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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in bentrovato's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
10:24 pm
song-writing
I received praise for the song I wrote for TJ and Leah last spring, "Marriage". I listened with delight to Joe Jencks, Pat Wictor, Greg Greenway and other singer-songwriters at SUUSI. I have conceived an ambition to write a song cycle about great life moments. I have the beginnings of a songs called "Commencement", "Depression" and "On the Wagon." Don't know if I can spin giving up drinking as a formal life milestone, but it's what I'm going through now and it's worth a song. Now, whenever I hear a song, I'm analyzing the songwriting, trying to pick up what makes it effective and what makes it fall short. I would like to complete the song cycle before next SUUSI.

Current Mood: artistic
Friday, June 12th, 2009
12:34 pm
Fleck and Diabate
I went to the Neighborhood Theatre last night to hear Bela Fleck on banjo and Toumani Diabate (from Mali) on kora. It was just the two of them - no drums, no singing. Each performer did a solo set and then they played together.

Bela gets an amazing amount of music out of the banjo. He was moving up and down the fretboard, using harmonics, and manipulating the tuning keys to slide from one pitch to the next. He achieved intensity in some impromptus, played a Bach transcription (one of the solo violin partitas?) to great effect, and took out a deep-voiced "cello-banjo" to play some Gambian tunes.

The kora was a revelation. Toumani explained that the player maintains a bass figure with his left thumb and a melody with his right thumb. The thumbs strike deep, resonant harp-strings. The two index fingers are used for improvisation. They strike strings with a brighter tone and higher pitch. The player can thus lull the listener and surprise him, lead him on a flight of fancy and return him back to ground. "It's a very spriritual music," he said, and I agreed.

Current Mood: calm
Monday, May 4th, 2009
6:57 pm
Blackberry Blossoms
The blackberry bush in the backyard is in its sophomore year this spring and seems to be flourishing. There are lots of buds on the arching canes and some already open white flowers with clusters of stamens. I read that we should tie it to a trellis to get the most out of it. Certainly I see that is true of the raspberry bush in the same garden bed. It has sent a shoot underground to emerge a few feet away - where the lawnmower might get it. No raspberry blossoms yet.

Something has moved me to take up violin practice again. I manage to do a little bit most days - often between five and six in the morning. The promising developments in the yard made me look up "Blackberry Blossom," a tune that I knew the name of without knowing the melody by heart. Something was just not clicking - I was going painfully slow and experiencing lots of tuning problems. Then one day I started whistling a tune to myself and realized that it was "Blackberry Blossom". Hearing it thus at normal speed I could understand the shape and flow of it. Playing it on the violin has since become a matter of closer and closer approximations to the ideal rather than groping towards the ideal. Another seasonally appropriate tune is "Sweets of May" - a dance popular in the county Armagh, the notes inform me. It's a swinging 6/8 as opposed to the brisk 4/4 of the other.

The other crop of interest is hops. Two of the three rhizomes I buried last year have survived to struggle upward. These I know need to be trained on wires. I'll get to that and hope to flavor my own beer this fall. I had a disastrous run of bad beers this winter. A small investment in a new bucket and spigot seems to have made a difference, however. The other lesson from recent experience is to allow sufficient time (six weeks at least) for conditioning in the bottle.

Hey, I'm back on the bike and running some, too. More about that on the next post, assuming I keep it up.

Current Mood: pleased
Monday, December 22nd, 2008
8:16 am
Caroling
This past weekend I took part in three performances of Christmas music and, corny as it sounds, I found the experience uplifting.

On Saturday night I went to a neighbor's party. Of the family members, only I and eleven-year-old Patrick were well enough to attend. He managed very well among neighbors and stangers a foot taller and several decades older than he. It was a sumptuous spread in a beautiful new house. I took the lad home after a while and returned with two tin whistles in my pocket. I had heard that there would be music after all the chit-chat. Turns out the host and at least two of his friends who were there have been playing together for years. This night there were guitars and an electric bass. They began by taking requests for Christmas songs from other guests. I gauged the informality of the proceedings and decided I could join in. I started tootling along on "The First Noel" and such. Pretty soon I was doing more singing than whistling, carrying the melody while others worked out the chords and embellishments. I had had just enough to drink that I felt confident but not sloppy. The performers were sitting in an arc, leaning in towards each other, but I turned outward and sang towards the other guests. There weren't more than a few people listening. Most of the party-goers just kept talking over the music. I sang well, I thought, and the instrumentalists were quick to pick up the songs.

The next day - Sunday afternoon - there was a family-oriented program at the church. It was a singalong of holiday songs with some extra activities and a story. I and two others met early to rehearse recorder accompaniment for some of the songs. We were unamplified, and therefore inaudible in all probability over the singing, but the boy who played trumpet had a nice, clear tone and showed everyone the way on the melody. I had brought the sopranino recorder, but had difficulty getting a consistent sound out of it. Lower notes often came out silent, and I had forgotten how to finger a lot of the higher ones. Good thing I brought my whistles, too. They served for following the tenor part an octave up. Patrick, who had teased me earlier in the afternoon about the ghastly squeaks I was making in practice, was gracious enough to compliment me and the other two on our versions of "Greensleeves" and "I Saw Three Ships".

A dozen adults with Sarah, Patrick, and another UU child in tow bundled up as best we could and walked across the street to the Cotswold shopping plaza to sing there. Not many people were out at 6:00 on a cold Sunday night - the last before Christmas. Those who passed by, however, heard good four-part harmony on the carols. John who sings tenor had brought his tuba. He kept us all in tune and together with his solid playing.
Saturday, December 13th, 2008
8:16 am
Thunder Road Marathon
In the hour before the 8:00 start of the race, I realized I had misplaced my tag and timing chip that identified me as an official runner. I decided to run without ID. The day was sunny and cold - just right, really. I maintained a steady, deliberately slow pace (9:45/mile) with ease. After a few miles I became aware of pain in my knee, which worsened as I went on. I dropped out between mile 7 and 8. Anabel and Nicolas were there to cheer on Jürgen and me and runners from the CMAA doing a half-marathon. They took me home where I changed and joined the rest of the family to greet Jürgen at the finish line. Greg, our other running friend, finished an hour later and made his way over to our house for pizza and beer. As long as I focused on the others' accomplishments I didn't feel my own discouragement so acutely.

We had an evening of music and poetry at the UUCC that night. A sub-group of the adult choir had prepared a few selections. I even had a solo in the Wassail song, which I delivered with all the gusto I could. Other musicians, including a Renaissance wind ensemble from the PUUC, and readers for the poems joined us. I had never heard these other contributions before the day of performance. As it unfolded in the darkened sanctuary, I was as captivated as any audience member. It did a lot to improve my mood.
Monday, December 8th, 2008
11:22 am
Nursing Secret Hopes
I began telling people last week that I was not going to do the marathon. My knee hurt for about forty eight hours after my long run on November 18. After that it only hurt when I ran again. I decided to give it a rest for a week before participating in the Turkey Trot. It stiffened up a little after that race (8 K in 42 min). I tried another week of rest (an easy prescription to follow) and went out again last last Friday the 5th, eight days before the marathon. I had to stop after a few miles because of the pain in my knee. After that I began to disengage mentally from the goal of running the marathon. Running buddy J. took my anguished cell phone call as I limped home and refused to reinforce my discouragement. Try ibuprofen, he said.

At an oyster roast (yum!) hosted by a neighbor last Saturday, I was about to tell my tale of woe to a neighbor who is also a runner. He completed the Turkey Trot in 36 min, and was full of enthusiasm for running of any kind. He invited me to run with him the next morning and I was too pleased to be asked to say no.

Long story short - I ran with him and then five miles on my own today, both times dosing myself with anti-inflammatory drugs beforehand. I feel good! Maybe a fool's paradise, but it's enough to get me to the starting line, I think.

Current Mood: hopeful
Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
7:42 am
M-Day minus 17
In a little over two weeks I'll be at the starting line for the Thunder Road Marathon. I've done a lot to get ready; whether it was enough time will tell. By the end of my last long run (18 mi.) I was feeling a good deal of knee pain. It has stayed with me these past ten days, constantly at first then only when I run again. The last thing I need at this late date is to be sidelined by injury.

I read about knee injuries in Garrick and Radetsky, Anybody's Sports Medicine Book (Ten Speed Press, 1999). The authors prescribe exercise to strenghthen the vastus medialis, which stabilizes the knee. They also advise refraining from the activity that gives one knee pain for the two to three weeks that the exercise program needs to have an effect.
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008
10:40 am
22K
Long run this morning - twenty two kilometers, or one half mile more than a half marathon. This is the farthest I've ever run in my life, and I completed it in 2:08, faster than I did the half marathon last year. I felt pretty good on this beautiful, temperate morning and completed the distance without stopping. (See my chart.) Woo-hoo! I felt so good I had a mid-morning homebrew to replace lost electrolytes.

Current Mood: pleased
Monday, September 8th, 2008
9:26 am
Extrapolation
Ran 10K over the weekend and again this morning. Not quite so fast a pace as in my shorter runs in the Newtons, but much faster than before. These last two runs extrapolate to a marathon time of just under four hours, but extrapolation is not the same as achievement. I'll try a 15K this weekend when I'm in Durham and see if I can maintain the pace. I love running on the 5K path around the Duke golf course - it's a shady trail and soft underfoot. I'm already calculating how I could make 20K out of the 2, 3.5, and 5 kilometer loops in my neighborhood. I'll try something like that in late September, early October.

I haven't actually registered for the half-marathon or full marathon yet. For one thing, I wanted to be sure or at least reasonably confident that I could do it. I'm ready now to bet the amount of the registration fee that I'll be ready to line up come December. The other hurdle I want to get over is the cancer screening, which takes place tomorrow. It's my fourth since the operation. So far, so good, but it's only prudent to put off some plans until my six-month lease on life is renewed.
Friday, September 5th, 2008
5:45 pm
Running again
I went running yesterday and today after a week off. Oh, it was glorious. I didn't know how much I would miss the almost daily runs. The weather's a little cooler now and best of all I have new shoes! The Newtons have given wings to my feet.

I had given myself a rest because of some pain on my inside lower leg - next to the left shinbone near the ankle. It had come up suddenly and proven too intense for running last week. It subsided slowly over the week - I felt it especially as I went up and down stairs. This inflamed tendon or whatever it is has yielded to ibuprofen and ice (my wife's recommendation). I took a couple of pills forty five minutes before heading out this morning and then strapped a bag of ice to the leg for twenty minutes afterwards. It's worked like a charm so far. Yesterday I only took the pills and felt no trouble during the run but did feel sore all the remaining day.

I ran 5K yesterday and seven today, keeping up the same personal best pace. I was up to eight- or nine-kilometer base runs and then a 15K on weekends before my setback. I think I'll build back up to that within a week.

I've been tracking my runs since June 11 when I decided to start training for the Thunder Road Marathon. I posted it all to a public Google document, so I can see my progress.

The tables and charts show a slowing down of my pace as the mileage has increased. I had started with the goal of nine-minute miles for the marathon - or 5.58 min/km as I have decided to measure it. In early July I changed my style of running and after that I struggled to maintain ten minute miles - 6.2 min/km. The slowdown came after switching to forefoot striking, as opposed to heel striking with a roll to the forefoot. I adopted this new style because I thought it would ease the stress on my hips and knees, which have proved problem areas in the past. Whether because of this change or not, I have felt almost no discomfort in the joints. After a couple of weeks when my calves just burned, landing on the ball of my foot and springing off began to feel more natural. I added some gel insoles to my old running shoes because they offered too little padding in front. Those shoes were a year old, however. Switching to new shoes designed for my new style of running has given me a big lift. I was worried for a few days that sparing myself one type of injury had only led to another. Maybe my body couldn't take the running no matter how I went about it. This may yet prove to be the case. Who knows? But for now I feel ready to resume the great climb towards marathon readiness.

Current Mood: excited
Monday, June 30th, 2008
11:59 pm
Last full day in Germany
Jürgen and I went on a special trip back to Göttingen. Barbara had invited us to see some of the rare books in the university's collection of materials on the Americas. We took the train down, spent a little over two hours with her, had a döner, and went back. She told us about her work in European descriptions of the Iroquois and then led us to the reading room. (J and I had to surrender our passports in exchange for temporary ID's we could use at the library's electronic gates.) We saw books in Latin, French, German, and English. We spent a lot of time looking at illustrations in De Bry's America. We leafed through Hakluyt's anthology, Lafitau on the Iroquois and an early captivity narrative. Wow! These were beautiful examples of the printer's craft. They captured a little of the experience of hearing about America when it was new.

On our last afternoon in Germany we drove to the ruined castle of Plesse. A plaque there noted that Goethe visited there in 1801 - doubtless for the same reason as we: to soak up the romantic atmosphere. We were there in the late afternoon, surveying the long valley before us, the ridge to the west across from us, and the thickly forested hillside behind us. We squinted at the trucks on the highway to judge whether a passing caravan of traders would have been visible and imagined means of defense and attack of the castle. Anabel and I had an interesting talk about overcoming the antipathy towards studying war. Regardless of its folly, it is another window on the human soul, which is the great subject. Not to mention the watershed effect of certain wars on the development of societies. This subject came up as we walked toward a playground near the castle. Simon and I and the three younger children played for a long time - first balancing on fallen tree trunks and duelling with sticks and then making castles in the sandbox.

For me, one highlight of our last meal together was trying some different beer. We had been drinking mostly Einbeck lager and some of their excellent bock. I had also enjoyed Hasseröder Pils at one stop. This night, J and I picked up a sampling of beer at the supermarket, the best of which was Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel - made in a Bavarian monastery and worth a pilgrimage.
Sunday, June 29th, 2008
11:59 pm
Göttingen
We drove today to Göttingen to visit Jürgen's sister and her family. Before leaving we went to the cemetery in Northeim where Oma is buried. I was glad to pay my respects to her, brave and generous woman that she was. Her grave is decorated with rocks to commemorate her travels and with moss, the tiny white flowers of which open in sunlight. The cemetery itself was extraordinary - a real gathering place on a sunny Sunday. It was well tended and each plot had enough room around it to give families the opportunity to individualize the markers and grounds. There were wide gravel paths so one didn't have to step on others' memorials to get anywhere. I noticed a few names on headstones that I had seen in the names of stores in town. Most of the graves were from the last twenty or thirty years. Here lay, no doubt, the informants for William Allen's community study of Northeim, The Nazi Seizure of Power. I had read the first half of the book, which describes how the NSDAP came to power in Northeim. The people here born in the 1890s, veterans of the Great War, participated in those events. Allen said the acquiescence of the middle class was essential to the rise of the Nazis. The bourgeoisie lost faith in democracy. They feared the socialists more than they loved liberty and were trapped once the ultra-nationalists took over. The next generation - born in this century - would pay the price for serving the state thus formed.

As a special favor, Simon took me to Göttingen in his little two-seater, a FIAT convertible. We drove on the Autobahn, reaching speeds of 200km/hr. Signs zip by pretty quickly and the wind roars in one's ears at that speed. The driver needs to look far ahead in order to have time to react. I took care not to distract him on those parts of the drive.

We spent the afternoon with Jürgen's sister, Barbara, who is an assistant professor at the Georg-August Universität Göttingen. She and her husband and her two children made us feel welcome. Andreas amazed us with apparently serious talk of participating in an ultra-ultra marathon that starts in Death Valley and ends 130 miles away, atop Mt. Whitney (elev 8360 ft.) If he really does it, I want to be there to shake his hand.

Barbara made us goulash that was so good we didn't mind having it again so soon. While we ate the children played outside. (Children view meals as refueling stops, not as events to enjoy in themselves.) At one point Patrick let out a cry and I found him on the ground with another child sitting on him. He had let the play go to the point where he was actually hurt. He withdrew from the group for a while. Later I saw he enjoyed the company of Barbara's daughter. She's a bright girl, just about his size. The children made up their differences quickly and chased pigeons amiably together in town later in the day.

Barbara began our walking tour of the university and town in the Botanical Gardens. I was especially touched that she went out of her way to pay attention to Sarah. As the oldest child she often withdrew from the activities of the other children and did not join the adults. The goal of our walk was the St. Jacobi-Kirche, where we climbed up, up, up the ladder-like stairs of the bell tower. The view from the top was marvelous. All the Germans in our group had lived for some part of their lives in Göttingen, so they pointed out many places of personal or historical significance. The descent was considerably more challenging, and I found myself thinking, as I had at the mines, "This would never be allowed in the USA." Oh well, our good luck to experience it here. Back to the house for cherry pie and then back to Northeim (Autobahn again!) for the big game: Germany-Spain for the European championship.

As things turned out, it was good not to have seen the match at a public viewing place. Observing Fußball Fieber was fun, but observing without sharing in the dejection of defeat would have seemed like an intrusion. Viewing it in una casa dividida was not as tense as I feared. Yes, Alfredo and Merche cheered inversely from everyone else. Anabel tried to make peace in the first half, but then was cheering for Germany in the second. Jürgen and Simon analyzed and cheered and had to admit that Spain was the better team, though they complained about a foul missed by the umpire on Spain's striker on the play leading to the game's only goal.
Saturday, June 28th, 2008
11:59 pm
Saturday in Northeim
We decided it would be a day of local exploration. It was a market day, and another day of pleasant weather, so lots of people were out. We walked, pausing at a school playground, crossing into town through the park where the old moat used to be. The moms and daughters did some shopping (they discovered a € 1 store!)The boys were kicking a soccer ball back and forth on the village green. Before long two other boys had joined them. I was called in to the history museum, and when I came back Jürgen and another adult were in goal. The fun really grew when two more boys joined the game. I was in goal for a while and even in the field passing and playing defense ineffectually.



We reunited at a sidewalk ice cream place. The service was efficient and not overly solicitous. In addition, customers could stay a long time at the tables, just watching and talking. Anabel saw people she knew - most from her parents' generation rather than her own. The children named the dishes they wanted in perfectly good German. Patrick even went up to ask and pay for an additional scoop.



The moms and kids went home after that and Jürgen and I went in search of a place that sold döner. It was a short search with a satisfactory outcome. I finished every crumb of the toasted bread, every speck of meat, shred of vegetable, and drop of sauce. "Ihr krieget keine döner mehr!" the Turkish fans had chanted at the semifinals, or so Jürgen had heard, but I'm glad to say all was forgiven. I'm also glad to say my basic German has been good enough for everyday exchanges.

In the afternoon, the weather continuing fine, we drove a short way into the forest and hiked to a place where the drainage from a farmer's reservoir ran down a half-pipe and turned a small water-wheel. The children waded in and began damming and channelling the stream. J and I had come prepared to run, so we stretched and set off once again through the forest - 11K by his estimation. Even though we began at 6:00, the sun was still high and made running on the open farm roads uncomfortably hot. I had to take a few short walking breaks to bring myself back below the anaerobic threshhold. We arrived home to find Simon making lasagne and the children just out of the bath.



We enjoyed the best night of a wonderful trip on this day. To begin with, Simon's lasagne were fantastic - one meat, one spinach with pine nuts. At my request, Alfredo brought up some red wine - Chianti Classico - and we sat outside on the back porch. The conversation flowed as ever in three languages with plenty of laughter. Before the dishes were cleared someone brought down an old steel-string guitar from the upstairs hall, where it had been leaning in a corner. It was hard to tune and play, but serviceable for a sing-along. Simon had the bright idea of looking up the words on a wireless laptop. Lyrics on the computer screen proved a great help. He even found versions with chords indicated for guitarists. Carol made a video of us singing "Pharoah, Pharoah" - one of several songs in the early going in which the kids participated too. We kept going until darkness fell - 11:00 or so. I played some and sang a lot. The laptop kept the party from running out of gas. We sang "Bésame Mucho" and got to hear Merche's voice.
Friday, June 27th, 2008
10:00 pm
In Northeim
A long train ride yesterday, made more bearable by hangman, checkers, and Chinese checkers. (The train topped 200 km/h in some stretches.) Since arriving yesterday we have had twenty four plus hours of multilingual fun with our friends the B-- family. We are in Opa's house with his new wife who speaks only Spanish. Also here are Simon and "the princess", aka Christine, who speaks excellent English and German but no Spanish. Carol and I get by with some difficulty in German and Spanish, and A + J, of course, are fluent in all three. The kids have fun in English, with Nicolas translating from German as the need arises.



The first afternoon we came home and stood in the garden. The cherries on the tree were ripe, the weather was warm and sunny, and soon tea, coffee, and cake appeared. We chatted amiably, starting in one language, translating to another, and sometimes staying in the second language to finish the story. The wives and girlfriends went to make dinner (the men's turns would come later in the week). The dads and boys sat down to watch Spain v Russia in the evening (Spain 3-0, what a yawner!). At each Spanish goal the spectators - Patrick and Nick among them - shouted "Goal" then danced out to the back porch to shout it into the night air.

We woke up at 8:00 this morning and let the children sleep a little longer. Nicolas and I walked to the bakery to make sure we had enough croissants. He gave me a little tour of the city, complete with wildlife facts and local lore!

After breakfast, we drove in the rented van to Goslar, where there is an old imperial palace (Kaiserpfalz) and a nearby mine with a famous water-wheel. The drive out was glorious through the birch and pine forests of the Harz mountains. We started first with the mine. The tour wasn't well suited to us. The guide rattled off a lot of numbers and dates and technical explanations in monotone German. I wished for something more kid-friendly and for some more elements of human interest in the presentation. The mine works were indeed impressive and the underground environment had plenty of mysterious sounds, textures, and streaks of color. Sarah held on to me the almost the whole time and Patrick stayed close to Carol. Sarah confided to me that she would write something about the experience. I thought she meant to incorporate an underground setting in some fantasy story, but she described her projected work as a "thesis" that would be "an eye-opener."

We had lunch in the snack bar attached to the mine. Patrick distinguished himself by taking an empty glass back to the cafeteria and saying "Leitungswasser, bitte." We spent the sunny afternoon wandering around the town of Goslar. As an imperial base around the turn of the 19th century, it must have attracted a lot of investment. I don't know what keeps it going today besides tourism, but it's a neat and pretty town. Nick spotted brook trout in the stream that runs through the center of it. Carol and I got a quick look inside the Kaiserpfalz - the imperial summer home that was restored in 1870 after a six-hundred-year hiatus. (Lots of historical paintings meant to establish continuity between the old regime and the new.) The children played (and Sarah wrote, we heard) on the big sloping lawn in front while we were inside. Back in the van and home to goulash. J. set it running and then led me on an 8K run up into the forest and back. Nice shady path most of the way.


Thursday, June 26th, 2008
7:40 am
Basel Zoo, Euro2008 semifinal
Binningen

What a day we had yesterday! (June 25) We spent four hours at the zoo, relaxed in the afternoon, then visited the fan zone in the center of town, ate dinner, and watched a super-thrilling soccer game on a big screen with thousands of fans. The weather was clear and sunny with a little breeze - perfect for outdoor activities.

The children enjoyed the zoo very much. They took photos of the animals and made plenty of videos - mostly of the animals. Sarah was the videographer. I made a few just so we would have a record of the family's visit.

We returned from the zoo in the early afternoon. Carol and Sarah stayed home to nap and chill out. Patrick and I went with Thomas to the club for bank employees. We took advantage of the beautiful warm day to splash in the pool. Patrick and I heard kids speaking in American-accented English, but he chose to stay with me the whole time. Again I was reminded of Gávea, this time by the square centimeters of olive or pink skin exposed above waistlines.

As a host city for the UEFA Euro2008 Basel closed off a portion of its center city to auto traffic. The "Fan Zone" thus formed was thronged with people - mostly Germans. ("The German invasion has begun," Thomas reported the local radio saying.) They wore team jerseys, painted their faces, draped themselves with flags, chanted and sang. The chants were more different from each other than the songs, which everyone knew. Turkish supporters were there too, thought they didn't chant or sing. We ate dinner within sight of the Rhine and saw and heard German fans jumping off the old bridge into the fast-flowing water.

The game was an emotional roller-coaster. Final score: Germany 3, Turkey 2. No bloodshed. Some of the chants and songs that I couldn't understand may have been worse, but the most racist display I saw were white letters cut and pasted on the first two stripes of the schwarz, rot, + gold: ABENDLAND. Mostly I saw thousands of young Germans proud to be German.
Wednesday, June 25th, 2008
6:09 am
Egerkingen, Solothurn, Binningen
Yesterday we spent a full and rewarding day with Thomas, even though we were battling fatigue most of the time. Sarah especially felt the effects of a short and uncomfortable night's sleep. Patrick was energized by the surroundings. I kept nodding off whenever I sat down in Thomas's car. Carol somehow stayed fresh as a daisy.

We did a lot of driving with Thomas. He met us at the airport and drove us back to his apartment in Binningen in the area of Basel. We all took naps then ate ham and cheese on croissants (a staple of our trip, it would turn out) with Early Grey tea before piling into the car again for the drive to Egerkingen.

Egerkingen is a compact village nestled between foothills of the Alps, just like many of its kind that we saw from the plane coming in. We parked, not knowing what to expect from the place from which Carol's grandmother's grandfather Von Arx had emigrated. We walked first to the church - under restoration at the moment by Metalbau Von Arx. Thomas communicated ably with the workers, who assured us it was open. The church of St. Martin is a Catholic church halfway up a hill overlooking the town. A plaque on the outside informs visitors that it was restored in 1981-82. Stepping inside was breathtaking. All the gilt was shiny, the colors vibrant. The architecture was plain - white walls, no Gothic arches, no stained glass, but the decorative elements were so vivid that I didn't mind the lack of grandeur.

As we left the church we met a man named von Rohr, I believe. His was the other dominant name in Egerkingen besided von Arx. He spoke with the big, round vowels of the Swiss. He talked over to the parsonage and brought out the Pfarrer, who told us some of the history of the place. He had come from elsewhere - Romania - and so I understood him more easily. He said that the church was on the site of a ancient fortification, from which Romans could spy Germans approaching by river. Patrick imagined further strategic implications of an elevated stronghold. The priest let him feed the goldfish in his pond and gave both the children gummi bears.

We had a midafternoon snack in the Gasthof von Arx - completely deserted, staff nonplussed. Driving further that afternoon we came to Solothurn, the capital of the canton of the same name. It was a bigger city with a cathedral and a cobblestoned old center that was mostly for pedestrians. The cathedral (St. Ursus and St. Victor) was larger but not as charming as the other. Thomas had earlier suggested that we could enjoy a slice of chocolate cake. "Cathedral first, then cake," said Patrick, impressing everyone with his avidity for history.

When we got home (Note that word - "home". Having a "home" in a strange place makes all the difference in family travel, I think.) about 6:00 PM, Sarah and Patrick both went straight to bed. We were confident that they were down for the night, so went out for dinner with Thomas to the country club maintained by the bank where he works. It has no golf course, but otherwise reminded me of Gávea. The mixture of ages, the way everyone knew everyone else, the variety of languages spoken, the quiet relaxation of a summer evening.
Tuesday, June 24th, 2008
12:03 pm
Arrival in Basel via Frankfurt
Difficulty sleeping in cramped seats - at least the night was short. Movie selections Pocahontas and The Golden Compass helped the children pass the time. Alas, the dinner choices were not so well received. Patrick scraped the sauce off his chicken and Sarah ate two rolls and cake.

We had a bite to eat in the Frankfurt airport. I gave two twenties to the agent at the moneychanging kiosk. After fees and disadvantageous rates I got back 20 Euros and change. After buying breakfast for four I had only coins left. I could get angry about the quick evaporation of $40.00, but it hardly felt like spending to hand over the little Euro bills.
Monday, June 23rd, 2008
6:30 pm
Off to Europe for a week!
Got to the airport in plenty of time. We saw three birds perching on the replica of the Wright brothers' glider in the Charlotte-Douglas lobby. Sarah and Patrick in good moods, pleased at all the new things around them and at the prospect of travel. Carol is pleased that no disruptions of the plans have occurred yet. She read my mind as we passed a shoeshine stand in the airport and urged me to stop there and rejoin the family at the gate later. I felt great afterwards, walking with a spring in my step, really. Strange how a little thing can lift one's mood. I'd been worried that my German wouldn't be good enough to get by, but I'll just flash my shiny shoes to get respect.
Thursday, February 28th, 2008
11:11 pm
Musical Highlights
Several great musical events lately. In January I attended Aïda, performed by Opera Carolina. We went to the opera with J. and A., enjoying dinner with them first. I also heard the Charlotte Symphony perform the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony on Feb 9 and then Srauss's Don Quixote on Feb 22. Tonight I have just got back from a performance of Handel's oratorio, Saul. I attended the Symphony because W. - my father-in-law - was interested in going and I was giving him a ride and some company.

It's been such a treat to hear these works, though. I have been surprised at how much I enjoy the long symphonic works. We had seats right down in front at extreme house right so I could really see how the musicians took direction and played their instruments. Themes emerged from different parts of the orchestra and so had distinct physical embodiments as I heard them. The Shostakovich had some lovely soft yet intense playing in the middle movements and a triumphant finale. (I don't care if Stalin liked it, too. It transcends its origins.) Don Quixote featured Lynn Harrell on the cello. He captured the character of the hero in his playing (and in his facial expressions). I loved the orchestral effects - dripping rain, bleating sheep, a storm at sea - that accompanied the story. Saul tonight was a little over-long and repetitious, but the last Act had great emotional intensity and an amazing series of fugues at the end for the chorus. The soloists made me tingle with pleasure, especially the soprano, Amanda Forsythe, who trilled and warbled but remained comprehensible and in character. I found it harder to appreciate the music's transcendance of its origins in this case because of the disagreeable Old Testament story. At its core, however, there is wisdom about jealousy destroying what love created (sounds like Winter's Tale) even if there are also unexamined ideas about divine sanction of bloodshed.

Oh, and also, the whole family went to see the Shakespeare Company of New Jersey (Seven energetic young actors) perform A Midsummer Night's Dream Feb 8 and laughed until tears came down. The children too! They couldn't get over it. We took them to see U2 3D last weekend, which was not such a life-changing experience for them, though it hit all the right buttons for me and the missus.

Current Mood: happy
Tuesday, November 6th, 2007
5:39 am
What I saw in Mountain View
Visit to Google campus - Thanks to a family connection :) I and a colleague from the PLCMC received a tour of Google's Mountain View, CA campus on Thursday, November 1. A big thank-you to my sister, who works there and set up the tour for two out-of-town librarians. We were there when a bigwig guest came in and said, "I've heard about all the good work you do." to her. I was impressed.

A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania led the three of us. He did the job ably. He has evidently absorbed a lot of company lore and values in his time there. He had a story to tell or an illustrative point to make at We learned a lot about the corporate culture. To an outsider, the most striking thing is the air of relaxation, even whimsy. People were in casual clothes, the buildings had few doors, plenty of couches, snack bars and pool tables; the quads featured a bronze t. rex, some Earthboxes demonstrating water-efficient gardening, and some preparations for some other kind of display that was going up while we were there. In the lobbies among many other things were large whiteboards filled with random thoughts and drawings and a big screen demonstrating the graphs in motion ofTrendalyzer software that I had heard about at the Internet Librarian convention the previous day. All food was free, even to visitors. It was like an ideal world for smart teens - hang out with your friends, enjoy ma's cooking, build some cool stuff. The only exceptions to the teen-dream set-up were the absence of music and the absence of any rock band posters or pin-ups. Such items as these, I think, would be too great an assertion of individual preferences in an environment that provides all possible support for group work. Not to mention that things pointing outside Google would distract from the work that was assuredly going on.
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