The Dance of the Butterflies

Magical March gave us the immense satisfaction of walking to school under magical rainbows,  leprechauns had wreaked havoc and left treasures, my mother got to see her father for the first time at the age of 73, we had a beautiful trip playing in the snow, the doting grandparents arrived and the children have been reveling in the social rainbow that enveloped them.

Out in the natural world, the hills are alive with the sound of moo-sic (cows grazing – get it, get it?), the cherry blossoms send sparks of joy piercing through the soul every time I look at them, and the butterflies have been dancing the dance of joy. Rain showers cleansed the Earth, and all nature around us seems to be smiling benevolently.

 

One beautiful evening, I stepped out on a walk with my little son. Elementary school children derive a certain pleasure in crouching and looking at ants, snails or ladybugs. This time, however, we crouched down to look at a furry, black caterpillar. After reading Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, everyday for months at a time with each of the children, I did not think that I would be enamored sitting and observing caterpillars, but such is the infectious enthusiasm of youth. (The Wind in the Reefs – Working title of The Wind In The Willows)

I found myself excited and thrilled to crouch and watch the caterpillar make its short journey across the concrete path back into the sidewalk where the bushes grew. I still find it amazing that these creatures metamorphose into butterflies. Eggs->Caterpillar(larvae)->Chrysalis(Pupa)->Butterfly has to be the most magical thing in our daily existence next to rainbows.

Later that week, the crouch with the caterpillar made me reach longingly for the book, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science – Joyce Sidman

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Maria Merian was a naturalist and illustrator in the seventeenth century.  Written by the children’s author and poet, Joyce Sidman, she says:

In many ways, Maria was an enigma. She rarely wrote about anything other than caterpillars…What we do know is that she had boundless energy, insatiable curiosity, and superhuman focus – traits that would have been difficult to live with, but ones that marked her as a true scientist at a time when the odds were stacked against her.

How does one find the passion and perseverance to stick to a field of study in spite of societal disapproval, familial duties and demanding businesses?  The book gives us a glimpse into seventeenth century life: The impossible clamps on Women, the dangerous possibility of any curiosity being mistaken for witchcraft, the difficult life of artists in general and so much more.

I have always admired those who have high energy levels and put it to good use. Maria Merian was one of those people. She was a brilliant artist, had business acumen and her curiosity about insects made her a pioneer in the field of etymology (A field that did not even have a name until several decades after her death). Her contributions to etymology were remarkable because she also managed to travel to Surinam near Barbados in those days with the sole purpose of studying animal life. Her paintings on Surinam and her books on caterpillars had great appeal in Europe, and Maria Merian went on to transform Art and Science forever.

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The book is full of beautiful diagrams, paintings, flowers and plants with little insects on them. It is a joy to thumb through even if it is just to look at the pictures.

 

 

Here is to more butterflies, rainbows and magic.

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Cephalopods

The husband had an amused expression on his face as he walked into the kitchen and saw me reading while making dinner. His eyes were set to roll, and his lips had already started on the journey to upward curvature that results in an indulgent smile. I told him so.

“Your neurons, it seems, are all controlled by one brain – tut tut! Not the case with Cephalopods. Take octopi or octopuses for example. They have neurons tingling all over their many arms, and each arm can function almost independently of another. Severed arms have been known to collect food on their own you know?”

“What are you reading now?”, asked the husband.

“Squid Empire by Danna Staaf. It is a book about squids, octopuses, and some other creatures called nautiluses and ammonoids, coleoids and cuttlefish and god-knows-what-else. Apparently, they are all called Cephalopods.” I said beaming happily, while slowly roasting the dinner. It made me feel like an eight armed goddess myself just reading about these fascinating creatures, and cooking at the same time. Never mind that I was making the most gawd-awful hash at both these tasks.

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“Did you know? The humble garden snail is descended from the ammonoids and squids?” I said.

“Well….I will leave you to it then.” said he squiggling out of the kitchen like an octopus out of a tank.

I went back to the book and though I was at times confused by the various scientific terms, I enjoyed the read. It yanked me through the ages, and took me to a time in Earth’s history well before dinosaurs or life on land had started. It was intriguing to see how they formed shells, and how those very shells helped them move from the ocean floor to the central zones of the ocean where they could swim and live with no apparent threat till the whales and larger fish evolved to eat them. The shells secreted a liquid less salty than the surrounding sea water, and this helped them float and remain buoyant instead of being brought down by the heavy shells.

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The Evolutionary History of Cephalopods from the book, Squid Empire

Why did I pick up a book on Squids?

I don’t really know, except that I loved the children’s book, Octopus and Squid by Tao Nyeu. A book that the son and I read every now and then for its beautiful friendship between two seemingly different creatures.

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Squid and Octopus by Tao Nyeu

Then, a few months ago, I read The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Cosmic Nature of Living:

Quoted from The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery:

Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness asserts that “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness”, and that “nonhuman animals, including all birds and mammals and many other creatures, including octopuses also possess these neurological substrates.”

Now, I felt it was time to get acquainted with Squids. I don’t distinctly remember a squid – I must have seen them at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Their evolution is fascinating. The book is written by a genuine marine lover (Danna Staaf’s site is here: cephalopodiatrist), and her love for these creatures shines through in the book. I only wish the book had more pictures. I had to keep looking up pictures on the internet. Pictures of nautilus, cuttlefish, squid and octopus obtained from Google search below:

 

I had never used the word, Cephalopod, before, and I was glad to learn so much about another way of life, even if I may never fully comprehend what it means to have consciousness so permeable, so distributed, and yet co-ordinated.

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. Loren Eiseley

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The Lure of NorEaWesSou

I picked up a light hearted book that outlined how journalism was done 100 years ago: Scoop By Evelyn Waugh. Written in the 1930’s, the book deals with how newspapers made do with telegrams from remote locations to fill newspaper columns: How they decided ahead of time on the stance to take, the line to pitch. Journalism was and is a series of Scoops. Which nugget gets scooped by whom?

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The book is based on William Boot, a thoroughly good-natured hedgehog type of fellow, who writes the nature column about life in the English countryside. One week his column writes of the country mouse, and the next week about thriving lobelias. Up in high brow London, he is mistaken for a dashing up-and-coming novelist, also Boot, and asked to go to Ishmaelia, a fictional country in Africa to cover the news. Given no choice, he embarks on the journey, and learns a thing or two about journalism from his journalist pals.

Corker looked at him sadly. “You know, you’ve got a lot to learn about journalism. Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read, and its only news until he’s read it. After that, its dead. We’re afraid to supply news. If someone else  has sent a story before us, our story isn’t news.”

William Boot is not only ignorant of the scoop business, but distinctly inept at keeping his bosses in the know. His telegrams read like stories; and lack buzz and content. When asked by his head office to send regular updates, Boot replies, that nothing much is going on, and that the weather continues to be fine.

The sort of missive that drives his editor mad. “How am I to fill a column based on the weather being fine?

The dilemma is real. Nobody wants to know when things are going well, and the weather is fine. The populace wants sensational news, and if there isn’t any, they have no qualms about creating some.

Purely by accident, William Boot uncovers a plot to overthrow the powers in the country. When he is composing the telegram with his first real piece of news, he receives the sack from the head office.

Telegram by William Boot:

Nothing much has happened except to the president who has been imprisoned in his own palace by revolutionary junta …. but governess says most unusual lovely spring weather …. bubonic plague raging.

He got so far when he was interrupted. Frau Dressler brought him a cable: your contract terminated stop accept this stipulated months notice and acknowledge stop beast.

William added to this message, Sack received safely thought I might as well send this all the same.

The book is not as engaging and funny as its critics claim, but the premise of the book makes for a charming plot. It is amusing to see how little things have changed since the days of the Telegram: our telegrams arrive almost instantly via tweets, but the essence is the same.

In the current era of news, and fake news, how does one discern truth, and in which cases does one have to bother to do so?

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I remember being about a decade old, traveling in South India, when I saw the headlines from a local daily: “Prime Minister resigns”. I gasped, and tugged at my father’s arm, and showed him the headline. Apparently, he had resigned from the milking committee of a farm or some such thing.

That is my earliest recollection of questioning the sanctity of print. Up until then, I read anything printed with a wholesome innocence assuming purity of thought and intent. The father noticed my shocked expression, and we went on discuss the nature of the Scoop, and the thrill of Sensationalism. Television had not yet entered into every home, and one waited every morning for the newspaper to bring us news of the wide world. A whole day in which to ruminate on what one read.

Aristotle apparently wrote, It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. 

Did he really say that? We don’t know.

Sensationalism and Scoop-ism have steadily chipped away at the hallmark of ruminating and discerning narratives having a semblance of truth.

Go Women Ninjas!

Spring is in the air, and I stepped out for a walk in the beautiful setting sun with the elementary school going son. He was telling me about a program that seems to be the craze among his friends: Lego, Ninjago. The program features the Ninja warriors, against evil Lord Garmadon. (I know!)

Ninjaaaa—goooo!”, said the little fellow and spun around on the spot kicking his legs up in the air. The place he had chosen to do this was not the best, for he stopped mid-way through an intersection to demonstrate Spinjitzu. “That is how they do Spinjitzu Amma. I wonder why they need to say Ninjaaaa-gooo before doing spinjitzu, but they always do that.”

“Well”, I said holding his hands tightly and rushing across the intersection before he spin-jit-zu-ed again, “Maybe it is like a spell, they need to say the word, or they cannot spin like that. Why do they spin so much anyway? Is it like ballet?”I asked.

The horror of my ignorance made him open his eyes wide in disbelief. “Amma! It is not like ballet. It is spin-jit-zu.”

I often prance into these gaffes. It was clear that the Ninjago masters did not appreciate being called ballet dancers, even though their spinjitzu-s looked like ballerinas who stubbed their toes mid-spin.

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Knowledge is the antidote to ignorance:

He set about enlightening me after taking a deep breath.“They do spinjitzu to use their powers. Every one has a power. Jai has ?” he looked at me expectantly. I knew the answer was somewhere. I had nodded along on several occasions when he explained the several powers these Ninja masters had.

 

I so often feel dumb stricken when I am talking to these children. I took a sip of humility and came clean. “Oh! I can never remember these powers. Why don’t you tell me all over again, and I will do my best to remember them, okay?”

Professors can very rarely resist such a humble seeker of knowledge, and so my Elementary-school-Professor launched on his ‘Amazing Superpowers of the Ninjago Masters’ class. I tried my best to listen. I plucked my eyes away from those early blooming cherry blossoms, and the cowslips that usually come up in March, but because of the lack of rain have started showing up now. I pulled my mind back from the scampering squirrels and listened to how Kai could not reach his full potential because he had relationship issues with his father. I looked quizzically at the fellow. “What relationship issues?” I asked amazed.

“Oh they don’t say. Just relationship issues.”

Lego Ninjago Action Figures (Image from Google search)
Lego Ninjago Action Figures (Image from Google search)

A few more minutes of Walk-Walk-Talk-Talk later, “Then, Lord Garmadon was bitten by the Evil sorcerer, and Evil coursed through his veins.”

“Oh no….his parents must’ve been so sad!”, I said. “What did his mother do?”

The fellow stopped with a quizzical expression on his face. “Umm…he has no mother. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t.”

Where are the Women?

It was as we continued toeing the Ninjago-Spinjitzu line that I asked him why there were no Women in the Ninjago world. His face crinkled with thought. “Hmm – There is Nya! Remember Cole became a Ninja master so he could save his sister Nya?”

I looked at his sincere face, and took a deep breath. I saw it was time for me to become a female Ninja.

I asked him what he thought of his sister. A look of awe crept into his eyes. His older, taller, and wiser teenaged sister?  Why? She looks after him, plays with him, imagines the unicorns and horses to play with, and tells him the most amazing Greek myths. “Do you love her?” , I hounded.

“Of course I do!” he said stung that I should ask him that.

“How about Amma? Do you like me?”

Affirmative.

I kicked it up a notch.

Tell me your friends. There were a few girls in the list. I made a mental note.

I asked him about his teachers. Amazing women.

Grandmothers and Aunts? Duh! Wonderful women of course!

He laughed and said that he liked them all.

“Now”, I said, “I want you to imagine how you will feel without any of these girls in your life! “

“What? Why?”, he said

“Because that is what those poor Ninjago master-fellows seem to be going through. Don’t you see? “

His face dawned, and then he gave a sheepish smile.

Gender Stereotypes

Research shows that our attitudes regarding Genders is formed between the ages of 5 & 6. In some experiments, before the age of 5, children equally selected females and males for various professions, but by the time they were 7, for most careers, they chose men. I am not sure that is not aided and abetted by the programs they watch.

Maybe this is the time to look at all our entertainment choices with a critical eye. If we expect Superman to do everything by himself, why do we think our sons will come to discuss their problems with us? If we consume show after show where Men save the world by going to War, how can we hope for future peace and diplomacy to come easily? Every evening, homes are flooded with soap opera entertainment that glorify women who suffer at the hands of those who should be their intellectual partners and friends.

We all suffer from this bias.

In a few weeks time, we will celebrate International Women’s Day.  We shall go agog for a day or two celebrating all the great achievements of Women in Science, Women in Literature, Women in Leadership and so on. Instead of just stopping and acknowledging the Women in our lives. The ones who make life what it is with their friendship, camaraderie and companionship.

 

 

For Women’s Day, I suppose we could learn to embrace the androgyny in all of us. We all have estrogen and testosterone in our bodies after all, just in different proportions.

I looked at the fellow again, and he said, “Wait! Nya also became a Ninja later in the series. She is a girl-Ninja now.”

“Good!” I said, and peace was restored in our world.

The Artistic Touch

I waltzed in to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art thinking my usual self should do. It didn’t do. It pursed already thin lips and drew in breaths that should have been released.

So, here is a tip: Before you head into a museum, prepare to put on a face that reminds you of a serious matter: something like a puppy being pulled back home from a glorious spring saunter that yielded an unexpected bone, a couple of birds to chase and beautiful water hydrants to raise their hind legs against. An occasional smile commiserating with the owner (or the puppy) is okay, but grim seriousness is admired.

Remember: Life is Stern, Art is Earnest & Its Depiction Torturous. Good.

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What tripped me up was this: I walked into a largish room and found a men’s piddle seat in the middle. You know one of those umbrella-handle shaped urinals? In the middle. I know I have expressed the opinion that I wished the blasted things in bathrooms were less in the corner when you were trying to tighten a screw, but by gosh, I had not quite meant this! I am afraid I did the wrong thing here – I pointed and let loose a guffawing squeal and giggled at the exhibit. Modern Art patrons are a tolerant lot. Tolerant towards Art I mean – they scowled at my flippant attitude, while the urinal drew admiring noises.

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Random pic of some urinal from the internet – I did not take a picture of the thing!

When I finally tottered away from this marvel, there was a painting around the corner, that reminded me of one of P.G.Wodehouse’s short stories. Reggie Pepper (who gave PGW the idea for Jeeves) says of his Artist friend’s work:

I’ve seen his pictures, and they are like nothing on earth. So far as I can make out what he says, they aren’t supposed to be. There’s one in particular, called “The Coming of Summer,” which I sometimes dream about when I’ve been hitting it up a shade too vigorously. It’s all dots and splashes, with a great eye staring out of the middle of the mess. It looks as if summer, just as it was on the way, had stubbed its toe on a bomb. He tells me it’s his masterpiece, and that he will never do anything like it again. I should like to have that in writing.

Art certainly conflicts: I stood astonished I suppose that one would take up a whole wall for a work like that when I looked around, and was told by a Patron, “Don’t you just admire how a true artist comes out?”
I eh-ah-ed weakly. When he says, artist comes out: Did artists lay their intestines out on canvas? It certainly did look like it. I recoiled a bit, but luckily the fellow was well launched on his story to notice. He then proceeded to tell me the most extraordinary thing.
Apparently, this artist was hailed as a genius after his death. His paintings regularly sold for $150 million dollars. I gasped at this. I should like to see these patrons! Apparently, one of his works made it to the local Goodwill shop where a lady paid 3 bucks for it. I suppose it must have shocked the $150 million dollar fellows, but life is tough. Anyway, a friend of the $3 buyer said there were enough squiggles to make the fellow a big artist, and had her check it out. Apparently, she got $25 million bucks for it but was not happy, since the other paintings of the fellow sold for over 100 million bucks. People I tell you. Never really happy! Tush.

There were beautiful paintings that managed to depict the 4 seasons, something that looked like a desert sunset, geometric shapes and so much more.

 

All of these marvels jostled with what I thought were the trial canvasses of the artist – you know those sheets against which you imagine them testing their strokes, and shaking out the extra spots on the brush and so on. (They weren’t – they were the real pieces of Art. I checked.)

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What really got me thinking about this whole Art business is the Sensuous blue painting.

There was one painting that looked like this.

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Oh, sorry, that is a picture of my daughter’s wall.

This is the painting.

 

Next to this was written a most poignant note. If I had not read the notice, I could not have imagined such a beautiful set of phrases can be applied for the color blue.

The final straw was the one where the artist forgot to paint and occupied a wall.

 

“Does this white square hold a mystery?”

I shoo-hoo-ey-ed my way up the floors, all the while admiring the many works, stopping to muse at a fair few, and thoroughly enjoying myself. When they say Art is mind-blowing, I could agree. I may not be able to appreciate the finer details of each piece the way the sturdier patrons do, but I was quite sure, it awakened some dormant senses.

 

Finally, I washed up in front a pool of floating dishes. Not a dishwasher, more like an indoor pool with clean china chinking and tinkling against each other producing a haunting musical memory to go with the visual. It seemed like a marvelous touch depicting the day at the museum.

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All in all, the museum should have made me feel like this character from one of P.G.Wodehouse’s story on being in the presence of an Artist:

She was perfectly pleasant, and drew me out about golf and all that sort of thing; but all the time I felt that she considered me an earthy worm whose loftier soul-essence had been carelessly left out of his composition at birth.

But it didn’t. There was matter enough to engage simple minds like mine, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Drunk Koala Dreams

The tale below yanks one through time, hangs out with koalas on Eucalyptus branches and yearns for hibernation like the grizzly bears do. Bear with me: I hope it is a tale worth your time.

Modern living can be fast. Cars zip down freeways, flights jet down runways, and people charge down escalators. We were set to do them all to get home from the quiet, beautiful Bryce and Zion national parks. We had had an enjoyable trip, and were going home again.

Nature does not hurry, yet achieves everything – Lao Tzu

Mankind hurries and achieves nothing – Drunk Koala

We looked at each other and glowed in spite of those pesky hunger pangs gnawing at the stomach. It had been a busy morning with nothing much to eat, and we now had time to tuck in before the flight. We had arrived at the Las Vegas airport earlier than expected.

The husband looked at me and said, “We have a whole hour before boarding time. Maybe we can go and relax in the lounge, eat something, and stretch ourselves a bit before heading back to board the flight. “

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My deer like senses tensed: I can sniff lounge trouble like the best sniffers on the priarie.

“But you heard the fellow – he said that lounge is 3 terminals away. Terminal A to Terminal D!” I said in case one had difficulty counting 1.2.3.

“Yes…but we can relax.” said the fellow who would ask Relax if he has ever had the pleasure of meeting him before. Relax indeed. Hummingbirds relax more while flying.

This is where I need to yank you folks through time a bit:

The day I heard the husband coo like a love struck dove on the phone to me from Bangalore airport, I knew that trouble lay ahead. A few years ago, the husband had been overseas on an official trip. One cold, bright day, I picked up the phone to hear his voice from the airport before he boarded the long flight back to the USA.

“I ate masala dosas! Hot, masala dosas!” he cooed. No brisk got-to-go-s, no frenzied recap of trip to the airport, nothing: just the musical sound of dosas. A surprisingly passionate tone of voice for food given that any trip to Incredible India involves grande servings of food.
“At 1 in the morning?” I asked incredulous that one felt like stuffing masala dosas at that time of the circadian rhythm.
Not one to be discouraged that easily, he said, “Why not? They also had a make-your-own omelet bar. “
“I’ll make sure I keep a salad and a crouton ready for you when you land.” I said.

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The excesses at the Bangalore airport were due to the fact that he had access to a lounge area. Ever since, every time we set foot in an airport, I know that his mind is ticking with masala dosas and make-your-own-omelet bars: The dosa dream never fades.

This time we had hardly stepped foot in the Las Vegas airport on our flight back from Zion and Bryce, when the lounge itch got him. I diagnosed it in the eyes. Fervent enquiries told us we had to cross 3 terminals, hop onto a train, jump onto an elevator, skip on and off three walk-a-lators, before getting to the lounge.

The husband with the food gleam is like a koala high on eucalyptus sap. He has the same fuzzy look, and his companions have the same urge to give in to the sloshed fellow on the grounds of compassion for the dulled mind. It is the idea of food, nothing else. He’ll be fine soon, we tell ourselves and solicitously pat him on his back.

In the meanwhile, in his brain, the Sober Animal Trainer part tries reasoning with the Drunk Koala part:
Drunk Koala: Lounge! Drool. Food! Juice! Relax, enjoy! Masala dosas – hmm!
Sober A T: Yes yes, I know, but there are restaurants here
Drunk Koala: But Free food?
S.A T: Not at all, you pay for the lounge.
D.K: I know. But we already pay for the lounge.
Wise Sober .Animal .Trainer.: Stop harking back to Bangalore airport masala dosas! You know perfectly well, your wife is right. She always is, remember? Good. Never forget that. Anyway…point is: you are not going to get good food at the lounge here.

With this sound reasoning, the drunk koala in his mind won, and the rest of us jogged behind him as the man on a mission set off for the lounge in Terminal D. Every 5 minutes the sober animal trainer would cause him to pause, and say, “Do you think we should turn back?”, but D.K drummed his chest again, and off we went.

We arrived at the lounge looking like baby bears during spring time standing upstream for the salmon to come jumping up. Eager for the food in the other words.

The hospitality industry requires extensive human resources in order to thrive. A resource that the United States is not burgeoning on, in general. An irritated lady sat behind the counter and eyed us beadily, as if daring us to approach her. Her cold welcome did nothing to the hunger pangs.

The children and I left her presence to go peering around the refreshment nooks. Close inspection revealed 3 chips packets, 2 sad bananas, and 1 dehydrated apple peering out from a fruit holder. Next to that lay a tray with two flasks (coffee, hot water) and a plastic cane to stir the creamer and sugar. The feast was done. We peeked under the table to see if trays of burritos and sandwiches, heaps of salads and pastas were hidden there. Nothing. Hide and seek can be a depressing game sometimes.

I helped myself to a watery tea, the children swamped on chips, and the husband moodily bit into his apple. “We could leave early so we can eat somewhere?” he said.
The children stomped this down with the logical, “But we just got here!” argument.
15 minutes later, we started on our journey back to Terminal A.

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As the flight made for liftoff, a low rumble was heard. It was our stomachs growling like grizzly bears. If ever you see little bears with their papa bear standing upstream with their tongues hanging out for the salmon, try breaking it to the bear cubs that the salmon this year had decided to swim downstream again instead of jumping upstream, and let me know what happens will you? In our case, Drunk Koalas may not know what to do, but grizzly bears fresh with the memory of hibernation do: even if they growl and kick their feet to do so. We promptly fell asleep.

The rest of the journey home is a blur best skipped for brevity. Two long hours later, when finally the glow of home-cooked food in our stomachs suffused us with a warm glow, the husband said, “That lounge idea wasn’t so great huh?”

I disagreed. I got a long walk, and a blog out of it. The lounge idea was marvelous.

Playing Aeronautic See-Saw with Lions

Have you thought about how an airplane crew feels with respect to their dress?  I look at the air hostesses tottering up and down the aisles wearing heels, tight fitting skirts, berets and what-have-you, and give them commiserating smiles when they look forlorn at the way their wards on the plane are attired.

The poor blighters look like they are dressed for one of those high brow diplomatic commissions where they stop countries from throwing tomatoes at each other. Just a moment, hold on – I feel like Archimedes in the bath-tub. I am not bathing, I mean, I feel one of those Eureka moments coming on: Maybe they are dressed for the part.  I have seen these stellar folks walk up to people and tell them to stop throwing tomatoes, or to refrain from kicking the passenger’s seat in front of them, though better judgement tells them, ‘To blazes with the tomatoes. D’ya think tomatoes can ruin that attire. Tchah!’

eureka

We had seated ourselves toward the back of the plane, and it proved to be an excellent vantage point to observe one’s fellow passengers scramble aboard. In sharp contradistinction to the crew, we seem to have rapidly climbed the comfort curve and equally rapidly slipped down the presentation curve. Some of the folks on that plane! I am not sure they would have been allowed to lounge in their own rooms in the days of Victorian clothing, let alone poke their heads out to observe traffic. Yet, here they were, looking rather pleased with their debonair sense of fashion taking their seats on an airplane headed to Las Vegas. Oh well.

“I should be used to the way Americans dress when traveling, yet it still manages to amaze me. It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this. I’m going to Los Angeles!” 

David Sedaris, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

When everyone was strapped in, and the flight buzzed with the excitement of school children on a field trip, the flight attendant came up in front of the audience.  I settled down to watch a stellar production of how-best-to-fasten-the-seat-belts when I was met with a bizarre announcement instead.

The flight attendant seemed to feel the same way, for she came up this time, braced herself for some of that iron resolve that lions summon up before roaring, and asked for a passenger to volunteer to move to the back of the aircraft. ‘We need the lift to be more evenly balanced’, she mumbled.

None of that confident button-your-seat-belt attitude. Here was no lion, here was a caterpillar that was quite willing to poke its entire self back into the folds of a flower.

The thing smacked of euphemisms. Lift to be balanced indeed.

One appetizer bite sized lady gallantly stood up, and said she’d go. She was one of those svelte beauties that could have dotted these beauty magazines when young, and probably filled up on half a lettuce leaf. Mouse-like about summed up her appearance.

I could see the flight attendant struggle. I mean, how do you break it gently to the appetizer that laudable as the effort was, the entree is what the doctors prescribe for tummy rumbles? Lions educated in modern thought resist the urge to laugh at mice who offer help. Summoning up her L.courage again, and praying none of this would get tweeted and bandied about the internet, she tried again. ‘Thank you very much Ma’am. But, maybe, some one who can help the frontal pressure be eased, so we have sufficient lift for take-off. You can come back after the flight takes off.’

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We could have helped the poor things by calling out, “She is looking for someone stouter on the scale folks!”, but the same modern education seemed to restrain us all, and we watched as a brave spirit stood up looking sheepish. He towered impressively, looking like a football player who could mow three lions when stirred. The airplane clucked approvingly, and gave the fellow admiring looks. I don’t think his mother could have looked on the fellow more lovingly when he tucked into his sausages. He followed her looking like Mary’s little lamb to the back of the aircraft, while she squeaked, “Thank you thank you sir. You may come back after the flight takes off.”

I suppressed the uneasy image of an airborne see-saw bravely, and pretty soon, we were airborne.

I wonder often about the life of a flight crew. They must have their moments of getting-back as they march smartly down aisles dressed like Napoleon at battle, trying to herd a lazy bunch of bovine swatters lounging around in yoga pants, and flannel night-suits. I like to think they attend black-tie events in pajamas just to get even with the world.

I wasn’t mistaken.

Just as soon as one calmed those take-off butterflies somewhat, the smart officer came on saying something to the effect of,  “Good evening all. We are cruising at 33,000 feet and a cool 23 F outside. Please relax and enjoy your flight.

I saw the impressive gentleman (the one whose mother lovingly … never mind. 3 paragraphs above) make his way back to the front of the air-plane, and I wondered how cold it is to be playing on the see-saw.

see-saw