How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel

When the Covid lockdowns started, many folks went on a buying spree (we all know the toilet paper jokes). Ever the dutiful one, off I went too. I was feeling rather pleased with myself when I got an extra bag of rice, and headed onto the library (to get books to tide us over during the lockdown).  When the husband called to ask where I’d gone, I sheepishly said that I was at the library just in case we were unable to get books during lockdown. I could hear a sound like a paper bag bursting – his version of a cross between a snort, and the urge to laugh. I bragged about the extra bag of rice, and I could see his face wondering why he had to be landed with someone, who in P G Wodehouse’s language, ‘must’ve been bumped on the head as a baby’. 

Well, I must say that when we staggered home with books for the children and self, I felt better. The local library has been one of my favorite spots to visit of course, but over the Covid period, I felt like Rapunzel in the book: How the Library Saved Rapunzel (Not the Prince). The library allowed us to schedule an appointment and arrange to pickup books on hold. What was more, they were kind enough to include a few picture books of their choice if you requested them to do so. I am eternally grateful to have access to libraries.

I felt almost an irresistible urge to increase my Science based reading this year (maybe this is a tiny rebellion for the disturbing anti-Science strain emerging with the 45th POTUS office). Starting the year off by re-reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos set the stage for the year ahead. The following books gave me no end of pleasure and learning over the year. (My Science writing class for children)

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2020 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day

  • Unbowed – Wangari Maathai (in progress)
  • On Looking  – Alexandra  Horowitz
  • Losing  Earth  A Recent History – Nathaniel Rich
  • This is the Earth – Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander, Paintings by Wendell Minor

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

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It was also a wonderful year to take in poetry. Mary Oliver & Margarita Engle were always welcome in a year when poets alone seemed to know the right turn of phrase for the bizarre. Dr Seuss & Jackl Prelutsky always know to turn one’s frown into a smile. 

  • Blue Iris – Mary Oliver
  • Enchanted Air – By Margarita Engle
  • Dog Songs – Mary Oliver
  • Owls and other fantasies – Mary Oliver (Yes! no!)
  • Be Glad your nose is in your face – Jack Prelutsky
  • Dr Seuss books (always worth reads and re-reads). I found a few gems that truly tickled the mind and got out some belly laughs.
    • Horton hears a Who
    • Horton Hatches an Egg
    • Sleep book
    • Oh the Thinks you can Think
    • How Lucky You Are
    • Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose

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With the Black Lives Matter movement, the year was ripe for educating oneself on the inequities of society and civil disobedience. The local library, news media, and friends all helped with an excellent array of reading material. Notable among the works read then were:

  • Becoming – By Michelle Obama
  • Black Panther – by Ta Nehisi Coates
  • Sneetches and other stories – Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela‘s children’s book version
  • My Many Colored Days – Dr Seuss

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With uplifting books and humour, life can be truly marvelous. My all-time favorites kept me company, and I am eternally grateful to their influence of course but a few others were added to the list this year.

The world isn’t such a good place either, and reading books such as these helps to remind us about the many problems that still beset society

The lure of power, and how we are seeing it all play out in real life

  • The Fate of Fausto – Oliver Jeffers
  • Louis I – The King of Sheep – Oliver Tallec
  • Yertle the Turtle and other Stories – Dr Seuss
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (pieces relating to the Minister of Magic refusing to acknowledge Voldemort’s return so he could stay in power)

Of course the true magic of life is never complete without children’s books. There are so many of them in this genre, that I did not even note half of them. But a few of them lit up my life

  • My Grandma is a Ninja – By Todd Tarpley, Illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou (When I become a grandma – though it is a few decades off, that is how I wish to be 🙂 )
  • Gondra’s Treasure – By Linda Sue Park
  • Enchanted Wood – by Enid Blyton (old Saucepan Man, Silky and Moonface with the lands above the enchanted tree – though it doesn’t hold the same level of magic it did as a child, it still has its charm)
  • The Red Pyramid – By Rick Riordan (this was the son’s recommendation, and thoroughly enjoyable it turned out to be romping down the Egyptian myths!)
  • The Quiet Book – by Deborah Underwood
  • A Fun Day with Lewis Carroll – Kathleen Krull & Julia Sarda
  • Peter Rabbit’s Tales – Beatrix Potter
  • Why is my Hair Curly – By Lakshmi Iyer
  • A History of Magic – Based on Harry Potter Universe
  • Tintin Comics (a fair few)
  • Calvin & Hobbes
  • The Velocity of Being – Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick

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On that magical high note, here is wishing everyone a healthy, happy new year in 2021. Things are already turning around, and looking hopeful. Keep reading, and sharing 🙂

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Teacher Appreciation Week

I hovered near the bookshelf – like a child hovering around the glass-pane of the candy store, Looking for that perfect piece of sweet : something familiar, good and a slight twist to wake up your cells every time.

It has been a long and stern day filled with purposeful adults, all filled to the brim with the cares of living, earning a living, and forgetting to live. My brain looked for a release, and a mode to thrive.

I picked up a book of short stories by one of my favorite authors: P.G.Wodehouse.

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Eighteen Carat Kid and Other Stories: I opened the first page and was pulled in like an elephant to the early morning waters in the forest.

Paragraph 1:
There is something always going on in a private school.
Beyond breaking up fights, stopping big boys bullying small boys, preventing small boys bullying smaller boys, inducing boys of all sizes not to throw stones, go on the wet grass, worry the cook, tease the cat, make too much noise, climb trees, scale waterspouts, lean too far out of windows, slide down the banisters, swallow pencils, and drink ink because somebody bet them they wouldn’t, I had very little to do except teach mathematics, carve the joint, help the pudding, play football, read prayers, herd stragglers into meals, and go round the dormitories at night to see that the lights were out. ”

Both my parents were teachers (my father was a teacher in a residential school – public schools as they are called in India, private school in the US & UK) I sent the snippet to him, and he heartily took a trip down the memory lane and agreed in his booming, hearty voice that addressed assemblies without mikes, that there never was a dull day in his teaching career. Being a vegetarian, he did not often have to ‘carve the joint’ , but that apart, pretty much everything else was true, he said. It is always to good to hear the joy of being a teacher coming through.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and I thought of sharing this essay the son had written for his 3rd Grade essay:

Topic: Imagine you are a teacher taking your class on a field trip to Baltimore National Aquarium

The Baltimore National Aquarium

At the Baltimore National Aquarium there is lots of life. This is one of the places where humans and marine life see each other as fun things.Anyway I brought my class with me because the principal wants the kids to experience new things, which I can understand. When we got to the nearest exhibit, I did a headcount of all the students. We were missing 6 of them.Thankfully, I found them near the water (where the animals are) and I gave them a good talk about not leaving the group. Then when I turned around all the other children were scattered. I thought to myself, “This is gonna be a long day.” After that, we went from exhibit to exhibit in the huge aquarium. As we were about to go to the display of skeleton from a dinosaur, we found another class. The kids merged together and the other teacher and I had the same expression: “Kids!” We sorted everything out and went to the dinosaur. I read from the brochure “This is the Shaustasourus, the largest marine dinosaur ever.” After many more mishaps we got back on the bus. For the first time, we had a full class. When we got back none of the kids thanked me for not losing them. Sometimes the world really isn’t fair, but that’s okay. I guess I had lots of fun too.

I guffawed at this piece of writing.

People who imagined the teacher’s job to be putty, are having to re-evaluate their assessments – their puddings of pie children weren’t such darlings when the Mathematics had to be taught by their parents anymore.

This is Teacher Appreciation Week in the US – really what would we do without the steady, positive influence of teachers?

Time in the Garden

Regular readers know how much I enjoy nature and gardens. It is one of life’s ironies that my plants only thrive despite my loving care, and  many is the time I have made bloomers in the little patch I tend to. However, never one to shy away from blooming from the bloomers, I picked up this book, Life in the Garden, By Penelope Lively. 

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Lively begins by examining the gardens in Literature starting with the Garden of Eden, and working  her way through other fantastical gardens in the books, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland and the beloved gardens of dear, absent-minded Lord Emsworth’s at Blandings castle. 

She examines the writing and finds out which of the writers are gardeners themselves and which of them have merely picked up the scenery from a gardening catalog. She teases the co-ordination of colors, the seasonality of the plants themselves in the landscapes and has given me an entirely different appreciation of gardens. 

Some passages are especially endearing and made me want to read them again. Especially her meditations on time, the gardener and the garden itself. 

I quote from her book: 

“To garden is to elide past, present and future; it is a defiance of time. You garden today for tomorrow; the garden mutates from season to season, always the same, but always different. … In autumn, I plant up a pot of “Tete-a-Tete” daffodils, seeing in the minds eye what they will look like in February. We are always gardening for a future we are supposing, assuming, a future. I am doing that at eighty-three; the hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” I have just put in will outlast me, in all probability, but I am requiring it to perform while I can still enjoy it.”

“The great defiance of time is our capacity to remember – the power of memory. Time streams away behind us, and beyond, but individual memory shapes for each of us, a known place. We own a particular piece of time; I was there then, I did this, saw tear, felt thus.”

She goes on to say, 

“A garden is never just now; it suggests yesterday, and tomorrow; it does not allow time its steady progress. “

Certainly, for me, part of the appeal of gardening is this ambivalent relationship with time; the garden performs in cycles, it reflects the seasons, but it also remembers and anticipates, and in so doing takes the gardener with it.”

As I look out the window at my clover-filled backyard with some foxgloves looking happy amidst the narcissi blossoms and the newly sprouted cherry leaves after their spectacular show of cherry blossoms, and the rose buds ready to burst forth in a few weeks,I cannot help feel the lessons nature is teaching us. Be forward looking – always, nurture what is important, and enjoy the passage of time. One moment at a time. Every flower has its chance to bloom and fade.

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Gardens are enduring lessons in hope. I cannot tell you the number of times, I have planted something in October and been surprised when they bloom in April, or the number of times, I have been pleasantly surprised that something  thrived  at all. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all – 

Emily Dickinson – Hope

I am lackadaisical at best with my gardening and it shows. I have a minuscule patch that seriously  has more air-time on the blog than the square feet it occupies. Yet, it gives me immense pleasure, peace and calm. Spurred on by the book, I went outside to take a more active role in the tending of my plants. I have been admiring the sweet peas plants that have sprouted in the garden. Some time ago, I got a packet of sweet  pea seeds from our local library. Thrilled at finding them, I scattered them by the apricot tree and forgot about them. The plants are thriving now, quite tall, and seem to be sagging. So, I went – “Coming dears! Here I am to take care  of you!”, I said, in my best nurturing voice and tried to prop up the plants as best as I could, in the process, breaking off one of the plants’ main stems.

If the plants in my patch could talk, they would’ve chorused – “Go inside – we know you  love us, just let us thrive! Breaking off our stems indeed!”

Teachable Moments

I was telling the husband casually about a friend of mine. “She is thinking of taking up primary school teaching.”

“Huh?! Really?” said the son, his ears twiddling, for the news interested him. He loved this particular aunt.

“Well – maybe I should tell her the best grades to teach then!” said he.

“What do you mean the best grades to teach? ” I said cautiously for I felt a moment to savor coming on in my bones, but acted as nonchalant as possible. “Elementary school teaching – doesn’t that mean kids in your school?”

“Well, you know how it is? We aren’t all just cute kids like you think Amma! There are some grades you want to be careful with.” he said with a meaningful look in his eyes.

“What do you mean? I’ve seen you children in Elementary School – so sweet you all are!” I said – knowing fully well the reaction this would elicit.

“Ha! Okay, okay – I’ll tell you. Kindergarteners are naughty, 1st graders are okay, 2nd graders are rowdy, 3rd graders are sassy, 4th graders think everything is lame, and 5th graders are okay.”

I stifled a hearty laugh for the moment, and asked him, “So only 1st and 5th grades are okay to teach huh?!”

“Yep! Pretty much! ” he said.

I gave into a full throated laugh, not for the first time admiring and thanking all the stellar teachers of the Naughty, Sassy, Rowdy, and Think-Everything-Is-Lame children. Somehow, these magicians strive to make students of them all.

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Later that evening, the daughter came moaning into the kitchen – “Gosh! There is just so much homework! I mean – these teachers think we are awesome, but we really aren’t!”

Coming hot on the wheels of the Elementary School analysis, this seemed to be something to be milked for its true worth. So I tried.

“Are you saying your teachers are poor things for trying to uplift you and so on?”

“Of course they are!” said she.

“Remember they were teenagers too once, and probably realize that teen potential is high. They do want to give you the best opportunity to attain your true potential!” I said, thinking of the stalwart teachers of the folks who make the 30-under-30 and 20-under-20 lists.

Yeeaaarrcccchhh!” she said. I am quite sure Yeeaaarrcccchhh isn’t a real word, but a guttural sound open to interpretation. After a moment she said, “I sometimes think to myself what my teachers must be like if they were teenagers today. ”

There was silence for a moment. A silence I did not break while she gathered her thoughts. This was going to be something, I knew. When the daughter thinks of smart-aleck moments, it is best for the waiting populace to take cover.
“My Chem teacher would probably be obnoxious, but not a super smart version of Sheldon. My Math teacher would be a shy but sweet kid. My history teacher would have been the low key popular kid who is friends with everybody.”

I laughed enjoying this analysis as she went down the list of teachers. And then, I asked looking as innocent as it was possible to be. “What would you think of me as a teenager?”

“HA! Not falling for that one – better luck next time Mother! Mother, who is long past her teenage years!” she said, ruffling my head like I was a cute dog, and made off for her room to tackle the oodles of homework her stellar teachers had set out for her.

As a child I was keenly aware of both sides of the coin. Both my parents were teachers, but that did not stop me from becoming a dab hand at imitating my teachers, and giving them fond pet-names when required. The father and I enjoyed the creativity there.

All in all, I know in the name of professionalism and growing up, we lose this marvelous trait of making light of things, but I wish we didn’t.

For those who enjoy light tales of children in their schools, these are all good reads and worth chuckling anytime one feels the weight of the years settling in on them.

Some whimsical poems here:

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Refection on Reflection

I often feel this way after some heavy reading, or hard periods of news activity. Frazzled, taut if you know what I mean. On edge. One fine day, a voice in the upturned cauldron piped up and said, “Look, I know you mean well, and all that, but the old brain is not quite suited for deep learning, heavy news and all that lark. We’d better leave all that to the algorithms, while we potter around in the sunny recesses of the spring garden. What? What do you think of that?” I took a serious look at the proposition, and nodded along enthusiastically. Everyone should do what’s best suited to them, right? So, I should .. eh..potter and totter, nourish and cherish, or perhaps enjoy refection on reflection.  

So, it was with a wholly energetic outlook that I went on to read several books to air the musty brain a bit.  P.G. Wodehouse – that unwavering rallier of spirits rallied like nobody’s business, and started off by soothing the sore spot at once:

The Pride of the Woosters is Wounded, By P.G.Wodehouse:

If there’s one thing I like, it’s a quiet life. I’m not one of those fellows who get all restless and depressed if things aren’t happening to them all the time. You can’t make it too placid for me. Give me regular meals, a good show with decent music every now and then, and one or two pals to totter round with, and I ask no more.

It was after I had revived after a spot of humor that I went in for a bit of magic. The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith. It is a lovely little collection of essays on Middle Earth. The courage of Hobbits, the lore of the Ents. As I started reading the little book on Magic, it made me realize why we love Lord of the Rings so much that it endures on a century later. The hobbits are lovable in a way that is easy to relate to. They lead us to the joys in a simple way of life.

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The Wisdom of the Shire

Hobbits like a good meal, think nothing of throwing in an energetic walk in the Shire, enjoy the companionship of fellow hobbits and are generous enough in their outlook. Some of the essays on the Hobbits were:

Eat like a Brandybuck, drink like a Took

Sleep like a Hobbit

It seems they know how to enjoy a magical do-nothing day as often as possible.

Incidentally, A Magical Do Nothing Day is a wonderful children’s book written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. The book practically tugged at me in the library. Some titles speak to your heart, and this was one of them.

A Magical Do Nothing Day. Swirl it around, and feel that sense of peace descend upon you. The book gently takes you on a slide down the mountains, a whirl among the leaves, a dip in the pond and the exquisite pleasure of touching a snail.

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For each of us, a Do-Nothing Day would be different. I am curious to hear what a Magical Do Nothing Day signifies for you. Please share your ideal version of a Do-Nothing day with me.

I had several Magical do-nothing moments recently. Moments  in which the children and I learnt to skip stones in a pond, or I stood mesmerized by a cherry blossom tree that looked like garlands on every branch. The beauty around us is ethereal, and that makes it all the more inviting to go and enjoy nature.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower – William Blake 

 

 

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.

When Humor Jumped In Neptune’s Pool

California has many things to offer: it is home to sprawling deserts, cold beaches, misty forests, rainy fogs, snowy stretches, marvelous lakes, fast flowing rivers, and so much more. It is one of the reasons why we had neglected the Hearst Castle in San Simeon California for this long. Every time some one asked us about Hearst Castle, we’d say, “Oh – yes! Must go” without conviction and move on. This time, however, we took the plunge and buoyed up in Paso Robles, California.

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Once in there, it is imperative that you follow your hosts’ instructions scrupulously, for the tour guides there do not put it past themselves to take a ruler and rap it across your knuckles if you don’t. One time, we found ourselves standing in the game room and the guide went on and on about the parties the rich man used to give there (Their guests used to play scrabble here, and then they would move across the hall, and play the uno cards there. Sometimes, they would think that chess might be a good idea, but thinking was hard….). Then, she stopped mid sentence, found my pinkie toe not on the carpet, and pulled me up in front of the whole tour. “Ma’am. Ma’am. I ask that you stand on the carpet.
To which I looked around to see who the rule-breaker was, and found there was no Ma’am in the general direction she was shouting at except me. I asked her, “Who? Me?”
Yes Ma’am. Please stay on the carpeted area.
“I am on the carpeted area.”
No ma’am. Your pinkie toe is out.
Sticklers for perfection the Hearst Castle folks.

When you go up to the Hearst Castle, you cannot but help noticing that the man, William Hearst, had nothing to do, had wealth with which he knew not what to do, and therefore he thought it a perfectly reasonable thing to build a castle that made Napolean Bonaparte, Julius Caeser and King Henry the VIII all squirm together in a co-ordinated pirouette in the nether world. As though the human built edifice wasn’t enough, he decided to introduce some zebras, llamas and mountain goats into a habitat that boasts natively of some squirrels and lizards.

If the tour guide is any reflection on the hospitality offered up at the home of old William Hearst, I should like to pass on the invite. We were all now made to stand in attention in the dining room where folks, I was enlightened by the tour guide, ate. I did not know this. So, I looked up.
Sometimes, they had potatoes for dinner, sometimes they had eggs, oatmeal…

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I must mention that this punishing tour was happening at an hour where breakfast is a memory and lunch a yearning.

The guide’s voice was one of those voices these sharp nurses who brook no nonsense have. To top that, she seemed to belong to the category of folks who swallow their sense of humor mistaking them for calcium tablets in their youth. Her jaw set, her face impassive, she went on and on like a steady drip into your veins.

I have always felt for these tour guides. I am not sure what draws them to the career in the first place. It must be a beautiful thing to proudly show the legacy of the place the first three hundred and two times. But the three-hundred and third time, must get somewhat repetitive what? And then, you have people who refuse to keep their pinkie toes on the carpet. Hard.

If you were a guest here at the castle, you would be given the place of honor the first night and sit right next to Marion Davies (his mistress), and then as more and more guests joined, you will be moved along the table. When you find yourself at the end, it is time for you to go.”, she went on in that flat dictaphone commanding her troops sort of voice.

I am sure that was a line inserted for humor. I could almost see Humor springing gay and carefree in that line, and then tripping on the carpet that all toes were supposed to be on, and falling nose first and splattering on the floor.

People shuddered at the implication, thankful that their pal William Hearst did not send them a personal invitation.

A giggler throughout, I was quite sure I would have myself thrown out of the hilltop if I did not behave, but I could not help thinking of P.G.Wodehouse’s quote:

“It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.”

P.G. Wodehouse, The Girl in Blue

I laughed and the husband yanked me to the back of the troupe, to save me from myself.

It was in fact, P.G.Wodehouse, who had put up that gag about being shoved off the table if you stayed too long.
Meals are in an enormous room, and are served at a long table, with [William Randolph] Hearst sitting in the middle on one side and [actress-mistress] Marion Davies in the middle on the other. The longer you are there, the further you get from the middle. I sat on Marion’s right the first night, then found myself being edged further and further away till I got to the extreme end, when I thought it time to leave. Another day, and I should have been feeding on the floor.”—Humorist P.G. Wodehouse, in a letter to a friend describing his visit to William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon, Feb. 25, 1931, quoted in The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes.

If only PGW knew how his good pal, Humor, jumped into Neptune’s pool to avoid further torture, he would have had a gag or two about it for sure. (Neptune pool is a monstrosity with *gulp* Roman columns surrounding a humongous pool, that was dry and was up for renovation because it drained some 5000 gallons of water, when the rest of the state was smacking their lips in thirst).

Do Not Hate In The Plural

This post of mine was published in The Hindu dated 15th June, titled Undistilled Wodehouse

I was reading a short story by P.G.Wodehouse on the train. These are the times when I most mistaken for a lunatic. My seat shudders with unconcealed mirth. I giggle, laugh and sometimes wipe away tears of laughter, while the world is going about the stern business of earning a living. He is one of my favorite authors, and after every few books that makes me mope around the world pondering on the wretchedness and seriousness of life, I turn to a P.G.W book to remind myself that tomfoolery is a virtue to be exalted and celebrated. His turn of phrase, his romping joy, is enough to set me straight.

When I read his autobiography ‘Over Seventy’ a few years ago, I could see that the septuagenarian viewed his own life pretty much the same way he came across in his writing: Sunny and delightful. In his own words, he simply lacked the life required for a gripping autobiography because one needs some level of suffering to bung into the thing. “My father was plain as rice pudding and everyone in school understood me perfectly.” he wrote.

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So, it must have been particularly jarring to the man when he was treated as badly in his own country.

P.G.Wodehouse had his head in books and led a sheltered life. Whether it was Blandings Castle, or Jeeves rescuing his young master, his thoughts were almost always occupied with love and the stirrings of the idiotic. P.G.Wodehouse, known as ‘Plum’ to his friends, had a villa in Le Touquet, France where he and his wife Ethel often stayed. Plum and his wife were unfortunately there, when German troops stormed France, and he was taken prisoner at the beginning of the Second World War.

The Germans released him after 42 weeks, when he was nearing 60 as they seldom kept foreign internees beyond the age of 60. Through an old Hollywood friend of his, they sought to use him to make humorous broadcasts about his internment, and he naively did so. His was a trusting nature completely devoid of malice of any kind, and incapable of seeing political propaganda. Though he suffered immensely during his internment – he lost around 60 pounds, and ‘looked like something the carrion crow had brought in’, he did not quite realize the extent of evil and genocide that was happening inside War-time Germany. He simply intended to let his readers know that he was alive and well.

That back-fired, however, and the author went from beloved to detested in his native United Kingdom. People were looking for a scape-goat and he fitted the bill perfectly. He sadly became his own Bertie Wooster with no Jeeves to help.

Sometime after the Second World War ended, P.G.W was goaded by a journalist asking him whether he hated the Germans for what they put him through. To which the author supposedly replied, elegantly smoking his pipe, ‘I do not hate in the plural’.

A truly astounding statement. It was this statement of ‘not hating in the plural‘ that I sought out to find when I read the books below, but I could find no reference to the actual statement.

 

What I found instead was a man who was not only the world’s funniest author, but also the most hard-working, shy, kind and gentle person, who so magnanimously shared the gift of his sunny mind with the world.

I read all five of his broadcasts in entirety and to my equally naive mind, there is nothing in there that can be seen as treason. It shows how war, and malice can take any inane thing and wring it out of shape and proportion. What is real and what is fake when power is involved?

The piece written by George Orwell defending P.G.W’s innocence is well worth reading:
Quote :
The article and the broadcasts dealt mainly with Wodehouse’s experiences in internment, but they did include a very few comments on the war. The following are fair samples:
“I never was interested in politics. I’m quite unable to work up any kind of belligerent feeling. Just as I’m about to feel belligerent about some country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any fighting thoughts or feelings.”

P.G.Wodehouse was finally knighted by the British Government in January 1975. He died the following month on 14th February 1975, aged 93.

I am immensely grateful to the dear author, even if that means the Prims & Propers of the world lift their eyebrows and look away uncomfortably when I laugh. I cannot say it better than Stephen Fry does on the personal influence of P.G.Wodehouse:
He taught me something about good nature. It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind.

 

A Jane Austen Education

 I like to draw relaxation from the joy in little things. The ability to stop and look at a flower or amble along with friends and family discussing the little matters of life that make up the notes of music as we hum along in our lives.

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The ability to feel like it is okay to not be driven by this high sense of purpose, but living a useful life all the same.

There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life. - Booker. T. Washington
There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life. – Booker. T. Washington

When people talk about good stories, they are usually pumped up about plot, drama and suspense. I am all for plot, drama, suspense, mystery, hot-cold love and so on. But our lives don’t always turn out that way, nor should it. That is why I recharge myself with writings of Miss Read, Jane Austen and P.G.Wodehouse. When I read these authors, I can assure myself that it is perfectly okay to lead lives that will not get a dramatist to reach for his recording device, but one that is joyful enough in its pursuits and activities to make it an interesting one.

Every time, I unwind with a Jane Austen movie, the nourish-n-cherish family rolls its eyes and flees the television area. Now that I think about it, it seems to be the only way for me to get some air time with the television. Hmmm (Evil laugh with gleam in eyes). But I hope one day to be able to get them to enjoy the movies with me.

I am reading ‘A Jane Austen Education’ by William Deresiewicz, that is essentially all the life lessons that her writings have for us to imbibe. Such a delightful book! There are some things that are clearly just the author’s perspective of applying her writing to his life. Not to mention that this book was written by a man, so it is only natural that his and my perspectives vary. 

The books starts with my favorite book of hers: Emma.

Little nuggets of writing like this spot the whole book and make me want to open it up at random and read again.

Jane Austen was about a year old when another English Author wrote a statement that could serve as a motto for all her books. “Life is a comedy for those who think”, said Horace Walpole,  “and a tragedy for those who feel.”. Everyone thinks and feels, but Jane Austen’s question was, which one you are going to put first? Comedies are stories with happy endings. I could grow up and find happiness, Austen was letting me know, but only if I was willing to give up something very important. Not my feelings, but my belief in my feelings, the conviction that they were always right.

Another one:

Being happy and feeling good about yourself are not the same thing.

A dictum that Mansfield Park reveals, that is as good today or even more apt today than any other day in the past.

Perpetual amusement leads only to the perpetual threat of boredom.

 I can tell you that it was truly a shocking revelation to me, that a recent study said we reach for our phone 221 times a day. (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/02/25/we-are-hopelessly-hooked/)

Imagine that. More than 200 moments in time when we could be observing (anything at all really) spent checking a digital device. Are we not just as guilty as the Crawfords in Mansfield Park for needing that kind of continuous stimulation? It is no wonder that Digital Addiction is a real thing  requiring treatment.

http://www.gq.com/story/video-game-rehab?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email

It reminds me of this article:

Anyone with any degree of mental toughness,” artist Georgia O’Keeffe wrote in contemplating life and the art of setting priorities, “ought to be able to exist without the things they like most for a few months at least.

A sobering thought indeed.

How is the Hot Water?

Things started off normally enough on our recent trip to Bishop CA: I had strained my neck, slept badly, refused to let the husband drive and rest the shoulder, and was playing with snow on the frozen lake. Though I could easily have iced the area, I did not. The children were throwing snow up in the air, and so was I, yelping like an puppy being beaten every time, but enjoying the snow all the same.

The husband looked at me being an obstinate ass, and decided to take things in hand. “Maybe it is time we went and had something hot to eat.”, he said and smartly frisked all the red-nosed snow saddled simperers into a log cabin that boasted of hot soups and sandwiches.

Things that usually happen in a restaurant happened. We asked for water-no-ice, deftly spilled a glass and mopped the contents, apologized to the table, asked for more napkins and settled down to eat.

I find this a bit trying while dining at restaurants, but waiters and waitresses come up to you during the meal, usually when you have slobbered a bit of sauce on yourself, or stuffed your left cheek to goading point, and ask you how the food is. Now really! Can you not see we are busy tucking in? Must you ask how the food is?

Well… the truth be told, in this particular case, it was horrendous. The pasta was not cooked enough, the vegetables were soggy and the olives did not really go with the sliced jalapeños and certainly not on pasta. Also, it was a bit much using the same condiments on the nachos (s.jalapeños & olives) in the pasta, and passing it off as vegetables in the pasta.

But …..

(a) The poor thing smiled in a rather disarming manner, that I hadn’t the heart to lay the truth out for her.

(b) It was hot food in a cold place and I could well appreciate the logistics of running a restaurant in such a place.

(c) She wasn’t the chef. What could she possibly do? She’d probably tell the chef the food was sub-par, and the chef, if he or she were a temperamental one like Anatole, would behave like a dish pot and spout steam at her.

Simply no point. So, I turned a regal eye upon her (my neck remember?),  and said it was good, in my best hauteur. I hoped that would send a message enough. But it didn’t, so I asked for a cup of hot water instead. She recoiled. All waitresses do when I ask for hot water. They simply don’t know what to make of this simple request. She looked at me questioningly, but my neck helped me with my aura, I stiffened the upper lip with the neck, and smiled curtly not backing down.

She bobbed up with the hot water in due course, and asked us how the food was. I simply could not answer. I was fighting pasta battles of my own.

Maybe that was the problem. She was back with us again. Within minutes. It seemed like every time I managed to turn the upper torso, there she was at our elbows asking how the food was. I mean – really! I was trying to cook the pasta in my mouth with the hot water.

“The hot water is wonderful! Can I have another glass?” I said. Catty? Perhaps.

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Just as an experiment, I must say what I really think and see what happens. I can already see the husband squirm uncomfortably, and make secret plans to move to another table.

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