Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A little perspective

"After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?

Very well. Since you're all out of perspective and no one else seems to have it in this bloody town, I'll make you a deal. You provide the food, I'll provide the perspective, which would go nicely with a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1947."
--Anton Ego, Ratatouille


Early on January 22, it started snowing. In the short time it took me to shower and find khakis and a sweater, the world had turned white, and by the time I was ready to leave, the roads, well, they were not ready. At all. Thursday, there was a lull, but that turned out to be the literal calm before the storm. Friday, the snow resumed, pausing only to make room for half an inch of ice. It stopped sometime on Saturday, but not before it had closed schools and roads, and, in much of our area, turned out the lights.

We were among the lucky ones. We lost power for maybe six hours on Friday and again on Sunday. In between it would flicker, but never went away entirely. Still, it was cold outside. Three degrees, to be exact, when I woke up Sunday to the utter silence of unpowered appliances. I spent most of the morning trying not to move, thereby transforming myself a sandwich made up of blankets for filling, the cats and me for bread.

Usually when bad things happen, I can quell my whines and worries by remembering all the ways in which others are worse off than me and directing compassion toward them. So I began to consider those whose power hadn't been on since Friday, then those who don't even have the option of indoor electricity and water. I stretched my imagination to all the displaced people in the world, victims of other people's wars, who have no shelter at all. My three-bedroom ranch almost seemed nice, electricity or no. But I guess the cold had frozen my empathy muscle, because that didn't work for long.

So, I decided to read. I donned gloves and a hat and went for something short, using a bit of precious mobile battery to check the New York Times. I clicked on "We Asked, You Answered: Your Favorite Blizzard Things." Epic fail. While I can play the part of spoiled urbanite as well as the next girl, it took very few gushing evocations of the glories of sea salt and gourmandise for my iPhone to find itself very nearly hurled into the nearest snowbank. Said snowbank being dangerously close to the house, I instead put the phone on airplane mode, and, for good measure, in another room, then settled fully into my sulk. 

One can only sulk for so long, however, even in three degrees, so I decided to try reading again. I mean, reading IS one of my great loves, and seriously, what else did I have to do? So I pulled out my Kindle and plunged head-first into a thriller. I was soon so absorbed that I actually failed to see the faint glow of the bedside lamp or hear the hum of the appliances as they came back to life. You have to admit...that's some book! It was creepy, it was just-real-enough-but-not-too-real... and it was exactly what I needed. Maybe I was being a wimp, but the fact was, I'd had as much "real" as I could handle. What I needed was fiction. And so this time, as so many times before, it was the world of imagination that gave me a generous serving of perspective. (I'll let you decide what went in the glass.)


p.s. I am not the only one for whom the wintry weather has led to questions of perspective. For another take, read Omid Safi's excellent On Being post, "The Slush Puddles of Life."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

When so-so movies generate big ideas...

Winter is here. It gets too cold and too dark too early, so I find myself watching a lot of films. Because I am old-fashioned and still watch most movies in theaters or on DVD, I happen to think Redbox is one of the best things ever.

(I know, I know... Who would've said even five years ago that DVDs were old-fashioned?! But that's a topic for another day.)

A couple of weeks ago, a few screen touches and a card swipe at our local kiosk produced Black or White, a family-focused drama with Olivia Spencer and Kevin Costner. I like both actors very much, and the little I knew about the story, namely that it featured a multi-racial family, caught my attention. And with a promo code that gave me movie for free, what did I have to lose? Not much.

Unfortunately, I can't say I gained much either, not as movies go. Overall, I thought it was okay, or, to paraphrase a sister book-club member, "it was a movie I saw," nothing more, nothing less. It certainly didn't meet my expectations, although it did have good moments. In other words, it's the kind of movie one usually forgets.

Note the "usually." There was (is) a scene that just would (will) not leave me alone. Most of the film tries valiantly to explore the complexities of race, class, grief, and substance abuse as they are lived by ordinary people in their everyday lives. It is thought-provoking, if not especially well executed. Then, suddenly, the messy mundanity of existence is interrupted by a violent, near-fatal knife attack. The scene is both unexpected and pivotal. It changes the outcome of the film in ways the viewer (at least this viewer) could not have easily anticipated.

For me, at first, this marred the film. The knife scene felt out of place, as though it belonged in a different movie. Then it hit me: for most of us, daily life may be made up of a series of seemingly small decisions, where melodrama never strikes. Yet no one is immune from those split-second crises when everything changes. I am not just thinking of people working in the Twin Towers, the concert goers at the Bataclan, the shoppers on a busy Beirut street, the guests at a Bamako hotel...  I am thinking of people like you and me. We aren't as far removed as we might like to think. I too have faced close-to-home acts of violence that don't fit neatly into the bookish, small-town life I've endeavored to build. Yet as much as they pain me, they teach me too. Thanks to them, I too have found certain beliefs irrevocably changed and made decisions that previously seemed unfathomable, decisions that meant seeking justice not in a court of law, but in the nurturing of hearts and minds.

I don't know what the moral of the story is. Maybe there isn't one. Or maybe it's simply this: our lives are made up of many parts, and we're meant to embrace them all...even those that don't "fit."

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

These are a few of my favorite things... or what I got for Christmas

It's Epiphany, aka Three Kings' Day, aka Twelfth Night, aka the last day of Christmas. So, in honor of that, I am finally going to finish this post. (We won't discuss when I started it, but if the subtitle is what I got for Christmas, you can probably take a pretty good guess as to when that was...)

Anyway. I truly had a lovely and blessed holiday with lots of gifts both tangible and intangible. Here are a few of the tangible highlights, along with some of the intangibles they evoke.

A shiny red coffee maker with a few new bells and whistles to boot, the best of which is that it probably won't flood my kitchen counter with half-brewed coffee the way the old one did. And did you note the Keuka Lake Coffee Roasters bag? My lake AND my beverage of choice! Do my parents know me or what?! Granted, anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows this black nectar single-handedly keeps me acting more or less human most of the time. Still, the fact that this comes from Mom and Dad makes it that much more special.

This bag, which is not just any bag. It is big enough to hold all my stuff and has plenty of pockets. The fabric is among my favorites, and it comes from one of my favorite places in the world, Provence. Just looking at this work of art makes me forget the 16 scant degrees on the thermometer when I left the house with it slung over my shoulder this morning. Notice the "art" bit. It IS a work of art. Even more, it is a work of love, handmade for me by my ever-talented mother. It's not just the bright colors and Mediterranean dreams that warm my soul when I make use of this fantastic creation.

Speaking of places I love, yes, this is the Eiffel Tower. Kind of like with the coffee, my love story with Paris is no great secret to those who know me even a little bit. Some of you might be grumbling "the Eiffel tower? Really? Isn't that kind of cliché?" To which I say "no, no, and hell no!" Have you seen it? It's phenomenal! I mean, I have to be impressed with something that manages both to dazzle and terrify me. You see, I've never been to the top. I can only conquer my fear of heights as far as the first level. Besides, that's not even the point of this particular tower. As you can see, it's covered in bling. Not only is the tower itself another amazing gift from the best parents ever, everything on it reminds me of people I love. I'm not the sort to buy jewelry for myself, so every last piece on there is a reminder of someone near and dear to my heart.

Favorite places seem to have been a theme this Christmas. Granted, the past few months have been, well, rough is an understatement, and I think my family knew that I need to learn to dream again. So my brother found this exceptionally cool map of Paris that now graces my bedroom wall. Perhaps coolest of all is that it is not entirely in French- it appears to have been drawn by German hands. Of course German-French interactions have not always been exactly friendly, and it may be that this map was drawn in a time of crisis. Still, you cannot deny the pull of all those layers of history. At least I can't.

So there you have it, a few of my favorite things from Christmas 2015. I hope yours was just as blessed, and that you, like me, were able to be in the best place of all: home. Happy New Year, and I'll try to be back on here soon.