Archive for March, 2008

I watched just the first few minutes of the movie Hoosier earlier tonight.  The camera follows the car as Gene Hackman’s character drives down blacktopped roads through Indiana

It looked so much like home to me that I was immediately riveted, and flooded with homesickness.  I know those fields and intersections, I’ve driven past those ditches and barns.  I used to play the Cranberries in the tape deck when I drove out to my grandparents’ farm from town, because the Irish sound of her voice and that band seemed the only thing I could find to capture the way water looked standing in the rows of corn, or the way all my eye could see was fields, with a lone houses dotting the distance.  On the blacktop, with no street signs and long, straight shots, you could drive as fast as you could bear.  I learned exactly where I needed to start slowing down, on the Blairsville Blacktop, before I had to come to a stop.

The Blairsville Blacktop ended at at T with the main road into town (if you turned the other way, you drove out of Hamilton County into Fairfield, or to the interstate–after passing the two package stores on the county line, and rounding the curve where the gypsy kept the junkyard…but I digress).  When I was younger, there was an old house falling down right at the intersection.  During the night (no streetlights), you could see its dark, hulking shape standing against the open field, and you’d have a sense of when to stop.

When I was a junior in high school, they tore the house down (finally) and plowed the yard into the fields that surrounded it.  During the Fall Festival, I was on top of the Ferris Wheel, in the middle of the town square, when I suddenly had a small vision: that my friends were going to be in a car accident.  I pictured the group of them, all boys from my Scholastic Bowl team, and the car, and the danger.

Immediately, I prayed.  I prayed specifically that God would keep and protect them.  A little while later, I heard sirens on their way out of town. It turned out there were two car accidents that night.  One of them was my group of friends.  They had been driving down the Blairsville Blacktop, careening along, and–without the black shape of the old house to signal the end of the road–they had driven right into the intersecting road, into another car.  The car was totalled, but everyone was safe.

Now, every time I happen to be driving from the farm (which isn’t often, anymore, less than once a year), I think about the old house, about speeding, about my old high school crushes and the Ferris Wheel crammed onto the tiny courthouse lawn.  (One Fall Festival, they brought a tired, dusty-but live-monkey, but that’s another story.)

By the time I was that age, old enough to drive, I was beginning to realize that most of the world was not like the place where I lived.  I had already stolen T.S. Eliot from the library, and fallen in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald.  But I could still pay attention to the fields, and the way the sun struck water in the ditches, and shadows water towers made.  I’m glad, looking back, that I didn’t scorn Hamilton County, that I didn’t mock it with a faux-worldly eye. 


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Green grey

Ahh: Spring.  The garden quadrangle I usually enter daily, even briefly, has been shut down for a few months now; one of the spires that rise above it was in danger of falling.  Just in time for Spring, it was reopened.  I happened to walk through it, in a bit of a hurry, earlier this evening.

 Rushing, rushing, sending a text message, wondering about the time, hurrying up to start typing again—and.

I was outside.  Surrounded by old stone buildings, in a strange evening light that I had forgotten.  The church bells rang “seven” and I stopped what I was doing.  I looked at the grass, at a chalk drawing on the sidewalk, at the greens and browns in the light.  I looked up at my bedroom window, above everything.  I smelled the wet air.

I know it’s cliched to remember how we forget to notice the details, but it’s true: I was suddenly wholly grateful for where I live, and the beauty that surrounds me.  I saw a mossy tree trunk, and I literally wanted to touch my lips to it, to feel how cold and fresh it was.  (I did not, but I did lick a piece of pottery from the Welsch coast earlier this evening, and it tasted of salt.  So that is enough tasting for one day.)


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Check out Dwight Hopkins on CNN*, being interviewed on a panel about Black Liberation Theology.  He was right on, but I really felt that the interviewer was clearly, clearly biased.  When he read aloud from Trinity Church’s website, the tone of his voice when he said, “…black…” and “…Africa…” was clearly racist.  He seemed angry, but why?  He has all of the power, and is dismissive of the expert on his panel–why can’t he be gracious, thoughtful, and genuinely inquiring?

And then, to add insult to injury, they had white women talking about “how far we’ve come since the Civil Rights movement” and to say that “certainly Reverend Wright’s comments were inflammatory.”  First of all, why did it pan immediately to the white women?  I am seriously not interested in what they have to say.  They are still in the positions of power.

And finally, the further insulting poll question: “Black liberation theology: healing or hurtful?”

Time to segue: shock and awe: the death mark in Iraq (for American soldiers only) has hit 4,000.  As the commentator put it, “almost difficult to conceive.” Indeed.

*You’ll have to google it yourself–it just ran on the telly and isn’t up yet on CNN.com  I’ll link it later if I find it.

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Ahhhh: the soft air of Southern California.

 I’ve been here for four days, visiting a dear friend and trying to finish my thesis (and escape from bedbugs).  I was so excited to see the landscape of the entire country underneath the plane as we flew out here.  First, gray mountains with snow and ice.  Later, red cracky mound-mountains, with clear water between the bumps, and scrub.  Finally, the hills and mountains of California–my first thought was, “It looks like Haiti.”

(Both California and Haiti have a similar kind of scrubby green, terraced hill landscape.  Small mountains, with winding roads.  And even Haiti has some palatial homes, concrete painted white, nestled behind gates–only fewer of them.)

I’m in an A-frame house in Laurel Canyon, with a sweeping view of valleys below.  Purple and yellow flowers sweep curves onto the hills below.  I’m in love with the scents of honeysuckle, hydrangea, and even rosemary and sage.  It’s so, so different from New York.

I’m sleeping in and writing daily, and doing some very LA things: we had lunch today at the Hotel Bel-Air.  Besides the incredible flowers, I think my favorite thing about the hotel and grounds was simply the design of the building.  Everything seem small, curvy, and private.  Small footbridges over a small river, low hedges surrounding banks of flowers, swans in a curve of cool water.  Tiled hallways leading off to more curves, away from prying eyes.  The pool was obviously built before huge became more important than gracious.  It was a suprisingly small, simple oval.  Hedges, tiles, and blush-colored towels.  Pink is the color of comfort at the Bel-Air.

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Amazing map

In the Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World, every country in the world is put on a simple grid, with two values as /x/ and /y/ axes.  The two values relate to how traditional (religious) or secular the people of a nation are, and which value the nation regards (or needs to regard) more: survival or self-expression.  
They are called formally, ” (1) Traditional/ Secular-rational and (2) Survival/Self-expression values.”

You can imagine how these might play out: in the US, few of us have the need to pursue day to day survival anymore, so self-expression is high for us.  We ask each other, “What do you do?” and mean, “Where do you work, or what do you make/create?”  Where we went to high school or college, or how we dress, music we buy…all of these things signal self-expression.  We are highly offended if someone “reads” us wrong: if someone groups me in with traditional Southern Conservatives because I’m a schoolteacher from Missouri, for example.

It’s very interesting to see different countries in relationship to one another in this way–to see who we have things in common with, and do not.  For example, I heard a story on NPR where the commentators were trying to “explain” how Russians “think differently” than us.  One problem, my colleague and I identified, is that we _assume_ Russians will think and believe like us (about democracy, for example), because they _look_ like us (white/European-looking).  When, in reality, we are in very different places, both regarding tradition and faith, and regarding our values.

If I were teaching high school, I would so definitely have this map posted in my room. 

Note: the World Values Survey is a long-lasting series of questions regarding culture, values, happiness, religion…in different countries.  It was used, in one small example, to try to understand what Russians knew or believed about religion and faith, during Communism, right after the fall of Communism, and ten or twenty years later.  Sociologists, among others, use the survey results to try and understand the ramifications of educational systems and society values.  The surveys have been given to hundreds–maybe thousands–of different groups all over the world, for gathering different sets of information.  I’m using the Russian/religious set for my thesis research.

Here’s the map (it comes up small, click upon it to make it completely readable):



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1.  The ability to know what people are listening to on their iPods.  I always want to know, but I can never see their screens.

2.  To always have ten words at my disposal that I would never misspell.  I have four common ones, that I use nearly daily, that I misspell each and every time I type them: Constantinople, bureaucracy, surprise, and museum.  (I write about the Byzantine empire and Kafka a lot; that explains the first two.  But why can’t I spell them correctly?  And misspelling museum is just sad, but I do it every day.)

3.  To be able to answer the phone when just waking up, convincingly.  So the other person would never guess, and never say, “Oh, did I wake you?”

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