before sending it in, and it's quite a job. I'm accustomed to all sorts of levels of mastery of the Bard's tongue, and I've seen far worse.
Grammar is grammar; you just fix it. Don't you? Let me think about that comma. Scientific texts are clear. Nuanced, yes, but english is a very precise language and we get where we're going. There's a reason English has far more words than other languages. With two or three or four duplicates, you can really split some hairs.
Normally, the content is not my business. The author wants to say what? No skin off my nose. I just try to make the saying of it correct and readable. This time I have to care about content. It would help to have some context, too. Is the whole book about hypnotism? cancer? alternative medicine in general? Who will be reading it?
I'm trying. I'm sticking with it. It is, after all, something I'm definitely in favor of, this application of rigorous methods to a traditionally fuzzy subject. And I'm truly interested in the results, too. If you can help somebody live longer and more comfortably by teaching relaxation techniques, by all means! Hypnotism can get your sleep schedule back on track, thus boosting your immune system and making you less crabby to boot? Go for it! Just keep the snake-oil salespeople outside. Well, unless believing in snake oil is what floats your boat, er, boosts your endorphins.
So okay with the subject matter. I'm just going to wail and moan and tear my hair out over diction and syntax and that french way of dancing around the point so long the author just skips it and goes on (the point? it's that hole there in the middle of the paragraph...) for the next week or so. And while I'm at it, since I am an author and not just a correcter, I'll be putting my centimes in two by two and keeping us to the discernable facts.
It's a shame Strunk and White never caught on in France.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Then this was an interesting juxtaposition. With the lettering and colors being so similar you could take the Veterinary office and the restaurant as one thing, leading twisted minds to wonder if the one would profit from the unfortunate outcomes of the other. No, I didn't eat there. Nor, fortunately, did my rabbit fall ill. And the rat, well, rats can take it, they don't go to the vet; the restaurant, though, it took some effort to keep him out of there. (I was walking to school one day in Minneapolis and saw a rat running for it's life away from Arby's... Having eaten at Arby's once, I can understand that.)And lastly this one, borrowed from the post at Pink Rabbit Abroad. Half an hour's hike to the Pissoire, guys, hope you can hold it!
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
It was the spring of 8th grade, at church, in the classes preparing us for Confirmation.
Catholicism for me up to that point had always and exclusively been a Sunday thing. Well, plus the occasional get-out-of-school for a morning for the odd holy day of obligation (I would rather have stayed in class than go to Mass, but Mom would take us).
I never especially liked church. Dressing nicely is not my thing. Catechism held little interest (a nice fairy story, but do they have to tell it over and over and over; are there no other stories on the shelf?). I didn’t have any friends there. And Mass itself was just so boring. Sometimes I’d get dizzy from all the standing and sitting at attention I’d get nauseous and by the time the Sign of Peace came around I was ready to throw up in the aisle. Which I did on more than one occasion - remember that time in the cathedral, Mom?
That brings me to one of the build-up moments. We were at evening mass downtown, during the homily, when a man on the other side of the aisle held up his hand to ask a question. The priest ignored him. The man insisted with his raised arm, respectfully, but persistent. The priest went right on as if he didn’t see anything at all.
And I thought, what is this? What's he doing? Can you really ask questions in church? Nobody ever told me I could ask a question.
And I thought, well that’s not very nice of the Father. The man has his hand up, waiting patiently to be called on. Why doesn’t Father let the man ask the question? I want to know what it is. I want to know what the priest will say when he’s not reading from a script.
I went away that night thinking of the man who kept his arm up for a good many minutes, and the priest who kept on giving us our weekly lesson, whatever it was, all the while shooting annoyed looks at the question man.
Why can’t you ask a question in church?
Of course I know that there are many other occasions for asking your questions, and interrupting evening Mass at the cathedral in San Diego is not the most discreet.
But why can’t you ask a question in church? And aren’t the thoughts behind those killer glances from the pulpit sins, of a sort, and there’s the priest right now, in the middle of mass, thinking bad thoughts? I was a kid. I went off on these tangents.
Then confirmation class. It was the first time I’d really examined my faith. As long as I didn’t examine my faith, I could pretend to have some, maybe just a little, back there on the floor of the braincloset with the rest of the things I don’t ever really think about. But now it became clear. All those bible stories, all the Jesus Loves You, the entire eternal life business, I just didn’t buy it. I’d examine it, and it didn’t hold up. I didn’t believe in miracles. I didn’t believe I was being watched over by angels. I didn’t believe I was loved by some person who lived long ago and far away and who furthermore had been killed.
I would have liked to believe. A lot of people apparently took a lot of comfort from it, and there did seem to be an advantage in going to heaven as opposed to hell if indeed such places existed. I really wanted to belong to the club. But belief is a matter for the heart, and my heart wasn’t in it. So I started to feel guilty about not believing, and it was a sin to lie and pretend I did (though if the whole thing is just a story then “sinning” is part of the story and from there you can go in circles until you figure out that morality is independent of religion), and a terrible sin to receive communion in this state of apostasy but how could I refuse to step up for communion with my parents right there?
And then there were all the things that God was supposed to want us to do, or not do. A whole lot of people seem to know what God wants, and their messages are sometimes in conflict. It’s a lot for a kid to figure out. Some kids just take it all in, being Catholic to their marrow from the day they were baptized. Not me.
Then in class we got to a certain thing that God wanted us to do. He wanted us to use our gifts to the fullest. And what is God’s greatest gift to mankind but our capacity to think? We can reflect, and question, and build theories, and discover. God wants me to think. My thinking leads me to see there is no particularly good reason for me to believe in the existence of God. For me to deny this doubt would be putting my brain under a bushel and therefore a sin against the god I was trying to believe in. Was it the philosopher Blaise Pascal who decided it was better to believe, because if there is no god it doesn’t matter, but if there is it’s better to be on the right side. Well, one day it all boiled down to a conclusion: I’m not an atheist for whom God cannot exist, but I am one of those doubters, an agnostic.
I doubt God. But it’s okay; He told me to.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I spent a weekend with friends in the countryside last February, and after driving past the same sign for a waterfall four or five times, I said, hey, what’s the deal with the waterfall - should we take a look? And my friend J had never been there. My friend W, who’d lived around there for ages, knew it, thought it was nothing special, and just never went there. So they never went there together. Why should you, just to be disappointed that the local ‘sight’ is some sad dribble over a few rocks?
But I’m the kind who has to see how lame something is so I can write a blog post saying - WOW, that thing there is so overrated! So naturally we had to stop and see it. And it was a nice little stop. Nothing to drive a hundred miles out of the way for, unless you’re into driving a hundred miles for no particular reason (which I am...), but a nice little stop. I took pictures. I took pictures with my rabbit. I slipped on the ice and broke the screen on my new camera.
Our local mountain, Puy de Dome, is part of the landscape, so to speak, looming over the town every single day such that you either forget its there it’s so familiar, or you do notice and think ‘yeah, yeah; been there.’ Been there! There are always beautiful things to see, new and revisited. If I’ve seen one pine tree, have I seen them all? If I’ve seen this pine tree, should I never look at it again? Should I not appreciate it in its dark summer coat and its snowy mantle, as a sapling and mature? Go ahead, appreciate the things that are right under your nose.
So this past week I’ve been up Puy de Dome, several times. Last Saturday for blueberries, berries with J after work Wednesday, berries again this Saturday. And every time, I said to myself, damn, should have brought the camera! Alright, one more trip up there, on Sunday.
The clouds a week ago made life down in Clermont rather dreary, but up high it made for a magical landscape. My favorite berryfield is in the middle heights, and the clouds were like celestial sheep, moseying over one foothill, getting trapped in a valley, then creeping on over the next. Weather you just want to sit back and watch. So I did.
Then the next two trips up there, the sky was an unblemished blue, and there were a dozen or more parasailers out swarming in the air around the summit. They swooped around in a colorful ballet, just swirling in the sky, not having to come down until sunset. No matter how many times I’ve been up here over the years, there’s always something beautiful to see. Seen it before? So what - see it again!
On the last trip up I decided no berry-picking, just lunch and photos. I took the bus up to one of the drop-off points, hiking through some lovely woods and across high meadows. It had been a year since I was last on that particular trail, and in just a year, the meadows had changed. The edge of the woods moves. This corner was filled in with young birches and another with pine saplings, while in other spots the thickets of hazel were thinning out. In many places the trail makes a tunnel through the vegetation. Next trip, I promise, I’ll haul the tripod with me. Even digital has difficulty capturing the serene understory of these woods, with their subtle grey-browns and thick green canopy. No colorful sails in the sky, alas: too much wind.
Monday, August 17, 2009
It doesn’t take many people to have conflict as to what to call a cat. There were two votes for Shadow, a neato-cool name for a mostly black cat, one for Boots in the tradition of naming cats for their different-colored paws, and two parental abstentions. The first time this type of conflict came around, there were sufficient kittens to take up both Brand X and Mitten as names. This time there was only one kitten.
We’re not a middle-name sort of family.
Only one name per mammal, please.
And there was only one. What it was depended on who was talking. I don’t think the cat ever cared.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
And, every once in a while near the end of a weekend afternoon, I pour a glass of cold Chardonnay and take a good book out to the garden.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
At Lepin-le-Lac-la-Bauche I've got 13 minutes to change to a bus for Aiguebelette-le-Lac. First I wander into the little convenience store that's right across from the station, remembering that I left my bandaids at the hotel and I often need one for a long hike. No luck. Not a bakery to be seen, even walking up and down the road a ways. I'd love a big cup of café crème at the bar attached to the store, but if I miss the bus for it, that would not be a good deal. In Aiguebelette there's not even the hope of breakfast. It's a one-street village, not a shop in sight, and the lone hotel&restaurant is closed.
So fine. At the station I chance onto one of the trailheads that I came here for, though not the one that goes along the lakeside, and break out the cereal bars and water I packed (darn - left the peaches behind!). Breakfast of champions. It's all uphill, this trail. A good plan - do the hard part first. Up and up and up. The thing about walking in dense forest is that there's never a view. And it's dark. But I should get somewhere eventually. There are vertical cliffs above, quite impressive from a distance, and sooner or later this trail will come out on top of one.
Some later day.
When I start going down again, around the far side of the long thin ridge of rock the separates Aiguebelette from Chambèry, I've been at it for a couple of hours. Hmm. This is not going up to a summit. Nor am I in the wilderness, but in a woods with logging roads and the sound of chainsaws in the middle-distance. Now and then I come across a house with a dog in the yard and a couple of cars. How about another cereal bar, and the rest of the water when I get back to the crest of the trail, and I find the trail around the lake after lunch.
I get back to the station at 11:45. Nearly a four hour hike. Pretty good, though my feet are not really used to the new shoes. No blisters, but I'll get some insoles to make them a little softer on pavement. I did get some views of the lake and the surrounding countryside. It isn't much to write home about.
Checking out the train schedules I see there's one at 12:23, the next at 14:25, and various trains later. I'm thinking of lunch (having consumed my lunch for breakfast), and of quitting Aiguebelette for an afternoon hike around La Tour de Pin, whose sign at the station showed a handful of castles in a hikable radius. Wandering around, I see ads for a restaurant serving the usual sandwiches pizza & crepes, down by the vacation/camping area lakeside. Only, I can't seem to find the road that actually goes down there. The village seems rather concerned with keeping its quiet village character in the face of the annual deluge of holiday visitors, and I don't blame them. These lakeside holiday camps tend to be wall-to-wall people doing their best to pack in as much merriment and carousing as they can before it all ends and it's back to the grind.
Whatever, I'll take the 12:23 back to Lepin le Lac, where there was an restaurant near the station (and if that's closed, a sandwich & beer at the bar will be fine). At the one-track station - you know you're in nowhereville when there are not even two tracks at the station! - at 12:22 the barriers come down and here comes a great big train.
And there it goes.
The station is too small for there to be anybody. The station building is now a private home with a waiting room attached for travellers. No doubt the residents are in charge of keeping the station in shape, but they're not there to talk to. No electronic signs. No ticket vending machine. There's a train company phone to use if you have a problem.
Um. My train didn't stop for me. It was very mean and just blew right on by, without even slowing down.
But I don't call. What's the point in calling? They're not going to back up for me. I sit for a minute to stew in my annoyance before making my way down toward the lake, determined to find this announced restaurant serving crappy, overpriced food to sunburned holiday makers.
About halfway back to the main street, I hear that familiar two-tone whistle, the ones trains make entering and leaving tunnels. ...leaving the tunnel from Chambèry! My train! As I turn, I hear the barriers coming down to block the road, and I run up the hill.
There have been years in my life when it was not possible for me to run up a hill, especially footsore and tired from a long walk. But I do it. I round the corner of the stationhouse just as the engine is pulling up to the start of the quay. The driver had slowed down just in case there was a passenger waiting, but seeing nobody, he'd started to speed up again, and now had to stop after all. When he finally did, the engine had crossed the road, and the first car was straddling it. An ugly stop, but I had my train.
Lunch is excellent. A salad, steak with pepper sauce and fries, chocolate cake; simple fare but well made (ok, the cake was lame. but the fries were perfect.) and just what I wanted.
On the ride back to La Tour, I think about the importance that we put on the task at hand, and how that fits into the larger picture of things. I just had to catch that train in Aiguebelette. I couldn't let it get away, having given up on it once, fooled by the big train going probably straight to Lyon. Missing it would have wrecked my day.
Yeah, you'd have been stuck in that town another 2 hours. Big deal.
Bigger opportunities have come and gone. Missed by chance, or by failure of will, or by some stupid error; there have been so many times in my life when I thought: if I don't get this, I'm cooked. If I don't get this grant. If I miss this plane. If I fail to get this paper accepted. Disaster looms.
Sometimes I squeaked by, like catching that train on the run. Sometimes I had that cold feeling envelop me, the one that comes around when you're searching for plan B, and plans are pretty thin on the ground. But no matter what I failed at, not one of those losses was big enough to keep me from getting to where I am now. Not one of them was fatal. At the time, they seemed like they would be. But not one of those missed opportunities kept me from having a home and a job and a vacation in the french countryside.
Sure, things could have been different. One coin flipped the other way and I could own a house instead of renting one. Another coin flip and I could be spending this vacation with a husband. But in the longer view of things, I'm happy, and all those short-term crises were just that: transient.
I've been reading some Flaubert on this trip. On my trip to Culoz it was Reading Lolita in Tehran, and at the end of that trip two things happened: In Lyon I ran across the used book section of the quayside market along the Saone and picked up five paperbacks for 5€, and my renewed friend Anne posted "100 books I've read the BBC thinks I haven't" on Facebook. I've read 57 of the 100, and I wouldn't be opposed to about half the remaining (including Lolita, ironically). What caught my interest was that all the French books on the list that I'd read, I'd read in French, and yet I haven't picked up a book in French in ages. Apart from the classics I read years ago while actively trying to learn the language, I've had terrible luck with French fiction.
Thus here I am with Flaubert and his slim 'Three Stories' volume. The first story, A Simple Heart, at first bores me. But then I realize I just have to go with it. The structure of 19th century French stories often isn't what you expect of 20th century American short stories. They're not always built around an event, they don't go - setting, conflict, action, resolution. A Simple Heart describes the life, and the being, of a servant in the north of France. Nothing in particular happens. In the first half of this portrait, I at times thought that Flaubert was mocking his subject, Félicité, in her simple manners and naive ways. But he wasn't; he was just showing her as she was, and how that was different, and disdained, by more educated people around her. In the end you feel you know her, there's a certain sympathy that develops for her as you find she's the one able to express her deep love for her mistress's children, she's the one who keeps everything together, she provides the human ties, appreciated or not, in her entourage. A very satisfying tale.
Till next time!
Friday, August 7, 2009
The power that makes our lives go smoothly. Nuclear generators of electricity giving off steam in the distance. Train engines hauling passengers to their destinations and goods all around the continent.
Yep, I just had to get a train picture in!
I do apologize if this is a rather superficial treatment of "Power". It's a subject that merits more, but time and inclination don't always coincide with the weekly theme. I'll come back to this later for a more considered post.
This week I'm really on vacation. How about another trip to the Rhone-Alps region, for some more hiking. Sounds good. Tuesday morning nice and early I herd all the cats indoors (they hate that. They know what's up - they saw my backpack and heard that huge bowl of catfood being poured!), and take the same bus I would usually take to work.
Once again, a train to Lyon. I'm getting to know this section of track pretty well. Why do I keep going back? In the spring I bought this discount card for trains going between the Rhone-Alp and Auvergne, and I'm determined to see everything.
Then on to Saint André du Gaz, arriving in the early afternoon. It's pretty plain territory around here. We're so close to the foothills of the Alps, but not in them yet. We're barely off the flat, boring plain with its sprawling industrial towns. St André is not my real destination: I want to go to Aiguebelette-le-Lac, which really is in the foothills, but it's such a tiny speck on the map, and on my train schedule it's in the tiniest of type, I'm not sure of there being anywhere to stay there. St André is written on my schedule with much bigger type, and seems to have plenty of trains, I figure it's got to have stuff.
There's your classic hotel-across-from-the-station. It isn't closed, like so many of these now, but it's pretty rundown, and it's getting toward that category of hotel that I promised myself I wouldn't do any more. The kind with bugs. So I walk into town, which isn't so small, just spread out. It's almost the size of Culoz. But there's no other hotel. There's not even a shop open to sell me a bottle of water. The only dinner option will be pizza.
Ten minutes back up the line was a very cute-looking town. A significant town with possibly three or four hotels. I'll go back to La Tour du Pin and make it my base.
There's time to kill waiting for the bus to La Tour, and I spend most of it looking at my train schedules. It's actually a good thing I'm going back one town. St André might be in large type, but not all the trains stop at all the towns. If I stay here, my choices for going on to Aiguebelette are 6:40 or 12:18. Before 7 am is way out, and noon just kills the hiking day. Happily, from La Tour I can catch a train (not without some serious grumbling, but it's possible) at 7:09, skip over St André, and start hiking at 7:58.
In La Tour the bus takes us through the center of town, where I start to wonder if maybe I was wrong about places to stay, but at last we pass the little Hotel de France. Perfect. Only, the door is locked and the sign says closed for vacation. Back August 10. Helpfully, it lists other hotels in the vicinity. Since the list is meant for people with cars, the Mercure 3 minutes away is my only reasonable choice. But 3 minutes in which direction?
By 4:30 I am checked into a rather nice room at the Mercure, with a view over the town and a bathtub. I didn't even have to ask, and I have a bathtub. I don't care if it's too expensive here; I can take a hot soak. And I will, later.
Right now I'm going to explore the town, and score tomorrow's lunch.