Friday, July 30, 2010

What Barry made me think of

Er, lots of things!
Lots of different things.

For many years I never put people in my photographs. I would wait patiently even in crowded places for people to get out (out!) of my picture. I considered myself an observer of landscape and still life and nature, which I am, but this was to the exclusion of people. Family & friend photos were one thing. But on my travels I never wanted strangers in the scene.
I started to reconsider this on my own, but it was really Barry who encouraged me, by his example of taking great pictures full of people and showing them and talking about them, to start including people in the photos I take of places I go. Without the people of the scene, after all, you don’t have the whole scene. Towns and cities and most parks are made by and for people, are lived in by people. Who cares about another shot of some building, without the people that give that building meaning? I’m glad Barry helped me figure that out.
Unpeopled photos still have their place, and a big one. But I don’t avoid people any more (though I do still rarely take photos of identifiable individuals unless I know them).

See, the Washington Monument is about the people.

Barry made me think of the Friday My Town Photo Shootout, and inversely. He’s the one who introduced me to it, way back when. At the time I hadn’t really looked at my new neighborhood (or the people in it!), and the early shootouts were a reason to go out and discover some other aspect of it.

My town having its Sunday Market.

A bridge meant for people. As most bridges are!

Today the Shootout is different. Maybe I’m just getting to the end of my time it (after about 65 posts, some of which I forgot to index), or I’ve covered the theme before, or I’m not as comfortable in a larger group of bloggers that I haven’t connected with personally. Used to be, I couldn’t wait for Friday, to read what marvels Barry, and Mark, and the others had come up with. But then Barry got too sick, and Mark has had other concerns, and while I still look forward to Fridays it’s not with my past enthousiasm. Every Shootout makes me think of Barry. What would he have to show us about Feet? I imagine he might have shown us Lindsay’s feet, before and after a run along the lake, neatly groomed, flying in a blur, wet, clotted with mud. There would be a hilarious story, of course. Or maybe something completely different. You never knew.

I miss Barry's Lindsay posts. They inspired me to experiment with a whole blog told from a different character's point of view.

Barry made me think harder about what it would mean to be a patient here at the hospital, rather than an employee. He made me feel badly about the condition of our run-down old building. Totally merited! It’s a mess. Nobody in their right mind would want to come here, especially when they’re sick and waiting for their appointment. We’re working on it (as you may have seen in previous posts), but it made me be more aware of my own part of it, and to get at my team to keep the space looking as nice and professional as we can, especially in times like these when the people coming for genetics consultations have to literally cross the laboratory to get to their appointments. A photo tour of the lab is here.

And not just the space, but our behavior. No arguing, no goofing off, no surfing Facebook. Normally, I tolerate a certain amount of goofing off and chatting. Our bodies follow 90-minute attention cycles, and it’s better for the day as a whole to take 5 minutes every hour and a half. There’s no point in cracking the whip if I’m just going to lose the good will of my team; we (most) all prefer and work better in a more relaxed environment. Just not too relaxed in front of the people who have been waiting 6 months for their genes to be sequenced! Barry made me think of these things more than I usually do, and I don’t mean to be negative about it. It made us grow, and be better.

Part of our waiting room, with cat.

Barry became a dear friend in the two years I knew him in the blogosphere. I was hoping to get to Toronto to meet him and Linda in person, but we just ran out of time. He'll always be in my thoughts.

For fellow Friday Shooters, visit here.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Culture is not unchanging

The Catalogne region of Spain has just voted to ban bullfighting. Opponents of the ban are outraged at the threat to a tradition that helps define their culture.

My personal experience of the corrida is limited. At the tender age of nine I was taken on a tour of Spain, which included a visit to a wax museum. A bullfight was on display there in all it’s ... what? Gore? Glory? In vivid colors anyway. I don’t know if the bull came before or after the lengthy display of torture instruments of the Inquisition period, complete with examples of how to use them, and the sad results, but I quickly had to find the bathroom to heave up my lunch, and breakfast, and anything lingering from dinner.

My other corrida experience involves not actually going to the fights, but being parked with relatives of acquaintances of my grandfather while he went off to yell and whistle and drink beer without young children in tow. My experience there was only of being left for a day, perhaps just two hours, in a shack made of debris (mostly cardboard and random sheets of plastic and wood), and surrounded by more debris (mostly bits of metal and broken glass and discarded beer cans) somewhere in Tijuana. With people I did not know and could not communicate with. This was the first time in my life I agreed that ‘hygiene’ might be a good word after all. I doubt my mom was aware of this plan beforehand.
So my experience of the corrida was rather secondhand. I just knew it involved an awful lot of excitement on the part of the men, honking, traffic jams, smashing beer bottles on the ground, smoking, yelling, betting, swearing, and bad smells (all more than usual for Tijuana). It’s a thing that brings out the best in people. Sure.

This corrida-banning thing has just got me remembering all that. What I meant to point out was that the pro-bullfighting contingent’s main argument rests on tradition. They should keep bullfighting because they have always had it; it’s part of their culture, and they like it.
To rephrase: We did this in the past, therefore it’s good and right to continue. Where is the logic in that? As an argument this is nonsense.
Slavery was traditional for many people - did that make it good?
Allowing only men to vote was the culture, and still is in some parts of the world - does that make it laudable?
Torturing an animal to death is okay, as long as it’s not a new thing?

And the other part: they like it. They say that if I don’t like it, I can just stay away. I don’t have to participate. This might in fact be the practical death of bullfighting: as fewer and fewer people enjoy it, it may eventually fade away.
But if I see a dog or a horse being beaten, should I just keep walking and do nothing? If my neighbor stabs his cat to death, should I be fine with that? Mistreating animals is a crime, and rightly so. You can’t dress it up with a fancy hat and a cape and call it fun.

July cat: Fofa

Fofa wasn’t officially my cat, but she lived at my house for five months so she does get counted. When my friends Raquel and Marcel moved from France to the UK, Raquel didn’t get the cats vaccinated far enough in advance. They’ve “eliminated” the quarantine for taking pets to the UK, but in fact they just moved it. Now instead of your cat spending 6 months in a quarantine box somewhere, it can spend that time wherever you want outside of the UK. You just have to have its shots done at least that long in advance.

Pandemonium (best cat ever! see last month) was very happy: he had playmates! Especially Fofa, who was the top-cat in her own household, and wasn’t too willing to play 2nd fiddle to Pan. They had plenty of fun, no damage. In fact, I think Fofa was quite pleased to have a challenging companion.

A week of two after Fofa came to our house, I found the Panstand at the flea market. The Panstand is a home decorating object standing about 6 feet tall on four legs, with two platforms just big enough for houseplants or cats. Never mind putting houseplants on it. It stands by the window and its 2-cat capacity is often filled. The only question was who got to be Top Cat?

Fofa was a fat black cat with spots of white on her paws and face, and a little stubby tail. Fat! Are all black cats fat? All of my black cats have been fat. Well, except for Man O War, but he wasn’t completely black. And Bandersnatch now that she runs around outside enough isn't quite so fat either. Fofa, though; Fofa was Fat.

Raquel’s two cats spent 5 months at my place, before the happy mom came back for them and they drove merrily across France and ferried over the Channel with no problem.

I just realized I do have a photo of Fofa, taken at Raquel's house in Cambridge. She was unimpressed by our little pink friend and went to look for proper catfood.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Bus Stops Here

Click here to link to the post with the list!
Is it Tuesday?
I think it is.
It should be; it feels kind of tuesdaylike.
It's always so hard to tell in the summertime.
But being Tuesday means I've missed the Poetry Bus once again! Argh! How does time go by so fast? Luckily I told MisterEejitSir that I'd be happy to drive the Monday Poetry Bus if only I could do so in the summertime when life is slightly less full of deadlines than usual.
Huh? August 2 is next Monday? This next Monday? Meaning it's my turn already! That means I should get on the ball and give you some sort of busdriverlike guidance.
Put up a sign saying "Bus Here".
Lest you think I'm unprepared and disorganized and all that, let it be known that I've had this topic lined up for months.
Every week I lived in fear that another driver would pinch my topic, and I'd have to think of a new one, and we know how hard it is to think of new things, even harder than having one pinched. But nobody else thought of it. Er, not that they were likely to, given the vast array of possible ideas for poetry and the small number of bus trips that have gone by in the interval.
So here's your task:
We are all familiar with those wiggly almost-words used to verify that a blogger leaving a comment is in fact an actual blogger and not a machine. Yes. Those words are your mission. Collect them this week. Pick your favorite, or several, and include it/them in your poem.

Send me a comment when your ticket is posted, and on Sunday I'll get up a list of all the links, which will be updated until we're all on board.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Feet & Shoes

I'm a little off today. The Shootout always makes me think of Barry (who introduced me to it). I was going to skip, being overburdened with various things at the moment, but this morning I saw the camera sitting there, and the rain coming down outside, and I'm off to buy furniture tomorrow so it's today or not at all. And, yeah, this is a theme you can do without leaving the house. That's my level of energy today!

Sleepy feet

Stretchy feetHungry feet.

My feet

And some of the shoes.

For more Friday Shootouts, click here!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Goodbye, Barry

Somehow I always thought I would have another day. That there would be another fascinating blog post, full of humor facing a terrible situation. That there would be another round of treatment, another battle in the war we all knew was likely to be ultimately lost.
I knew my friend's cancer was a quick and deadly type, and that a year was about the most that one could expect.
Is it a year already?
Yes; and indeed more than that.
Nobody's ready yet. Why couldn't Barry be the miracle patient? Why couldn't he be in the 15% and not the 85?
A year is not enough!
Barry is gone now.
He was suffering, and there was no real fixing that. I'm glad he's not suffering any more. But I want the old Barry back, the one who observed everything, who translated for his dog, the one who went walking on the bluffs above the lake, the one who shared his humor and wit and compassion with us daily.
Our time was too short! I never got to meet you in person. Never finished that sweater.
It was an honor to be your friend.
I'm looking forward to the day, in a month or a year or whenever, when your book comes out and I can read your stories again and again. I hope it comes with pictures!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Last day on vacation

I ended up back in DC on the overnight train from Charleston. I do actually recommend this train, just not the overnight version unless you get a sleeping car. Which costs a fortune, so be warned.
I stayed with a family that rents guest rooms just a few blocks from the Capitol complex. It's kind of strange to see these huge, formal buildings right up against a neighborhood of completely ordinary row houses. Okay, fairly expensive rowhouses, but that's because of their location, not because they're grand or anything. Still toys in the front yards and hibachis on the balconies.
I tried to go into the Capitol building for a look around the parts open to the public, but forgot I had a box of chocolates with me. Um, no, I won't be leaving them in the trash, I'll just skip the Capitol, thank you.
So I walked through the growing heat and humidity toward the National Mall. I was meeting somebody for lunch at the National Gallery (National This, National That, all over), so took the opportunity to drop the box of sadly abused chocolates off at the coat check. No sense in re-re-melting them now, after thousands of miles of travel in airplanes, cars, trains and a little bit on foot.
Then off for a visit of the sights before it got truly beastly out. They were still cleaning up several days after the 4th of July celebrations. Nobody much was outside. The busses full of schoolkids and tourists discharged their loads and the people were immediately sucked into the air-conditioned comfort of our National Treasures.
Which were all free, as far as I could tell. That's one thing I really like about the capitol - you can visit. A little security check and you can go right into the buildings where our government is at work. You may even catch it working, if you time it just right. With even less checking you can go right into all the federal museums. They're the People's, after all.
The Washington Monument, seen from the only tree around. Strangely, some other photos I took there seem to not exist. I wonder if I'm missing a few minutes of memory covering the arrival of Secret Agents come to erase the Highly Sensitive Events I inadvertantly caught on chip. Or maybe I just planned to take them and didn't. Maybe it was time to get out of the sun.
Maurice and I got to meet a special friend - Reya! That was really cool. It's funny how you just click with people sometimes. I can't wait to see the photos of her new home, once she gets settled in.
Then it was back outside, after a nice lunch and a look around the Gallery. Outside was like a big sauna, so I leaped from building to building and took advantage of the tunnel linking the Capitol to the Library of Congress.
Now that looks like a very nice place to go and read.

Right next to the Library is the Supreme Court, again blindingly white in the summer sun. I had my sunglasses on and it felt like I had forgotten them. You can't go just anywhere in the Court building, but I love that you can just go in, and that lots of the people I saw going in were just ordinary people like me. Not much court business on this July Thursday.

And that was my summer vacation. Never an empty moment. I flew home on a Friday and arrived before noon Saturday at my house, where my cats were very very very happy to be let OUT. Nobody stopped for petting, they just went out. So I went out too, and watered and weeded and pruned and generally recovered from vacation.
Back to work now!

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Next stop: South Carolina. The beach at Palm Island was filling up fast. I thought it was crowded when we got there (about 10:30; it's impossible to leave the house much earlier than that), but there were twice as many people by the time we left. Of course, it wasn't meerly a Sunday, but the Fourth of July, and most people seemed to be setting up to spend the whole day.
I miss walking on the beach, with the waves coming up, and the wet sand, and the patches of shells and pebbles.
Georgia picked up so many shells she kept dropping them and wailing over the loss. Here she has to pick just the four best ones to take home. No taking the whole beach.
Surprisingly, she picked just two in the end, and let the others go without further argument.
After the beach, let the SHOPPING begin.

I found this fabulous metal pig at TJ's. Without the wings I definitely would have bought it. Love that red red color, and the hidden eyes and the blue trotters. The wings would have been fine if I didn't have to stuff the thing into my getting-overpacked luggage for an intercontinental haul. I really did think about it, though.
After TJ's and window-shopping in the cute little downtown area, and admiring the classic old Southern homes, we got down to business: treasure hunting.
Done shopping? What, already?
You ain't seen nuthin' yet, Tris. (Tristan is so trendy... but Tris is a common laboratory solution buffering agent, Trist is French for Sad... hmmm, what can be done with the middle name... Ben-jammin', that's a good one.)
Book shopping was a Must. The Blue Bicycle (or was it the blue bird? blue heron? blue something) had plenty of books and one cat.
YES, we're still shopping!
Most of the treasure hunting was done at the local thrift stores. Look through everything and eventually you'll find treasure. Which we did. I got a beautiful white linen sleeveless top, and some much-needed shorts.
The funnest thing about treasure hunting I didn't take a photo of. I really should have. A checkout, Georgia noticed a bin with several styrofoam heads in it, and wanted to know what they were for. I told her, naturally, that those were the heads that had been bitten off (having her own head bitten off is something George knows well). All the head stuff had been sucked out; that's why they were white.
Uh huh.
It's so fun how 4-year-olds consider new information.
But where were the bodies, then?
I pointed out all the headless torso forms lining the walls, displaying tops.
M Hmmm.
Their boss got really mad at them, and bit their heads off.
For making too much noise.
Marie says that if there are any nightmares concerning decapitation she'll be calling me. I did explain later that I was only making up a story, and there haven't been any calls.
The nicest part of the area is not the city or its outlying suburbs, but the marshy coastal areas and their fishing boats.
And the marshy coastal areas without boats. Without boats, docks and power lines would be even better, but we ran out of time to track that down.

On my last day, which I had meant to spend on the daytime train to DC but the train was full so I had to take the night train (mistake! Next time reserve early.), we discovered an excellent park just a stone's throw from Marie's house. Wide, level trails, boardwalks across the watery areas, a water park, a viewing tower, a great playground; it's a place they'll be going back to often. A chain of power lines crosses the park, and one of the pillars hosts an osprey nest. Thank goodness for the long lens, as Mom (or Dad?) flew circles above the nest.
And that was Charleston SC. One last vacation day, and it's back to France.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Back to 'Bama

The last part of my vacation was so packed with stuff that I didn't take any time to blog. So let's catch up. After visiting the Bankhead National Forest for a day, we hit the road again. Destination: Augusta, Georgia, where tomorrow we'll meet up with my good friend Marie. Our plan is to get there without going to Atlanta, something the interstates don't really let you do. Which is just fine with me anyway! Traveling is about the whole journey, not just the destination.We did spend a few miles on the interstate, but mostly tooled along on the small highways, enjoying the country. That's how I like it.
I forget the name of the park where we stopped for our picnic lunch, but it was a nice one. This is the local Council Bluff, looking over a stretch of the broad and shallow river behind me.
Them folks again!
Mom almost picked up a new pet.
This is where we had dinner. I wanted good, old-fashioned barbeque, and we found just the place, in the very last town before being (more or less) obliged to take interstate 20 into Augusta. We had stopped in the previous town but they had noplace that Mom would eat at. I'm not so sure about that - there was a little restaurant on the town square that we didn't look at very closely. Mainly Mom didn't like the look of the town. Too run-down and abandoned.
This place was serving bbq pork, fried catfish, and chicken. I like the pig saying Eet Mor Fish! Since Indianapolis I'd been on the lookout for one of those Chick-fil-A billboards, the ones with the cows urging us to Eat More Chicken, but didn't find any. This place had lots of business, mostly takeout, and it was a great pile of real southern food we had. Definitely a good experience.
Augusta seems like a nice enough place. Our hotel was along the interstate, one of those hotel-rows with nothing but the usual chains and fast food joints. Dad and I wanted to go out for a beer, so we walked along the road, which has no sidewalk of course. Nobody walks anywhere any more! They're making it so you can't, even if you want to.
Along the road we considered which of the restaurants would be best, notably since we had already had dinner. The hostess at our hotel told us of a bar that would be filled with noisy college kids, and we didn't want that. The Mexican place would have been nice for a margarita, but the most awful karaoke was loud even across the street, so we passed.
Then we saw the sign for the bowling alley. Aha. Going over there, there didn't seem to be any bowling alley, just a large abandoned building, when I spotted it on the next road. Yea! So we had a bottle of local brew and watched the bowling. There were two hotshots practicing on one pair of lanes, and next to them a group of their laughing friends throwing many gutter balls. No leagues tonight, just fun. I like to bowl, but we decided not to.
The next day, we were set to meet Marie and her family for a picnic at a nature reserve on the south side of town. That gave us the morning to pick a watermelon and find me a new lens cap. That's me with a sock for a lens cap after Caney Falls ate the real one. There are two photography shops in town, and the first was closed for vacation. Best Buy had lens caps, but not the size I needed. The second photography shop, happily, was open. They were even having a beginners class. And of course they had everything I needed; I even picked up an extra, just in case.On to the park, which is actually a water purification project, so the ponds are all rectangular and the berms straight and level. It's a big place, though, and if we'd been there an hour earlier we could have caught the weekly guided walk and seen a lot more wildlife. As it was, the temperature was climbing with the sun. On the good side, we did have the place almost to ourselves.Yep, there are alligators out there.
Most of the birds I was were in the act of flying away.
And then it was time for us to go, too. Mom & Dad were headed south for a few days in the Okeefenokee, and I joined my friends for a visit in Charleston-Mount Pleasant. More about that tomorrow!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Transitions

This week's Shootout theme is Transitions, chosen by Redlan. So naturally, I have an update on the construction zone all around me. They're working on it! Only yesterday this stairway went somewhere. Just to give you an idea, that shot is just five steps from the front door of the lab.
Out the back door of the lab we had this several months ago. We used to have trees!

Which progressed to this. Now if I step out our back door I'm in the construction zone. I'll get yelled at if I do that before the work crew knocks off for the day.
And has now been cleaned up to this nearly ready radiotherapy wing. Our blue-grey annex building in the back will someday be destroyed, but so far there's no money to make new lab space for us, so I doubt the destruction will happen on schedule.
I don't know what it is about my not being able to take a level picture! Maybe my brain is tilted.
The front of the hospital used to have a parking lot. This is an early phase of construction.
Some progress.
And what it looks like this afternoon.
I'll keep you posted as the work goes on.
To join the Shootout, or just see what everyone else is up to, click here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

a poem on something

This week's Poetry Bus challenge was to write our poems on something, thunk up by Dominic.
I've been on vacation for a couple of weeks and thought to skip again, but then I noticed the enticing surfaces all around.
The first one is called
In the Fridge.
I had a good road poem lined up, but we ran out of time to get sidewalk chalk, and there may have been screaming at snitching the precious fridge letters (plus the naughtiness of playing in the street), so I'll do that one later. Maybe.

A babe
A hellion
A Georgia peach.
Writing on the baby, well, this was as far as I got.
All photos used with permission, and special thanks to:
It's a really fun bus this week!
Click here for other riders.