Monday, May 30, 2011

With Reference to Yorkshire

Winifred Holtby, South Riding, Ilkley Moor, James Herriott, Virginia Woolf, The Princess Casamassima, the Kindle device

Discipline, I tell myself, is called for.  With a memory that works by free association, I find myself prompted by another blogger’s essay on Cromer, and its geology, to recall Girl Scout camp and singing “On Ilkley Moor bah t’at” to look up pictures of the real place and thus to recognize a reference to local dialect in the occasional use by Winifred Holtby of the “t’” in the speech of rural men, and so to wonder whether “All Creatures Great and Small” had been filmed, outdoors, in Yorkshire (it was).   And Henry James had gotten into the mix because recalling a bit of Hamlin Garland from school, I had gone back and finally read A Son of the Middle Border and gotten Henry James’ letters to William Dean Howells, who had encouraged Garland, which made me remember how I had loved The Princess Casamassima half a century ago.  Besides, Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, had promptly supplied a copy of Holtby’s biography of Virginia Woolf.  I think VW must have been scared silly by the idea of this younger and more literal writer doing a biography of her (it would account for her mixture of sarcasm and fair-mindedness  towards Holtby, who, at that, did fare better than Katherine Mansfield in VW’s letters and diaries, and, in my opinion, deservedly).  VW would really be scared, and angry, I think, if she had to see some of the posthumous studies and biographies.  Holtby alone published in V. Woolf’s lifetime, and, what’s more, she’s good—and not only because she can’t talk about, couldn’t guess about, Woolf’s death.  What she did know was The Waves, which Woolf sent to her pre-publication, and she grasped it all by herself; if she didn’t like the italicized sea scenes, unless as prose poems apart, well, neither do I. 

It is all because of the Kindle device and my love of literature even older than I am.  We old things are cheap or even free of charge.  The blogs allow me to write with no thought of selling, and the Kindle gives me a very choice library that only looks oddly assorted, because it is all my own, though I’m constantly reading several things at once.  Retirement gives me the leisure to look up the etymology of anything that takes my fancy and answer the question, why real Yorkshire has only three Ridings.  The OED obliges: the word, in the Domesday Book, is treding, and it means a third.  Not to mention making the acquaintance of the Cow and the Calf on the real Ilkley Moor.

A friend just wrote asking me whether she should really read The Princess Casamassima, and, since she is an excellent reader and this is the most readable Henry James you’ll ever find,  I do recommend it, to her and to all true readers.  This is no Daisy Miller or Wings of the Dove, which, of course, are great, but even if you think that you don’t like Henry James you will very probably love The Princess Casamassima.  And even if you didn’t like the recent BBC version of Holtby’s South Riding, which was too telescoped into three episodes, which was photographed with relentless use of darkness and side-lighting (I think that must be cheaper?), which lost all the literary character and much of the nuance of the book and was so chopped up that you needed to read the book along with it just to follow it and remember who was who in the story (not that you could tell in the dark, either), you should read Holtby’s novel, too.  She is a wonderful writer, and she is describing her own world, with neither sentimentality nor condescension.

P.S. It is true: I still haven’t read Wuthering Heights.  But first I’ll finish some of what I have begun.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The accidental triad, put to use

On May 5 I posted a snapshot of three short logs that some neighbors had put out with the trash.
Reminded that, despite my age, I could move them if I simply rolled them, I did so:
Rolled onto my parking pad
And a younger friend, Amber, moved them for me; perhaps Buster the Cat could, like the Three Bears in the Goldilocks story, eat from them.  The next afternoon, just one week ago, I saw him curled up asleep on the largest one, but he moved when he saw the camera: it flashes.
Triad of logs positioned beside the deck
I thought that if I put out cat food there he would discover it.  Since he patrols his territory very thoroughly, I'm sure he did, but he wasn't the only one.  Does everyone know that birds love cat kibble?

Cat food put on the logs never lasts more than a couple of hours.

And it isn't only blue jays and crows; smaller birds come, too.  On my front porch I saw the pair of cardinals calmly consuming Purina Cat Chow–and they have little grosbeaks for cracking nuts.
I never am quick enough with my camera.  The closest I came was in trying to photograph one of the grey squirrels, but just as I raised the viewer to my eye he was up on the shelf afforded him by my neighbor's privacy fence.
Four feet above the logs, the squirrel (I made the inset to help you see him)
Click on the pictures to zoom them.
This post is for my friend Nina, who immediately also saw the logs as an aniconic triad and liked them.  She has been ill, and I hope she'll be better soon.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Perhaps Final Flooding Report

In bright sunlight, the Vatican statue of the Nile River, with all his little cubits.  Our own Old Man Mississippi cubits also are looking as tame as these restored ones.  It doesn't matter that the sculpture is not easy to study in such a photo as this, since it is so heavily restored.
Actually, it is nice to report that the Mississippi flood looks like being successfully managed, though it would be foolish to assume that a saturated levee can be trusted to hold firm for another couple of weeks. So far as I know, only parts of Vicksburg down here are actually flooded.  I waited this evening till the 10pm news was complete and can report that some folks are taking crawfish wild, that some farmers, owing to heat and drought, were able to harvest Spring wheat before the fields were inundated and hope, if the waters recede and evaporate quickly enough, to plant another crop or two.  Between assiduous work on the levees built after the 1927 flood, and the judicious use of the spillways, and the thirst of the drought-dry Atchafalaya basin, this flood may have been managed—though who am I to say, a Californian from away back?  Anyhow, the local TV stations no longer seem very anxious about it.  There remain the towns nearer the gulf, but already the crest measurements have been reduced in their forecast, and that is great.  Anyhow, we'll be watching our little cubits.  I understand that one can get a good view looking west over the basin from the top of our State Capitol, climbing and driving on the levees being forbidden, but, hey, it's too darned HOT.
I don't say that there won't be loss and damage, but nothing like the chaos that was Katrina.  I almost am afraid to believe that all will be, if not well, not so bad down by Morgan City.  And I'll be interested to see what this will have done to the salt and fresh water balance down there.
That the flood event is a real and serious one is plain from the frightening speed of the current.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Updating the River

02 III 00  AE28  Nicopolis ad Istrum.  Commodus / River God.  Obv. AVT KAI MAR AVRE KOMODOS (in Greek); Rev. NEIKOPO PROS IST [H]EGEMO KAIKI SERVEILIA (his full name was Servilianus).  Pick p. 352, no. 1235, pl. XVII, 31.  Pick, p. 350, says that the large coins of Commodus are of quite exceptionally bad style and seem all attributable to the same die cutter.
Fully developed river gods meant as Father Danube / Ister are relaxed and comfortable, even idyllic in appearance, but this one of Commodus is not.  I've had this image in my files for more than a decade, and here is a chance to use it, to head this thread.  No one seems to talk about the Danube delta with its many tributaries, though surely (together with the Tigris & Euphrates, the Nile not having the same sort of tributaries) it is the Great River most comparable to North America's, if I may judge from from its vast delta of wetlands as seen from the air.  I don't know very well how the Amazon works.
So here is a heading for this post, and as soon as they decide how much of the Morganza Spillway to open, to divert water to the Atchafalaya basin, when its force becomes too great for the modern channel, I'll finish this posting.  Note the Native American name, from the language of one of the peoples who lived off the swamps before the relatively modern European Americans (not only Anglos and Acadiens but also Spanish and German and lots of Irish) made it their home.  And, for that matter, the main channel of the great river in geologically recent times was still in that basin, but that was a long time ago in the minds of present-day Louisianans.
Just after midnight, now May 14, Chicago Time
Well, they are going to open that Morganza Spillway that I'd barely heard of until this week.  Let me first correct the impression given above: The Morganza Floodway is parallel to and to the east of the Atchafalaya Basin.  See
I was right that it had never been opened in the 30 years that I've lived here.  Even though the land that will be flooded is owned as a floodway, and is only used otherwise with that understanding, as with certain lands below old earthen dams on the Sacramento River in California, no one wants either to destroy crops or to displace families that have lived on the land for generations, unless it is necessary.
Consider, though, up in Pointe Coupee Parish parts of the old town of St. Francisville, just to name one, are already flooded (Morganza is just up river from it).  Notice, too, all the worm-shaped water thereabouts which are, literally, pieces of the Mississippi, left behind when it shifted to its present course (no, Man didn't make it do that; we think that the river has shifted more than once in the last few thousand years).  The Morganza Floodway will carry water where the river has at times been before.
But Industry, chemical and specifically petroleum, is not just something to yell at, as if it were the Viet Nam War.  Louisiana is no place for five million population were it left as the Native Americans enjoyed it.  The New Bridge, the one over I-10, was built high so that it needn't be opened for ships, but just yesterday, Reuters said, a ship (registered in Baikal!) had to turn back, because the River was already so high that clearance was insufficient.  And, it was bruited about, the Exxon-Mobil plant was already flooded today, at least enough that it couldn't operate, enough that liquid cargo (you know what) couldn't be unloaded.
I honestly don't think that my neighborhood will be flooded; it IS a little higher than some others, but I'm just as glad that opening as many gates as necessary in the Morganza Spillway will bring down our crest, estimated to be on the 22nd of May, by a couple of feet.  I'm sure that the University and the refineries and Dow Chemical and BASF, et al., are just as glad, too.
Already US 61 up by Tallulah is closed and a number of other highways; even parts of the Interstate are expected to be awash.
I confess that the Mississippi fascinates me.  Not because of its might so much (look how it meanders for much of its length) as how it gathers so many Waters together.  When I came here, I was consoled for the absence of mountains by the presence of the great river.  When I was little, there was a black-and-white movie, a biopic, about Mark Twain.  When I was in university, I was taught to understand the history of Europe as the history of its rivers.  And so on.
It isn't simply the height of the water, it's the mass of it this year.
When I lived in Oregon, they said that it only snowed in the mountains--and then one year I had 35 inches of the stuff on my ticky-tacky FHA-built roof (which naturally couldn't take it).
When I came to Louisiana, they said that New Orleans lived a charmed life, because hurricanes never actually hit it (of course, there were professors at LSU that thought otherwise).
Now, just when I thought I might live out my remaining years without a repetition of "Lanterns on the Levee" (on the 1927 flood), they are having to take measures lest the levees built after 1927 may not be sufficient to handle 2011.  The suburbs flood every several years, anyway, but they are saying that people will not be able to go back to where they lived below the Spillway.  This is different from Missouri.  Our Old Man River may just, they say, change lanes once again and flow down the Morganza way once again, once allowed to do so, incorporating once again those bits of Old River up by Pointe Coupee.
Bah!  I do not like Nature; physis is not theia; and, no, it's not homo sapiens' fault, really; he, too, is part of Nature.  Our only advantage is in being able to be interested in it.
So, now I know no more than any of you do.
P.S. They are waiting as long as possible to open the Spillway, so that folks can finish moving everything before the water comes.
N.B.  The first gate was opened on schedule at 3pm.  BTW, the experts say the water is going to the Atchafalaya...
Note: I won't add everyday to this post, but I'll make a new one in a week, when more results should be apparent.  Please note, however, that it is not a question of choosing between flooding big cities or else small communities (many of whose inhabitants have jobs in the ports or need to ship from them) but of minimizing tragedy: should the places where the main levee has shown weakness over the years break, not only the ports and cities but much of the areas west of the river would be flooded anyhow and with potentially far worse consequences.  And that spillway at Morganza, which ordinarily retains water, now partly, judiciously opened, may also prevent much worse flooding in places north of Morganza, places like Vidalia, for example, now that diversion through the spillway will, as I understand, reduce the mass of water there when the cresting at Natchez occurs.  It is NOT a question of victimizing the basin-dwellers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Old Man River

With friends and family from NW USA to SE Europe inquiring about the safety of Louisiana, alarmed by readers of teleprompters, as an interested adoptive resident of this state, since 1981, I thought I might post here what I just wrote in an e-mail:

I think that where I live is safe (not that anyone can believe what officials claim); I think that (a) my neighborhood did not flood in 1927, the year of the Great Flood, after which the levees were buiilt, and (b) it is from the LSU campus and southward that flooding could occur, UNLESS they open the Morganza Spillway.  The Continental Shelf ends just south of the LSU campus; south of that, all is alluvium, and the river doesn't have any ancient (stone) banks in that alluvial delta-land.  The reason why they will not open the Morganza Spillway unless it is necessary is that there is much fertile land and many farmhouses and villages in the area that would naturally be flooded if the Spillway had to be opened.  Still, they already have opened part of the Bonnet Carré Spillway, which diverts water into Lake Pontchartrain instead of into New Orleans.
The Native American tribes who had their settlement at a place where they marked their territory by setting up a bloody stripped tree trunk, which the French settlers, using it as a landmark, called le bâton rouge, whence the name of this city, knew the land and had the good sense not to build their settlement farther south.
It is the wealthier suburbs south of the center of Baton Rouge that are likeliest to be flooded, because also the tributary streams that empty into the Mississippi, such as the Amite River and the Comite River, are NOT protected by levees.  I have the good liberal sense to be glad to live among all the ethnicities of Baton Rouge!
Still, one never knows.  The Army Corps of Engineers have been busy checking the levees, and along the river, where there are chemical and petroleum plants, they are in fact putting up extra protection--for the first time in my memory, since 1981.  And I have never known the Morganza Spillway to have been opened.  Not that I recall.  So this really is a major flood.
They speak of Vicksburg, MS, flooding, and I must write to my friend who lives on the opposite bank, in Tallulah, LA.  Vicksburg hasn't flooded since I came south in 1981.
My sense is that areas that did not flood in the Great Flood of 1927, before there were levees and spillways, this time, with them, ought to be OK.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hagia Triada, an accidental Triad

05 05 2011.  Apparently abandoned by a neighbor who has vacated the house and placed these in the area to be collected by the garbage company, I both admired the light and considered these as a significant-seeming triad!

Like a series of Russian dolls or nested cubes or cylinders, these apparently were being utilized as deck seats in the outdoor eating area of a neighbor's house.
But one immediately thinks of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Father and Mother and Baby, whose little chair was just right for little Goldilocks.
And then a friend half a world away just wrote by e-mail that they are iconic, like Three Muses or Three Saints.  There are so many triads, such as the Etruscan ancestors of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva in the Capitoline temple in Rome.
Greek uses the same word, triada, for the Trinity, so the little chapel that lends its name to a small town in Crete where a villa-sized Minoan palatial residence was excavated a century ago, is called Hagia Triada.  Of course, in serious theology a triad of gods is one thing and a god in three persons is another.  It's three, though, in either case.
Now that the university semester is over, and houses that were leased to graduate students are vacated, my fig tree has figlets big enough to be photographed, advanced enough indeed that I expect them to be ripe before the first week of July, the usual date.  If I give them an extra bit of water (though we do not usually want for rain here), they might be nice this year.  They are pale small figs, in any case, not the lovely black Mission figs of California, but they make good preserves.
05 05 2011.  Figs still dwarfed by the fig leaves.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What a weekend!

Catastrophic tornados.  Members of Qaddafi's family killed.  Royal Wedding (no mishaps, and the same beautiful horses and Edward VII landau, besides a solidly classic Anglican sermon on marriage), Beatification of John Paul II (I prefer Giovanni XXIII and Vatican II), Death and Burial at Sea of Osama bin Laden.  Great crowds in popular demonstrations, successively in London, Rome, and Washington / New York City.  English, Polish, and US American flags displayed successively.  God, irrespective of particulars of each celebration, made accountable for whatever, such as a lady happening not to be at home when her house was swept away.  Simplicity of popular reactions and never-ending complexity of the darker side of human nature always increasingly bewildering.  Though I am as remote as can be from royal families (even when they major in art history), I can't help but hope for a long union as sound as, for example, that of Elizabeth II's parents for her grandchildren.  It would be good for the British Public .  The royal family serves Identity (those whom it doesn't serve don't need that so much); I should be glad if my own nation did not have to rely on Ford's Theater, the Alamo, Pearl Harbor, and the Twin Towers instead. How much do Americans actually yearn for a constitutional First Family of their own?  I don't know.  I don't understand very well anything from this weekend's news.  I don't see how deserving to die or not has any relevance to death, and I am offended by considering one's own tribe's deaths as more important than other tribes' deaths.  On the other hand, I have to admit to being more comforted by Canterbury's homily than by Rome's.  That is an aspect of my elective culture, of course.
As when the USSR came apart, I can't help but worry (if I allow myself the luxury) about the aftermath of this weekend.
Now, why is it that once again, after more than a half century, I revert to the avoidance of wrong, so far as I can, as the nearest I can come to good?  See last two posts.