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Thursday, March 31, 2005

I Have Discovered My Dream...

Kitty. Hah! You thought I was going to say something else, no? Well, I am pleased to report that there exists an Ideal Cat Breed for us Russianists (and, yes, I'll continue to be one, graduate school leave-of-absence or not!). I do love "mutt" kitties (particularly Petkya, bless his furry little soul), but I have discovered a low-allergen longhair called...the Siberian Cat. They began to be imported from Russia after the USSR dissolved, so they are a relatively new "official" breed, although they've obviously been around for a while.

They are sooo pretty! They don't have squished faces, like Persians, and they are much larger, too (did you know that there is a breeder in the southwest US who has actually developed a "Teacup Persian"?--they are miniature cats!), with thick coats and full, feathery tails. One of these days, when I'm rolling in dough, I'll have a Siberian. And maybe a shelter-rescued "mutt-cat" or two, to round out the household. But then I'll definitely have to own a proper bed, instead of an air mattress--just think what all those claws would do to the latter!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bedding

My air mattress, after over a year of faithful service, has finally developed a leak. This means I am now sleeping directly on the floor, rather than hovering eight inches above it. Actually, I had a great night's sleep last night! Heck, Jacob used a stone as a pillow.

One of the reasons I like air mattresses (a friend has gotten a replacement for me at Walmart and is bringing it over on Friday, so I won't really be sleeping on the rug for long) is that I can just deflate it when I need more room, or when I need to vacuum that part of the floor. There are no battles with unreachable dustbunnies under bedframes, nor is it a pain to make up the bed. And air mattresses--or, at least, the one I had--are very comfortable. You all with "proper" beds don't know what you're missing!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Life and Death

One of my dear friends had to make the decision a month or so ago to take her mom off life support—her mom was unconscious, being kept alive by breathing apparatus and chemicals, and had incurable internal bleeding. She was obviously dying, but with the life support might have lingered another week or so, her skin growing even more splotched and yellow from poor circulation and jaundice. The difference between her case and that of the poor lady being starved to death down in Florida is obvious—Terri Shiavo is conscious (albeit severely brain-damaged), capable of breathing on her own, and requires only food and water (as all of us do) to keep going. I emphatically do not agree with those people who say that she should be “let die” by denial of nutrition—being “allowed to die” is reasonable in cases such as my friend’s mother—extraordinary measures were being used to attempt to prolong her life, and it was obvious they were failing, or would have only days’ worth of success—being MADE to die is quite different, and always unjust when the person has not committed any mortal crimes. And this holds true whatever the opinion of the person in question about “I wouldn’t want to live like that…” Does anyone think that a young, athletic Joni Eareckson Tada would have “wanted to live” paralyzed from the neck down? And yet over the past thirty years she has been able to accept this condition, which none of us would wish for, enjoy life and help others with disabilities, too.

Last Sunday, a fellow on whom I had a brief crush in High School committed suicide. His funeral was Saturday—my parents attended. This guy was handsome and accomplished, he’d married a lovely lady and had two small children, he had a good job and a promising career. He went to my home church, as did his parents. He had everything to live for. But he killed himself. His parents, his wife and children are devastated.

My mother’s sister works as a Braille teaching specialist in middle and high schools in central Georgia. Some of the young people she works with are severely brain damaged—she wonders sometimes really how much they are absorbing, but she faithfully works with each one, no matter how little “feedback” she gets to her lessons. Georgia law provides for these people to be educated in public schools until their eighteenth birthdays. Would they really be “better off dead”? Who decides?

My roommate in college was blind. She was born sighted, but had caught a virus when she was an infant. She was the first person in her family to go to college, where she majored in mathematics. She was an avid Star Trek fan and a great singer. Plus, she had a really good sense of humor—hey, she put up with me! She once told me that people who had been sighted until later in life had a much more difficult time adjusting to blindness than she—some became suicidal.

Months ago, I was talking with the same friend who recently had to deal with her mother’s dying—we were discussing the meaning of suffering, and what role it played in life. Both her grandmothers are in nursing homes, and she herself is dealing with a possible diagnosis of MS. I have a chronic illness, and have gone through flare-ups where I was incapable of taking care of myself. We decided that suffering, or dealing with any incapacitating health issue, painful or not, was an opportunity not only for us, as sufferers, to practice patience, but also for others to serve us. Usually, we are supposed to be those who serve, but occasionally we become those whom others are supposed to served—and we need to accept this help graciously and thankfully, insofar as our condition permits us.

Suffering, pain, incapacitation—these are conditions that we want to avoid, that we pray we are not sent. They are uncomfortable, they are inconvenient, they are oftentimes ugly. But they are part of life, and life was created for good, and even in our worst moments of life God can use us for his glory. To destroy life, even when it is unattractive or unhappy, is to denigrate our own worth, to deny the role—“to serve” or “to be served”—to which we have been called.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Gastronomic Betrayal?

I have gone over to the Dark Side. Or to shopping with liberals, which is in some folks' minds, far worse. I have started getting my groceries at Whole Foods. Before someone pelts me with handfulls of hormone-fed beef, let me explain my reasoning. The tipping point was the bananas... I am tired of sorting through bunches of bananas which have--as Mark Twain once said of the rules of good writing "done in" by James Fenimore Cooper--been flung down and danced upon. I swear, someone must be getting in good clogging practice at the back of my local Giant. I also resent having to present what some Madison Avenue advertising executive coyly named a "bonus card" at checkout to avoid being ripped off by an extra few pennies. Groceries used to have weekly sales without the assistance of cards. It's all very Big Brotherish to me. But like I said, I was willing to put up with the card-carrying if it weren't for the bruised bananas. And for the apples so impregnated with wax that they would burn like tapers if they were touched with a match.

I had never set foot inside a Whole Foods before last Saturday, when I was looking for a nice cake for Leah's shower and was appalled at the bland, aged rectangles in the Giant bakery case. Forget that, I decided. When I walked into Whole Foods I was immediately struck by the abundance of fruits and vegetables, and the absence of the chemical aura that hangs over the (much smaller) produce section at Giant. I went to the bakery, and they had real live people behind the counter (!), and an attractive selection of cakes, from fruit tortes to mousse-filled chocolate shells. And they boxed it up nicely for me when I decided on a beautiful Black Forest creation. Yum! And they don't have any of those stupid "bonus cards"--any soul off the street can buy the weekly specials, without silly limits.

I went shopping for "real" for the first time there today. I got nice bananas (I eat a LOT of bananas), apples, and since California strawberries were on sale, I got some of those, too. They had all sorts of peanut butter, and other nut-butters, and so I succumbed to temptation and got some cashew butter in addition to my usual creamy/crunchy mashed-goober fix. And for supper, I got myself a mini baguette and a curry chicken wrap from the deli. What a treat! It was a little more expensive than Giant, but the quality is visibly better. If there were a Trader Joe's closer than 30 minutes away, I'd try it, but what I'd spend on gas would probably make the cost-difference negligible.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Two Noble Kinsmen

I LOVE my Arkangel Shakespeare!!! It's a CD collection of all of Shakespeare's plays, acted by folks from the RSC [that's the Royal Shakespeare Company for those not addicted to Kenneth Branaugh, et al.]. I'm going through the collection in reverse alphabetical order--A Winter's Tale was first, then I've just finished Two Noble Kinsmen. The latter was based on the "Knight's Tale" from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Thus, the chivalry therein is thick as custard. It also is a testimony that young men will do very stupid things for the sake of a pretty face. Well, maybe old men will, too. No fault with the "production values"--you could easily tell who was who, and I sorted scrap silver and gold alloy while listening to Act II (I like to be doing something useful while I'm listening), but I didn't like the subplot. A poor garden-wench goes nuts for unrequited love of Palamon, one of the aforementioned "noble kinsmen," and her father and doctor end up recommending her lowborn suitor impersonate Palamon to make her happy, even to the point of sleeping with her in that guise. I thought that was a rather tacky "curative" ruse. But the other women in the story comport themselves well, even if the pretty face (an ex-Amazon's) that drives the cousins to battle one another for her favor is passed from one to the other like so much cold ham at the end of the play. I know my next Shakespearean selection, Two Gentlement of Verona, will be a bit more upbeat--and the women are considerably more active in the love story!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Grass is Riz

A spring-oriented Thursday Three:

1) What is the one thing that you love MOST about Spring?

Oh, that it's getting warm, green, and flowers start to bloom and I can finally go outside in shirtsleeves!

2) ASIDE FROM POLLEN AND TORNADOES, what is the one thing that you love LEAST about Spring?

I had no idea that tornadoes were associated with spring--I always thought of them as being a late-summer phenomenon, insofar as they were relegated to one part of the year. I guess I'm not a real fan of mud. I like dirt, but clammy mud with bugs in it is just not my favorite. Oh, and I hate mosquitoes--those come out in the spring, too.

3) Name your single most favorite song, movie, play, book, painting, sculpture, etc., with “spring” as part of the title.

Aaron Copeland's composition Appalachian Spring is so hopeful and North-Georgia mountainishy--hearing it always makes me feel about five years old, filled with energy and excitement and free from troublesome responsibilities.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Change of Plans

I feel such a tremendous sense of relief. I failed the Russian language exam. Or, rather, I didn't pass. Silverman was very kind, took me back to his office today to tell me that the concensus--he himself, Maklenov and Harris--agreed that I should "take time off from school next year" and go study Russian. And, wierdly, I didn't burst into tears at this news. I felt somewhat shell-shocked, and called my parents to tell them what had happened. But I was still amazingly calm. My father thought I should tell Silverman about my OCD, to explain why I was so slow. I don't think so--I did tell Maklenov, and this didn't change the "committee's" opinion. The question remains: what should I do?

I consulted with the department Graduate Coordinator, and it seems incredibly easy to take a formal leave of absence--it's either that, or drop out, or enroll (which costs a minimum $2500 per semester, for reading privileges at the library). All I have to do is get my advisor (Harris) to write a note recommending leave be granted.

I'm going to send out resumes to a number of local agencies, in hopes of getting a "real job." But I'm also going to seek out opportunities for living and working in the CIS (that's the "catch-all" acronym for the former USSR). I've come this far with my Russian; I don't want to lose it, and there is the possibility that I'll go back to Georgetown after a year of total immersion.

I may have mentioned that I went forward at a missionary conference at my hometown church about five weeks ago to express my willingness to become a missionary. Could it be that the reason my plans are suddenly Russian-language-oriented once again is that there is a place I am supposed to fill in that part of the world? I look forward to finding out!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Wonderful Single Christian Article

...by Paige Benton which is linked through Andrea's Natterings blog. Andrea's post and esm's response to it are likewise well-worth reading. Incidentally, since apparently several readers misunderstood it, the point of my Consumption and Abstinence post the other day was the particular method I have for avoiding temptation and frustration, which can lead me to "what if" thinking--that is, not focusing on that my situation is God's best for me.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Musical "Thursday Three"

After Tulipgirl, Paxifist and others [see blogroll] all decided to respond to Possumblog's regular feature "The Thursday Three," I guess I should, too!

1. What instrument do you play?
None. See answer to question three.

2. Which one do you wish you could play if time and talent were not involved?
Maybe the violin. Or the balalaika. Something portable that people could sing or dance to.

3. Have you ever taken lessons for an instrument or voice and how did it go?
I took seven and a half years of piano, hated every minute of it, and despite the intonations of those who "wished they'd never given it up" (who made dire prognostications in that regard when I stopped taking lessons), I've never regretted quitting for a moment. I do love to sing (although my voice isn't great, I can carry a tune), and have enjoyed being in a number of choirs over the years. I'm an alto. I used to be a first soprano, but now looking back on it I'm not sure but that that wasn't mainly the function of denial and not wanting to sing harmony.

A Blogroll Addition

I've added The Upward Call to my blogroll. The lady writes well, and talks sense. I especially enjoyed her recent discussion of "mentoring" in the church, particularly as I share many of her sentiments about the trendiness of this movement, and its questionable value vis-a-vis conventional teaching.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Consumption and Abstinence

I've had two delicious home-cooked meals in less than twenty-four hours. I'm not sure what to do with all this bounty--other than consume as much as I can!

Last night, a group from McLean Presbyterian that is going to the steppes of Russia this summer invited me over to tell them a bit about the country. The host had made chicken tortilla soup, and offered cheese, cilantro and mini taco shells to enhance the flavor. One girl had brought hemispherical rolls she had made that afternoon. My oh my. I stuffed myself. And I fed tidbits to the host's truly-Great Dane, a pony-sized (140 lbs) dog named after an East Coast city. She stood in the middle of our jolly circle and drooled wistfully while she watched us eat, then polished out our empty soup bowls once we set them down.

And today was my friend Leah's shower, for which her mother fixed loads of delectables, from Vietnamese spring rolls to fresh fruit to a noodle creation with colorful bits of vegetables scattered through it. Great stuff. And she gave me leftovers! Friendship with Leah has many benefits.

The short-term missionary folks encouraged me a lot. Nothing like having people interested in your field to give a Russianist a rush of pleasure! Also, just being able to hang out with fellow believers of my own age was a tremendous boost. We talked about the planned trip, we sang for a while (several on the team are accomplished musicians, and though I most certainly am not, I do love to sing!), and then we stuffed support letters into envelopes and talked some more. I didn't leave until 1:30 AM. I'd totally forgotten the Georgetown Phi Alpha Theta History Bowl Tournament was today, and that I'd need to get there by 8:45. Whoops. But I made it. And I think I was coherent.

Like I said, the McLean group was wonderful--I felt totally at home, although I'd only met a few of the folks before. They are almost all in the 20s/30s singles group which apparently meets Sunday nights for food and fellowship. They told me I should come. I'm sure it would be great, but unless I receive some direct revelation telling me to go, I'm not. Why? Because I'm tired of being around guys that ARE good husband material who don't, EVER, display anything except theoretical interest in marriage, and NO interest at all in me. I just get so frustrated and depressed.

For the five years before I moved to DC, I was in a dynamic singles class down in GA at a solid PCA church. Through its ministry I became much closer to Jesus, learned a lot about real compassion and appreciated being surrounded by Christian siblings who genuinely cared for me, and I got to see several of my friends fall in love and get married. I was and am genuinely thrilled for them. But I also noticed that I just couldn't be around eligible guys too much without wondering, "Hmm, is he the one?" And I'd stew over the possibility, then realize the impossibility, and end up feeling wretched.

I was tickled to find McLean when I moved to DC, and I just “happened” (insofar as a Calvinist can say that she has “happened” to experience something) to fall in with the Sunday School I now attend, which was comprised mainly of couples over age seventy when I joined it. Since then the number of younger folks has grown, but I would say that the average age is still above fifty, and yes, most are married. But the teaching is so good, and that’s the reason I’m there. I love to go to church, because I get to worship, and because I get to learn more about what my Creator has done for me and how much I need him, not because I want to be salivating over the fine guy a row over. And so this arrangement settles that issue beautifully.

On the other hand, I would really like to get married. Soon. I’m thirty (which is younger than many of my dear single female friends, I do realize, so I know I’m not alone in my urgency). The lyrical “silver threads among the gold” are multiplying. Heck, I’d like to have somebody to smooch on and sleep with, with whom to start a family. But I don’t know that’s what God has planned for me. And I certainly don’t want to court misery by consorting with nice, cute, Godly single guys when the only people who have asked me out (in person) anytime in the past seven years are decidedly uneligible old codgers. Kind of a bummer, but as my father often says, "there it is."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Old-Fashioned Romance?

Wednesday, I got asked to a hypothetical lunch by yet another sixty-plus year-old man. I do not understand the attraction I apparently exert on older—much, much older!—guys. When I volunteered in a nursing home my last year in college, I got used to the gentleman residents telling me how pretty I was, but I figured that was just because I was a fresh face in a place that didn’t get many twenty-something visitors. But now it appears I am the darling of the ambulatory verging-on-geriatric set, too. From mid-spring of last year, I was asked to coffee repeatedly by a Russian artist who used to hang around the European Reading Room in the Library of Congress. We actually went out a few times [me naively thinking that he was just been cordial to a person almost young enough to be his granddaughter, and I did want to practice my Russian] but after he asked me to his studio for dinner (which he promised to cook himself) and kept calling me “милая” (dear, darling, sweetheart), I got antsy and finally told him at the end of the summer that I was way too busy with schoolwork—honestly!—to see him. I haven’t been back to the European Reading Room since--I figure the Main Reading Room is a good deal better, anyway.

Now this fellow who lives in my neighborhood has suggested that he may call and we should “go out to lunch at one of these places around here.” We’ve talked a few times before, mostly about yard-maintenance (the same fellow who does odd-jobs for us as also worked for him), but he wasn’t interesting in lawn-mowing when he was walking his dog on Wednesday. I was out in the front yard taking in the empty trashcans and he stopped to chat, which eventually led to the “let’s go out sometime—I’ll call you.” Oh, dear. Andrei Ivanovich I could avoid, but this fellow may be harder to sidestep. Of course, he does seem to be a bit spacey, so it’s quite possible that his memory will fail on this particular point. Here’s hoping senility sets in quickly.

Nonetheless, last night I was sorely tempted to ask the guys in my Imperial Russian History class (I’m the only female there, except the professor) whether I was wearing a sign—visible only to male eyes—that said “No one under sixty need apply.” It is disheartening to be courted ONLY by men a decade older than my father!

Zionism, Tiawan, and Strategic Goals

The rumblings on the Far Eastern front are, as Alice is oft-quoted as having said, getting "curiouser and curiouser" even after the PRC leadership's recent production and passage of legislation that "legalizes" its proposed invasion of Tiawan. Now, it seems that the communist leadership is intent on practicing the invasion with the help of the Russians. Who's to say that practicing wouldn't lead to the real invasion in short order? I guess their rationale is that the United States being occupied militarily in the Middle East would prevent an American force from lending adequate support to the defence of our longtime Chinese allies--the genuine "people's republic" in the Yellow Sea.

In a similar vein, two days ago I found an entry on a Middle Eastern blog which argued, quite convincingly, that anti-Zionism was not anti-Semitism, that to oppose the existance of Israel was not anti-Jewish. Hmm. Just one leeeetle problem. This line of reasoning might have made sense 57 years ago, prior to the foundation of the modern state of Israel, but it has been over half a century since that country came into being. Its people have established a viable democracy, control over a clearly defined (if disputed) territory, and currency circulating in a vibrant economy. The Israeli population (mostly, but not exclusively Jewish) lives and works under the de facto rationale that it is a legitimate system. And the same holds true for the Tiawanese, whose state has existed for almost exactly the same period as the Israelis'.

There is NO way to dispute the concrete existance of either Israel or Tiawan, no matter how much they remain bothersome little specks in the eyes of their perpetually-irritated neighbors. And to legislate, or pontificate, that they are somehow theoretically unviable, that they have no "right" to have been created all those years back and should therefore be irradicated now, is chopped logic indeed, besides its obvious dangerous connection to military or paramilitary action. Reader thoughts?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Snide Ides

Tired, still slogging through page after page of French text about Russian statisticians. Fascinating it is not. But I have to give an oral presentation about the number-crunchers at 6pm Wednesday, and given last week's traveling and illness, I just couldn't get around to reading the material until today. Actually, I couldn't get around to obtaining the material until 3pm this afternoon.

...And then the graduate student copier was screwed up as usual, so instead of going to my Anna Karenina class I spent more than half an hour importuning the Xerox machine to please, please, please quit acting up and spit out more than one page every six minutes.

And no, my grade for my Spring Term 2004 class has not yet been posted (the professor FINALLY emailed me on Monday, the day before the scholarship committee was to meet to decided on financial aid for next year, and said he would fill out the form for the "grade change"--from "I" to a "real" letter--today, but has this been done? Nooooo, non absolutment, нет совсем), nor have Maklenov and Silverman decided whether I've done enough on that month-old Russian translation exam. "We've discussed it," Silverman tells me, "but we haven't come to a decision." Oh, joy.

And then...this evening I got totally turned around as to where a training meeting for Saturday's History Bowl tournament was supposed to meet and ended up vapidly wandering around campus for forty minutes before I eventually found the room, which was in the annex of an annex of an annex, through a set of steel operating-room-style doors, down a Hades-hot staircase, around a corner in a windowless half-basement. Come to think of it, many of my recent meetings, and the departure gates for the airlines I've been flying, have been in similarly obscure places--I guess the powers that be look at me and think "now there's a nook-and-cranny sort of girl." Actually, I do like hideaways, secret passages and other less-beaten paths, so what am I whining about?

Now if I could only discover some valuable hidden treasure...

Monday, March 14, 2005

I HATE Ivory Tower Academia!!!

What kind of @#$*!+?/ would not respond to emails for WEEKS and then tell an eight-months-pregnant woman (who's been busting her chops for months trying to assemble a functional dissertation committee from a bunch of selfish tenured nincompoops) that she needs to re-write her entire dissertation proposal—which took ages to perfect—in just four days for his personal reading pleasure? Is the man a heartless jackass, or what?

My sister is the expectant mother in question. She's one of the hardest-working, most self-disciplined people I know, besides being much, much, smarter than most everybody else on this little planet. She finished her undergrad career in under three years, with a double major in English and linguistics. Then, in four years, she earned two MAs (both in literary fields), and two years after that she finished all her Ph.D. coursework and aced her comprehensive exams. This was in addition to her developing several undergrad courses, being a TA, presenting at conferences, moving to three different states, running multiple triathlons and half-marathons (usually winning her age-group, if not the overall women's title) and getting married. Oh, and reading an average of five books a week. She's recognized as one of a handful of experts on the works of Southern writers Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor. She's brilliant, and she's a great teacher--far better than I'll ever be.

And now these consummate wimps--these members of little inbred academic covens on the campus of Brown University--won't work with her because they, frankly, don't know as much about literature as she does. Well, it's not like she's asking them to. All they really have to do is read her final work--her writing is unimpeachable, and just being able to scrawl "Pass with Distinction" on it would be a feather in their caps, if they had only sense enough to realize this. Damn their deliberate obtuseness, their intransigence, their delight wallowing in their own feculent, execrable research (which few--even among their colleagues--ever read), and their blindness to quality, originality, and genuine skill. May the ivy curling around the ledges of their department windows encircle their stiff necks and choke them!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Dreams

The most complex and untraceable dreams have been coming to my mind the last couple of days and nights. I wake up exhausted, not to mention confused. This afternoon after church I went down for my customary afternoon nap and immediately plunged into a world of alarms, complex codes, bridges, heroic confrontation between groups of people trapped in dangerous and deadly buildings and their tormenters outside, flying (just by thinking about it), driving round and round in the wrong lanes at the Providence, RI, airport, a person who may or may not have been the actor Don Cheadle, jewelry-smithing, mud, fire, bulldozers, downhill acceleration, babies, a circus, not to mention explosives, swimsuit-costume parties, hot-air balloons, Superman and pretending to be a frog. It was all very disorienting.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Atlanta Slayings

I lay awake in bed the other night and listened to the steady rhythm of my heart pulsing like a pair of pistons in a well-oiled engine, driving the blood to my lungs and through my veins in a continuous refreshing cycle. We humans are truly fearfully and wonderfully made. That this murderer now at large in Georgia (or, by now, a neighboring state) would stop the hearts of a judge, two deputies, and a court reporter within minutes is appalling. But more appalling is that we all have it in us to deny others life and liberty without due process, ignoring our own necessary submission to the Authority from whom we derive those rights and responsibilities. I do hope law enforcement finds the “suspect” soon, before he has an opportunity to harm anyone else.

Smiling Demonstrations

Several of the Middle Eastern blogs I read frequently have been talking a lot about the anti- and pro-Syria demonstrations which took place in Lebanon over the past couple of days. Observations of critics have followed much the same paths as my own thoughts took when I saw the pictures of these events: The first demonstration, against the long-time Syrian occupation, featured people of all ages, both sexes, and several religions, all cheerfully waving handmade signs and an assortment of Lebanese flags. The second demonstration, which has been estimated at half a million people, was predominately male (the female segment was apparently segregated from the main mass), angry, and carried uniform "accessories"--machine-produced posters, and lots and lots of identical Syrian flags.

As someone who has studied the Soviet Union and its satellites for some time, I was immediately struck by the similarity between the first demonstration and those which took place in 1989 in parts of Eastern Europe, and more recently in Kiev (just two months ago)--popular, broad, embracing, and pro-freedom. The second, though numerically superior, carried with it the distasteful odor of regime-manufacture, its participants dirty, angry, and unwilling, carrying placards they didn't make in support of systems they feared. Frankly, the smiles were absent in the second demonstration.

I do not intend to suggest that all demonstrations should be happy occasions. There are moments of solemnity when grins would be out of place. But when one is supporting freedom--the unfettered "pursuit of happiness"--an undercurrent of joy buoys the spirits, and the dissimilar can unite in a spontaneous voice, as multicolored as the multitude of which it is composed. The only ones who need feel fear on such occasions are the tyrants who sit trembling on their thrones.

These tyrants may scramble to arrange clockwork counterdemonstrations of their whipped minions' loyalty, but the steady warmth of the freedom-lovers' care can melt these stony and tormented souls, as we saw in Ukraine's Orange Revolution. I look forward to a similar sunrise in Lebanon, Egypt, and across the Middle East.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Wonder what he was cooking...

That made his cat decide to shoot him?

I'm back in DC. I have a lousy cold. And speaking of men cooking, I wish Kevin were home whipping up one of his wondrous garlic-heavy dishes, because I think the odor of garlic is the only thing that will clear my sinuses!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Rider

I do not like Lance Armstrong as a person, but I admire him as an athlete. He is arrogant, self-confident, and inured to his human condition of spiritual neediness. He is also a superb cyclist. His co-written autobiography It’s Not About the Bike, however, is not worth reading, except to sample his pride. It explains nothing of what makes the man a winner, nor does it draw the non-athlete into the center of his sport. Instead, all non-velocipedes will be much more appreciative of Armstrong’s skills once they read Tim Krabbe’s 1978 story The Rider. Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett in 2002, Krabbe’s narrative carries readers along in a mountainous 150 kilometer road race, from the warm-up sprints to the collapse after the finish. The strategy, psychology, and physical effort of the cyclists plays out in the peloton, on the faux plats, and through the curves of hairpin downhill intervals. Having read The Rider, when you again happen to hear that competitors are in the Pyrenees stages of the Tour de France, you will have a sense of what they are enduring, and may, no matter what your sedentary lifestyle, be tempted to dust off your old ten-speed and fantasize about your own participation in that graceful, grimy, grueling event.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Sightseeing Impressions

"The Breakers," the Vanderbilts' monumental seventy-room “cottage” in Newport, Rhode Island, was used for just six to eight weeks each summer by the family. It is an enormous limestone edifice, a palace with marble columns, alabaster cornices, gilded plaster work, and fabulous amenities, so richly appointed that it hardly can be called comfortable. Who, for instance, could curl up with a book in the grand library if the ladies of the house would stalk in there every afternoon, dressed to the nines, to take tea in front of the antique fireplace? One would hesitate to play a simple tune on the grand piano in the auditorium-sized music room without the accompaniment of a six-piece chamber orchestra. And could you order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the French chef in the half-a-tennis-court kitchen, or enjoy a bowl of cereal in the “informal” dining room, where the table could accommodate sixteen? Allegedly, the grandchildren of the family would persuade the butler to lend them his sterling trays and use them to slide down the carpet on the grand staircase, and others rode their tricycles in the Great Hall, but imagine the dusting of the banisters, the cleaning involved in maintaining twenty-six bathrooms, and the care of some sixteen acres of landscaped grounds! Even with a staff of forty servants, I’m not sure exactly how it was done. Give me a manageable, reasonable house any day in place of a fabulous unwieldy one.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Showers of Blessing

My sister’s baby shower this afternoon did not involve the gentle drizzle of “onesies,” diapers, and other infant accessories that a mother-to-be usually receives at small Southern showers, but a veritable cloudburst of presents in Great Deluge quantity.

The guests’ generosity was matched by the hostesses’.

The shower was held at a restaurant, began at 1:30, and continued until 6. Our party, which consisted of about fifty people, occupied fully half of the dining room. There were bottles of wine on the two tables, pitchers of soft drinks, baskets of bread, and a buffet laden with food stretching along a mirrored wall. A two-tier cake, decorated with pastel flowers and white icing, stood at the end of the buffet, in the foothills of alpine stacks of brightly-wrapped presents. We did not actually sample the cake until after we had been urged through the buffet line, and later served three successive dessert courses—first custard, then Portuguese cupcakes, then almond muffins. We ate. And ate. And ate.

Then my sister was ushered to a ribbon-festooned chair and two of her nieces-by-marriage began bringing her the gifts, while I wrote down “who gave what” in a special baby book.

Southerners of indeterminate ethnicity do not know how lavish Rhode Island Portuguese baby showers can be. My sister unwrapped a play pen, a car seat (and an extra base, so that both her and her husband’s cars could accommodate the seat), two bouncy chairs, a crib mattress, a stroller, innumerable crib sheets (more than ten), one handmade pieced quilt, three hand-crocheted (or knitted) afghans, half a dozen little “onesy” outfits, multiple bibs, bottles and nipples, a bottle sterilizer, five large bottles each of baby powder, baby shampoo and baby lotion, dozens of diapers, two yellow rubber duckies (one huge and one small, with a thermometer built in to the small one to test the bath water temperature), pacifiers, baby washcloths, more than six flannel or fleece blankets, a baby bathtub with a shower nozzle, a mobile, a crib dust-ruffle, a crib bumper-pad, changing pads, a diaper pail (and a refill for it), two comb and brush sets, two stuffed animals, and three books (including Goodnight Moon). Then she opened cards, three of which contained a good deal of cash and one a large gift certificate to Babies “r” Us. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the pairs of socks, booties, and mittens! And the “Lil’ Cowpoke” lamp. Unbelievable. That’s not even counting the swing that a friend of her husband’s brought over to their house yesterday afternoon. This is going to be one well-supplied child.

My father’s two sisters came up from North Carolina for the shower and are sharing a hotel room with my mother and me. They are really delightful ladies, so we’ve had a good time. After the shower, we helped load everything (!) into the new parents’ Ford Explorer, and then we headed back to the hotel for a breather. Five hours’ worth of socializing had worn us out, and I can only imagine how tired my sister—who had been the center of attention, and is now halfway through her third trimester—was. We later drove over to her and her husband’s house and sat in their half-remodeled den talking about health issues, eccentric relatives, aging and animal attacks (dogs and birds, mainly) for a couple of hours before deciding to call it a night.

I’m going to hit the hay soon, as the four of us “girls” are planning to drive to Newport tomorrow before catching our respective flights south. I'm afraid the baby shower I'm giving for my friend Leah in VA on the nineteenth of this month won't be anywhere near as grand as the Portuguese variety!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Physical Dangers of Being an Academic

Wednesday morning, the flags over the Arlington fire house were snapping like a fresh wood blaze, but there was no warmth in the wind. The blue sky and puffy clouds said “May,” but the gusts whipping my scarf fringe into knots whistled “December.” At the bus stop, a silent row of students huddled on a low brick wall, hunched against the cold like frozen pigeons on a telephone line. I joined the group, wordless like the rest. Little did I know that in less than 36 hours I would be performing surgery on my left heel with a hastily-cleansed fruit knife.

I spent Thursday evening at the Library of Congress, pouring over books on the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. One of the texts I’d requested Wednesday, when I’d spent about five hours in the Main Reading Room, was Fred T. Jane’s 1904 book, The Imperial Russian Navy; Its Past, Present, and Future, seven hundred-plus pages of pictures, diagrams, charts and narrative about the technology, structure and so forth of that country’s seagoing forces. Really interesting stuff, although Jane's optimistic assessment of the Russian enlisted men’s being treated no worse by their superiors than those in the British navy may have been a bit off, given the circumstances of the Potemkin mutiny soon after the book came out. Flipping through the tattered volume, it was easy for me to understand how Jane had inspired over a century’s worth of military technology reports, but I wonder if he had the foresight to license the idea before his death in 1916, or if the editors of the 2004 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships and Jane's Arms and Armour were just people who have plastered his name on their wares.

Back home, I loaded the dishwasher and managed to break a saucer. Pivoting to pick up the pieces, I ground a sharp piece of broken glass into my heel, which (of course) began bleeding freely onto the linoleum. I knew I couldn’t make it upstairs to get my surgical tweezers (I can’t remember where I got them, but they do come in handy every so often) without staining the carpet, so I rummaged in the silverware drawer for something sharp and narrow. The fruit knife-—someone had apparently cut fruit with it and then put it back in the drawer—-came to hand, and I hobbled over to the sink to wash it before I inserted it into my foot.

Now, thirty minutes after the accident, my foot has finally stopped bleeding—-I soaked the heel for a while in hot salty water after I extracted the glass shard, and the solution turned a shade of rancid orange. Nonetheless, I expect I’ll suffer no ill effects. My right pointer finger has healed up nicely from a similar accident over three weeks ago, which also required intervention (initially, I’d left it alone, but then infection set in—I had to cut it open so that I was able to write that infamous Russian exam). Sometimes even historians suffer.

Frustrations

Last night, I went back to campus after Bible Study. I retrieved some items from Reserve at the library and took them to the department, planning to photocopy some pages. It was a dark evening.

The graduate student copier is cursed. Or at least it was yesterday. Its little digital screen claimed that it didn’t have any paper. I checked all the trays, inhaling large quantities of carcinogenic black toner powder which was spread over everything. Perhaps the toner bottle had exploded. The paper was in the right tray. Nothing doing. Despite my urgent attempts to communicate the existence of the paper, the thing wouldn’t copy.

The computers in the department were in a snit, too.

Any of you who have seen the movie Office Space will appreciate my predicament.

Then Silverman showed up. He told me he’d looked at my language exam. It has been at least three weeks since I took it, hasn’t it? He told me that I had translated the first section perfectly, and made only small mistakes on the latter part.

“This is good,” I thought.

Then he said he wanted to talk to Maklenov, to find out what she thought, particularly as to whether I’d done enough of the translation. So now my passage of the test is being decided upon by committee. A committee that includes the woman I dropped as my advisor two months ago. We don’t see eye-to-eye, Maklenov and I—she told me at the beginning of this term that she felt I was getting the FLAS “under false pretenses” as I was not fluent, but merely competent, in Russian. I was flabbergasted. After all, she was the person whose idea it was that I should apply for the FLAS (the federal Russian language scholarship which is financing my education this year) in the first place. And isn’t the purpose of the scholarship to encourage people to improve their Russian, not to pay someone who’s already mastered it? That’s certainly the impression I got from reading the application form. Oh, too, I guess I was also a little put off by the fact that when I talked with her about my schedule for this term, she didn’t realize she actually was my advisor, although she’d filled that role for the previous year and a half. It’s not like I was one among hundreds of her advisees—I was maybe one of ten. The result of this uncomfortable interlude was that in early January I emailed Harris (who’s on sabbatical over in Europe) and asked him to advise me, which he agreed to do. Why can’t Silverman ask Harris his opinion of my Russian skills?

The Bible Study topic last night was all about how we shouldn’t indulge in the sin of wistful “if only” thinking, not accepting our lives, and God’s hand in them, for what they are. And this is truly one of those situations I can’t do anything about. That and not having the grade for a term paper I turned in before Thanksgiving, either.