Plays seen in London

This week I saw

  1. The Play That Goes Wrong (simple, pure comedy – I cried and got hoarse with laughter) Will go again next week and probably in October in SF
  2. 2:22 (simple ghost story adulterated with nods to gentrification, generational chasm, and mansplaining). Horror effect achieved by piercing screams and flashing red lights. Generally good theater, but not going more than once.
  3. Much Ado About Nothing (Globe, pure Shakespeare the way I can easily imagine it having been, but – it’s a Shakespeare comedy, I understood less than 20% even knowing the plot and having seen multiple other performances with subtitles and read the play. Left during the intermission because of this and also because the ending sucks – Claudio should’ve stayed single all his life or, better yet, jumped off a cliff. Claudio is a jerk and the rest of the men in this play not much better.)

Francis Holles

Saw this monument at Westminster Abbey and had the strongest feeling of having read the poem before.

However, when I went to look for the author I couldn’t even find the text. This is especially annoying since when I search for the sculptor, Nicholas Stone, this is literally the first image coming up for me.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Francis Holles does not match the Abbey’s nor the monument inscription (tldr: Frances went off to fight in Netherlands, came back, and died aged 18, mourned by his father, John, first (English, non-medieval) Earl of Clare).

What so thou hast of Nature, or of Arts,

Youth, beautie, strength, or what excelling parts,

Of mynd and boddie, letters, arms and worth,

His eighteen yeares, beyond his yeares, brought forth

Then stand and read thyself within this glas

How soon theise perish, and thy selfe may pas.

Mans life is measured by the worke, not dayes,

No aged sloth, but active youth hath prayse


Kid, stretched out on parental bed face-down:

-I am inner peace

Me, checking uterus:

-No, you’re outer peace.

Kid, reeling in both parents:

-I am centerpiece!

Kid talk

“This morning was like sticking tomatoes in a blender before you stick your hand in, so no one notices the blood” (it was a pretty cough-heavy morning indeed)

“Rub my belly, I am not dead!”

“It is I, your greatest achievement!”

Friend: I don’t know whether I look up at you or down at you. Kid2: I look west at you and see the ancient dragons that King Arthur fought.


“Если б я был древним полководцем”… М. А. Кузмин

Если бы я была поэтом
о тебе знал бы весь мир.
И если бы я была скульптором
все восхищались бы твоей красотой.
И если бы я была ученым, открыла бы новый цвет
и назвала его в честь тебя- цвет счастья.
Но я- это я;
А ты- это солнце.

Sic transit fabulae :(

One of my favorite childhood legends is the story of Jews who wanted to make the world feel the pain of Holocaust viscerally, and so planned to poison a small German town, but gave up this plan because they would not become murderers of children.

Turns out it’s not true. Nakam (Vengeance) did exist, but their goal was not education, and they did plan to poison the water of Nuremberg which is not quite a small town, and most importantly they were stopped by the British, and some of them kept working towards revenge for years afterward, which, of course, is not quite a lofty ethical decision to restrain from murder.

It’s bitterly ironic that the best poem I can think of today on the subject is by Taha Muhammad Ali. And no, I’m not setting up an equivalence of acts, but assuming a similarity of feeling.

And Day Brought Back My Night

I always liked this poem, but did not know that it had an epigraph nor that it was referring to Milton’s sonnet.

Geoffrey Brock

Whoever she was now kissed me,

Her lips like ice on my own;

I woke from the nightmare sweating –

Burning, freezing, alone.

And Day Brought Back My Night

It was so simple: you came back to me

And I was happy. Nothing seemed to matter

But that. That you had gone away from me

And lived for days with him—it didn’t matter.

That I had been left to care for our old dog

And house alone—couldn’t have mattered less!

On all this, you and I and our happy dog

Agreed. We slept. The world was worriless.

I woke in the morning, brimming with old joys

Till the fact-checker showed up, late, for work

And started in: Item: it’s years, not days.

Item: you had no dog. Item: she isn’t back,

In fact, she just remarried. And oh yes, item: you

Left her, remember? I did? I did. (I do.)

John Milton

Sonnet 23: Methought I saw my late espoused saint

Methought I saw my late espoused saint

       Brought to me, like Alcestis*, from the grave,

       Whom Jove’s great son to her glad husband gave,

       Rescu’d from death by force, though pale and faint.

Mine, as whom wash’d from spot of child-bed taint

       Purification in the old Law did save,

       And such as yet once more I trust to have

       Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,

Came vested all in white, pure as her mind;

       Her face was veil’d, yet to my fancied sight

       Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin’d

So clear as in no face with more delight.

       But Oh! as to embrace me she inclin’d,

       I wak’d, she fled, and day brought back my night.

*Alcestis is known for having been married to Admetus. Admetus forgot to propitiate Artemis before the wedding and was all set to die early, but Apollo got the Fates drunk and they promised to accept a substitution. Admetus asked everyone, including his parents, and no one except Alcestis agreed to die in his stead. However, Admetus was still a good all boy liked by everyone, so Hercules went down to Hades and brought her back.

Rachel Neumeier

Just finished Winter of Ice and Iron and four books in the Tuyo series – Tuyo, Tarashana, Keraunani, and Tasmakat and can now say that I know enough about this author to not read her books again. Her world-building is really good, and she answers all the more obvious questions that occur to one when reading, but her plots have a few too many author ex machina episodes and her character building relies on submission, punishment acceptance, rape threats, and quivering helplessness a bit more than I like in adventure stories.

Take, for instance Winter of Ice and Iron. Within a very interestingly conceived system of magic, in the high, cold, dark mountains lives the Wolf Duke.

The Wolf Duke is tall and dark. He wears black. He rides a black horse. He had a tragic childhood and did not know a mother’s love. He commands wolves. He is indifferent to personal danger. He is feared and admired by his vassals. He protects his land and his people from an Evil Mad King. He exercises great restraint to never torture or rape women or loyal retainers.

His repeated interaction with loyal retainers is to make them kneel, allow his eyes to linger all over their desirable rough-hewn masculinity, caress their manly throats, cup their soldierly faces full of strong character, smile coldly and give them permission to leave. Unless, of course, they prefer to stay and be commanded, which for some reason they never do.

I feel this would be a better book if they stayed, and possibly an even better movie, but instead the Wolf Duke makes do with criminals and enemy soldiers until he’s saved by the Love of a Good Woman. At her demand he quickly kills the prisoner he’s been raping and torturing, gets dressed, writes a poem, and submits to her brother, the Good Intellectual King.

This allows them to quickly defeat the Evil Mad King and his horror magic that’s been threatening to destroy the world. To make the ending completely happy the Intellectual King generously decides not to kill the Duke after the battle because his sister (the Good Woman) confesses her abiding love for her husband.


Ravenna is, at first glance, very similar to other Italian towns. There are the houses in every shade of yellow from cream to orange. There are the leaning towers and the churches with scroll-top facades. There are the narrow cobblestone streets, the random gates where walls used to be, the statue of Garibaldi, the stone wells in courtyards, the loggias.

But there are a few nuances. The first, of course, is mosaics. Just as everyone I’ve read on the subject promised they are magnificent and impossible to describe or adequately photograph.

Here are a few photographs of Roman and Medieval mosaics. Note also the stone windows. The colored mosaics are mainly walls and ceilings, while the black-white-red ones are floors, and tend to be older.

And here are a few of the modern ones from the MAR museum

The beige rectangle below is a great example of why it’s pointless to photograph mosaics. It’s called Motion. It looks exactly like a field of dry grass in the wind – very alive and fascinating. One can spend a lot of time standing in front of it, but the photo is just a beige rectangle. I think part of the reason is that our eyes constantly move, and mosaics, especially deep ones like this one, change with the angle of view without the viewer consciously noticing the change except as a suggestion of life and movement.

And, of course, the street signs are also mosaics. And there are mosaic flowers all over to assure me that Ravenna is a friendly city for women.

Besides the mosaics there are less striking differences. Ravenna thinks of itself as a green city, and while it would not be considered particularly (or at all) green in North California it is more green than any other Italian city I saw. There are little “parks” everywhere – just squares with a few trees or bushes, but they do gladden the eye. And lawns, and trees. And there are at least three large parks, one of them in an old Venetian tower.

Another difference is the cult of Dante. Dante lived here after his exile, finished Paradise, and was repeatedly buried here.

There is not one, but two Dante museums and a learning center, and multiple statues of Dante. Note the two statues sharing a lawn, and two portraits of Dante sharing a wall. At first I thought that people wandering the streets wearing laurel wreaths and carrying bouquets were cosplaying Dante or on their way to offer him homage, but no – that’s part of the college graduation here. It was, however, a very natural mistake. Every day, at sunset chosen citizens come to Dante’s tomb to read a canto from the Divine Comedy. This started on the 700th anniversary of his death in 2021, and was supposed to only last one year, but they enjoyed it so much they plan to keep doing it forever.

In fact, Dante was not merely buried here once in 1321, near the cloister of St. Francis’ monastery. Dante burials are like Dante statues – why stop at just one? They do something with his bones every century.

In the 15th century they moved his sarcophagus into the cloister. In the 16th century the Florentines realized how wrong they’d been and started asking for Dante’s bones. This request was supported by the Medici popes (Florentine) and Michelangelo (employed by the Medici popes) and finally succeeded in 1519, but the Franciscan monks hid Dante’s bones in the wall. In 1677 they took the bones out and put them in a box. In 1781 the bones were put back into the sarcophagus and the whole thing moved into a brand new tomb outside of the cloister. To show how sorry they are Florence supplies the olive oil for the ever-burning lamp inside the tomb. In 1810 Napoleon came around and the monks hid Dante’s bones again. Florentines, meanwhile, sneakily bult another tomb for Dante in 1829 and waited. In 1865 the bones were found and put on display in a glass coffin, then re-buried again, disappointing the Florentines. In 1944 they were taken back out and hidden and re-buried in 1945, perhaps forever, but I bet Florentines are still hoping.

Below you can see the tomb, the glass coffin, the box, the place Dante’s bones were buried during WWII and the laurel leaves in jute bags designed by Gabriele d’Annunzio that were brought from Rome and scattered over Dante’s grave by four very brave pilots in 1921 on the 600th anniversary of his death.

But the coolest thing in that neighborhood is actually the crypt of St. Francis, where Dante’s funeral was held. St. Francis is a simple church, almost undecorated except for some fairly typical baroque frescoes, an elaborate animated nativity scene, and a lovely coffered ceiling. But their crypt is beautiful. It’s flooded (Ravenna sits on a marsh), covered with mosaics (of course), and populated by goldfish. Supposedly it contains the remains of bishop Neon who finished the construction of the city’s oldest standing monument, the Neonian baptistery (there’s also an Aryan baptistery built by the Ostrogoths half a century later). I am particularly glad to have seen it, because I’m unlikely to see the Istanbul cisterns and I have long wanted to. Of course, this isn’t the same – but columns, and water, and arches…

Yet another special thing about Ravenna is its history. It was the capital of Western Rome Empire in the 5th century, then the capital Odoacer, and then of the Ostorgothic kingdom (also 5th century) under Theodoric. Theodoric originally agreed to rule jointly with Odoacer, and they even held a banquet to celebrate this, but during the banquet Odoacer was somehow killed. Accidents happen. This is why so much of the architecture here is different – Ravenna’s important period came earlier than those of the surrounding cities.

In the 6th century it was taken over by Byzantines who proceeded to put mosaics everywhere the Ostorgoths missed. Having done that Byzantines were overwhelmed by the Lombars in the 8th century. Lombards were promptly overwhelmed by Franks led by Pepin the Short (first Carolingian king), who handed Ravenna to the popes. The popes showed their gratitude by encouraging Charlemagne (Pepin’s son, the important Carolingian king, first post-Rome emperor in the West) to take anything he liked from Ravenna to his capital in Aachen. He took a lot and Aachen definitely moved much higher on my list of places to visit after I saw what he left.

In the 13th century they had a lot of wars that ended up with the pope on top, but in the 15th century, just like everyone else around here, Ravenna was conquered by Venetians. Venetians built the awesome castle that is now a public park, and then the popes took over again and continued ruling all the way until unification of Italy in 1861, with a brief interruption for Napoleon.

All this means that they were relatively poor at the time when their neighbors were tearing down Romanesque churches and building Renaissance ones and couldn’t afford to destroy all the mosaics. In fact, Ravenna seems relatively poor even now. I haven’t seen churches with peeling ceilings and ivy climbing in through the windows in any other city. It also means that unlike their neighbors they had three kinds of Christianity – Aryan, Byzantine Orthodox, and Catholic, which makes the iconography refreshingly diverse.

The last different thing about Ravenna is that it is so quiet (and I say so despite the one loud restaurant they have that’s right under my window). There are few people on the streets, no lines anywhere, and in the MAR museum I was one of maybe a score people on the first floor (modern mosaics) and the only one on the second (everything else). Having empty museum rooms light up before me was interesting, but at the same time I felt oddly responsible to the artworks and probably looked at each of them more carefully than I would have otherwise.

Btw, did you know that the place where the Goths held on the longest was Crimea? Apparently there were some Gothic villages there as late as the 1940s. The Goth capital was Mangup, near Sevastopol. Their kingdom eventually was overwhelmed by the Huns in 5th century, but they kinda sorta held on as a Byzantine client state until the Khans came around in 15th century. It’s really amazing how much I don’t know about Ukrainian history.


TIL that English does have a word for intelligentsia invented by Coleridge in 1830. He got it from from Klerisei, a German word for clergy, but specifically meant this class of people to be a secular one. 


In Bologna’s Civic Art Museums I saw a painting by Pelagio Palagi showing Leonidas II sending Cleombrotus (also II as it turned out) into exile. And there’s nothing I like as much as a classical subject I haven’t heard about.

Turns out Cleombrotus was a son-in-law of Leonidas, king of Sparta. As Sparta has two kings Cleombrotus made nice with his Leonidas’ co-ruler, Agis IV and allied ephors (magistrates), and took over Leonidas’ throne when Leonidas was exiled.

Leonidas left, taking Chilonides, his daughter and Cleombrotus’ wife with him.

And then he came back next year, killed Agis, appointed new magistrates and exiled Cleombrotus. That’s the moment we see in the painting below (note Zeus doing a Batu Khan impersonation in the background).

And off long-suffering Chilonides went into exile again, this time with her husband and two sons. There’s no story of her ever returning to Sparta and it is likely that she didn’t live long enough, since all we know is that her grandson had to come back from exile to take over Spartan throne almost sixty years later. I hope she really liked Alexandria or wherever it is she actually lived all those years.

Bologna- Last Day

My last day in Bologna started wonderfully. On my third attempt I finally made it to the Sette Chiese complex. It’s a group of seven churches centered around St. Stefano Basilica and while the basilica can be seen at any time the other churches are on an odd schedule.

Note St. Peter looking almost exactly like Bodhidharma.

And outside St. Stefano’s there was an antiques market. Now, there’s a flea market just about everywhere I go, but antiques? That was much more fun.

I even found one doll of the kind I like, but, unfortunately, not in a good shape. Those markets are always interesting, but can make me sad if I let them – there are so many obvious collections there – puppets, or bird brooches, or porcelain figurines. I saw two bouquets made out of beads – some woman spent hours on these and no one wanted them after she was dead. It’s the kind of thing that makes one want to stop making things and embrace strict minimalism.

From there I went to Palazzo Albergati to see Fantastic Animals.

It’s a really beautiful exhibition around the concept of fairytale animals and their unity with humans. Here are some of the more striking things I saw:

Cow with houses (or castles? or towns?) inside by Mario Consiglio. For me a cow is the essence of peaceful life, a cow filled with small towns a perfect metaphor for civilization. This cow grazing and sleek, warm light shining through, looks like someone who’s been through a lot, and has scars and wounds to show for it, but is at peace and letting their inner beauty glow through the gaps. Consiglio’s message is, as much as I understand it, about surviving catastrophe and shining with a shared hope.

Unnatural history exhibits by Dario Ghibaudo

Giraffes by Sandro Gora, including Marylin on the grid, with air lifting up her spots.

Some completely flat canvases by Mario Ricci

Tangram rabbit and three-sided prism puzzle paintings (bird/fish/sea creature/animal/human) that viewers are intended to reconfigure by Camilla Ancilotto

Overall an exhibition it will be very pleasant to remember.

Afterward I went wandering, and found one of Bologna’s lost canals. This area used to be called Little Venice and the water served the local silk-making, but the canals are closed off and paved over now. There’s a small window to look at the small piece of canal that remains and a large queue to do so. I decided that I can do without a window view 🙂

At the end of the evening I took a random train tour of the city center and was glad to recognize all seven of the “secrets of Bologna” the audio guide riddled at the end.

Between Pelagio Palagi, the ceiling of the anatomical theater, the Fantastic Animals exhibit, the Lamentation for Christ, and the beautiful porticos in the quiet hills leading to St. Luca I’m glad I went to Bologna. As I travel more through this region I find more things I didn’t know about (like the whole Italy vs Pope thing, or the fact that Bolognese citizens were strong enough to keep Friedrich II’s son a prisoner for years or a view of WWII that is very different from both the Russian and the American ones).

Bologna 2.5

For my second full day I decided to get out of the city center and go to the San Luca Sanctuary, 5 km uphill. It’s a pilgrimage destiny, people go there to view an icon of Madonna and child known as “Madonna of St. Luca”. It’s supposed to protect fields from excessive rains. The sanctuary itself was unexpectedly unlike other churches and very beautiful.

But what I really wanted to see was not the icon, but the portico leading up to the church. It’s made up of 666 arches, to symbolize a serpent Maria crushes under her foot and includes 15 chapels (one for each Marian mystery) and numerous exvotos.

I expected a crowded place and was amazed that most of the people who rode up with me didn’t even get off the bus. Of the few that did I was the only one who bought a cupola ticket. The view from the cupola was arcadian.

The cupola itself very interestingly lined with rushes over the bricks. I’m guessing that rushes are there to help hold whitewash if and when the walls and ceilings were to be whitewashed, but it’s just a guess. Perhaps it’s for warmth, or perhaps rushes somehow hold the lime in until it dries.

After coming down I wandered around the city, saw

1. The Saragozza gate

2. A nice statue of Padre Pio

3. Graves of glossators (a kind of founding jurist in middle ages) and cool lion gate toppers at San Francisco

4. A playground in park Della Montagnola surrounded by huge statues of mermaids and predators gruesomely killing prey and each other (no pictures because taking pictures of playgrounds is kind of creepy)

5. The other Lamentation over Christ (good, but suffers from comparison with Della Arca) in the local cathedral (no pictures because people were praying).

6. Yet another monument to the capture of Rome. Seriously, these are everywhere and are one of the big differences between US and Italy.

Bologna 1 (.5)

The best part about my hotel in Bologna is the terrace.

On the first evening I started by strolling to Piazza Maggiore, saw the Neptune fountain, and saw the San Petronio Basilica. My hotel is super-basic, but right in the middle of everything.

Unfortunately, Chapel of the Magi, the place in San Petronio I really wanted to photograph is forbidden to photograph from the inside. You’ll just have to trust me that it was worth waiting for 5 reboots of the credit card machine ;).

Then I just walked the streets. Bologna is known for its 25 miles of colonnades and its multiple towers. Many of those towers are leaning. In fact the famous two towers are currently not accessible and after seeing them from the outside I think I know why.

The next day I walked all over old town and saw

  1. Maria Della Vita with two incredible sculptural groups. The first one is Nicolo Dell’Arca’s Lamentation over Dead Christ, which deserves much better photographs than the ones I was able to take. It is indescribable. My photographs and all others I ever saw seem cheesy. It is cheesy (complete with a gratuitous nipple). For a while the hospital which owned the statues hid them to avoid frightening the patients. It’s not beautiful. It’s not consistent (note the wind that blows on the two Maries at right and not anyone else). It’s striking and unforgettable.

The second group, Transit of the Virgin by Alfonso Lombardi, represents an attempt by the High Priest to overturn Mary’s coffin (An apocryphal and unlikely story. The statues were paid for by the Flagellants, who united to whip themselves and hate Jews). The next day I also went to St. Peter’s cathedral and saw Lombardi’s Lamentation. After Dell’Arca it comes across as almost stoic and sadly staid.

2. Horological tower and views of the city from the top (I had to sign an actual disclaimer to go up these stairs).

3. The Communal art collection – a typical small North Italian museum meaning that they don’t have enough Tintorettos to cover all the walls. I absolutely loved it, because what they do have is walls and walls of Pelagio Palagi, author of one of my favorite paintings. He combined the eighteenth-century kawaii with nineteenth-century drama. Born and raised in Bologna he left a lot of his artwork and his large collection of art that inspired him (including an incredible ancient Minerva’s head and an Egyptian cat) to the city.

They also have plenty of Gaetano Gandolfi whom I love primarily for his name and only secondly for the above-mentioned kawaii. Below are his self-portrait and portrait of his wife.

Part of the museum is furnished rooms and I do love museum furnished rooms. The last room was my favorite – frescoed as a garden and containing nothing but an Apollo by Canova. Well, Apollo and an elderly museum guide who, disappointed in my Italian, spoke Spanish to make sure I was really, truly, indeed, very much impressed.

They also have a room with three (3, Karl!) versions of Death of Virginia, which is at least three more than I ordinarily enjoy seeing, beautiful as they are.

And at the very end (no photos because they closed the museum on me. Again.) they have the Argonauts’ gallery. The local Jesuit school for high-born boys picked the best student each year and gave him a highly-coveted medal with an image of Argo. Each of them posed for a portrait with the medal. That means there are two rooms of portraits of young men of the same location, the same age, same religion, same class – the only things that change are fashion and personal preference (which at that age, let’s face it, is subordinate to fashion). Eighteenth through nineteenth century. Fashion historians probably come there to pray. Sometimes I wish I was a fashion historian.

4. Archiginnasio palace, especially the anatomical theater. It is very different from the one in Padua – shorter, wider, brighter (140 years difference is a lot), and has a truly insane ceiling.

Besides the theater (look at the skinless guys! and that Apollo!) there were coats of arms, and the Stabat Mater room (with a peek at the library). All beautiful, and I especially liked monuments to the lectors.

    And yes, of course I walked through the medieval market, and the shopping streets, and the fancy gallery, and the awesome made-from-porticos gallery 🙂

    About knights…


    Presentation of Jacopo Beccucci to Mary and baby Jesus,  1300-1349

    Look at Jacopo Beccucci’s eyes. He obviously loves Mary and Mary and baby Jesus love him back. No, I mean – look at them. Here’s a bigger version from Wikipedia.

    I obviously know nothing about Jacopo Beccucci, but I’m guessing that unless he was unusually lucky no one loved him the way we today expect to be loved.

    Consider the best case scenario – His wet nurse cared, but he’d have been parted from her at age two or so. His nanny was proud of the work she did and liked him, but nannies are not fonts of parental love. His parents were fond and proud of him and possibly saw him every day. His wife liked and respected him and was happy with the choice her parents made for her. His friends and his suzerain probably valued and respected him. His children admired him. His mistress depended on his largesse, considered him sexy (this is my best-case scenario, yes, besides look at that guy) and liked him as a person. Maybe she even loved him, insofar as a dependent person can.

    But Jesus and Mary? They loved him. Just him – for who he was, not for his position, his usefulness, his money or his fighting prowess. They’d love him even if he was too sick to fight, weak, defeated, powerless… And he loved them without fearing that they will become sick or die or abandon him. And he could talk about his love to anyone, because everyone, from his wife to St. George, fully approved.

    Everybody wants to love somebody. It’s a need. And loving somebody who freely chooses to love one back in a socially-sanctioned accepted way without fearing for their well-being is also a need. And the easiest way to achieve this if you are your function and the concept of individualism is 20 or so generations away is personal devotion to Mary or a saint.


    And on the same topic of knights and relationships – there’s the relationship of fealty. We would consider anyone that’s never had a parent, a long-term lover, a friend in their life somewhat sad and deprived of something important. We might not think the same about someone that lacks kids (ok, I would, but silently), or a favorite football team, a god, a fatherland, but we can see that those relationships are important, enriching, life-shaping for many people.

    We definitely would not think it sad that someone lacks a suzerain, and yet it used to be a relationship as or more important than marriage. There are some people out there to whom it probably still is. Isn’t it strange – all those relationships that are so important, so defining for people who change them, and we feel their lack as little as we feel the lack of a tail?

    Sell Art Online


    Padua was the first city on my solo stay and it was even better than I expected. I’m glad I stayed for two nights – was getting burned out on planning and needed down time. Here’s what I did:

    1. Arrived around noon. Because this is the relaxation I picked a Hilton – bed I can sleep across, giant shower and all that. They upgraded me to a terrace room, which, although completely useless, really perked me up.
    2. I decided to walk the 20 minutes to the hotel despite rain and suitcase and am glad I did – the non-touristy part of the city contains some truly awesome towers, frescoes, and canals. It also has narrow one-point-perspective cobblestoned streets. My favorite!

    4. The central part of Padua turned out to have not only cobblestoned streets, but also colonnades. Almost every building has a stoa, which a) is beautiful b) allowed me to ignore the rain.

    Of course, if they want to honor someone important they also put columns around them. Behold the statue of Dante, and tombs of Antenor and St. Anthony.

    In fact, St. Anthony is so important he gets two colonnades, a real one and a trompe l’oeil one. And a church that’s way nicer than the local cathedral.

    I really like completion, even in little and unimportant themes, so seeing St. Anthony’s churches both in Lisbon where he was born and in Padua where he died felt very satisfying.

    Speaking of tombs, you’re probably curious about Antenor. He’s a fictional character, the only elder of Troy who counseled returning Helen with apologies. His grave belongs to a wealthy Germanic or Hungarian warrior killed in battle around 3rd or 4th century CE, a woman, an animal, or some combination of the above. The grave next to him (without columns) belongs to Lovato dei Lovati who conveniently discovered a bronze plaque on the sarcophagus when it was dug up in 1274 saying that the body inside is definitely that of Antenor, Elder of Troy and Founder of Padua.

    Other things I saw that day were

    1. The cathedral (poor, but clean)

    2. The baptistery (that’s where they keep all the art that didn’t go into the cathedral)

    3. The Scrovegni chapel (where Giotto invented Renaissance painting)

    4. Palazzo Bo (headquarters of the university thoroughly redecorated in 1930s and 40s)

    5. Prato della Valle (largest square in Italy), which is in fact not a square but an ellipse 90,000m2. It’s probably beautiful and impressive, but being entirely covered by the local flea market is a bit hard to see.

    6. Cool modern sculpture mainly near the (unfortunately closed) Francis Bacon collection. Even though it’s closed one can still look through the mirror and see the hanging rhinoceros.

    7. Lovely stenciled graffiti

    8. The thousand-plus-year-old market plazas, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza Della Frutta (because you wouldn’t sell vegetables and fruit on the same giant plaza, right?).

    I’ll do separate posts for the baptistery, chapel, and university, but in the meantime here are some photos of the market.

    I spent approximately 8.5 hours walking, ate at a really striking restaurant (which is a chain, so I might eat at one again), and generally had a wonderful and relaxing day. Two nights turned out to be just the right amount of time in Padua although if I was doing this with someone I’d probably add at least one more day.

    The sentence

    Just finished The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. Despite some reviews it’s not “a love letter to readers and booksellers” (or anyone else) nor “a wickedly funny ghost story” or any other kind of funny.

    It’s An Important Book, the kind high school teachers tend to assign when they want their students to Consider And Discuss Social Issues. If I were to teach English in 2050 (highly unlikely) I’d assign it. If I was a Modern History teacher I would probably assign it as well – it’s A Mirror of Our Time.

    Sure, none of that makes a good sales pitch, but that’s ok. It really is the real thing, a book one may want to re-read even again and again even though it’s not fun, a book to think about and to change one’s views. I really wish I could discuss this book in a high school classroom – sit in a circle, be angry, exclaim my opinion, debate the opinions of others. Book clubs are not the same – one is an adult, constrained by convention, politeness, wariness, kindness. This book is steak and potatoes – good heavy food that takes some tasting. I got used to chocolate cake and sushi and internalizing the Sentence feels odd, like remembering an old skill.

    It’s not really even about ghosts. There is a ghost, and multiple stories of other ghosts, but it’s really just there for the plot. There are also Events – will Tookie forgive her husband? Will her husband survive? Will her daughter like her, ever? What will happen with the baby’s father? Who wins the elections in 2020? and those aren’t important either, although the plot is good, and tight, and unpredictable.

    Mostly the Sentence is about living in the world where your ancestors lost. One could say it’s the opposite of the modern Jewish experience – after all, we’d reached the semi-finals. Maybe Josephus, who failed to commit suicide, and passed to his children the name Flavius, and persistently married Jewish women would have understood Tookie (main character) better than I do (they would hate each other). Everyone in the book lives with raw places, constant reminders of their loss, constant insults – in lack of thought and even worse in thoughtless kindness.

    It’s also about what 2019 and 2020 were like – with the pandemic, and the riots, and the bitter sense of something broken. Not for me, of course – if it was maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to read about it, but for many who aren’t me. Checking my privilege – it’s still right here, uff.

    My pandemic experience was not like Tookie’s. It was almost lovely – we were prepared, together, in the best place possible and while I’m good at being anxious I’m terrible at being afraid. I felt useful. There was that feeling of floating in amber, every day much like another, but none actually bad. I joked (mainly to myself) that I’d have been perfectly happy to have this continue forever if only people weren’t dying all the time. Tookie was rightly horrified. Her world caved in. I know that most other people were horrified as well, but a good book is much more real than all the newspaper articles.

    My riot time passed almost unnoticed – I was busy handling the pandemic. I was outraged, and cynical, and hated myself for being cynical because of how un-American that cynicism feels, especially when one considers it as realism. I felt the cracks in my American Dream, but it was not as important as staying indoors right now and making sure the basement was stocked up. Tookie never had an American dream at all, for her George Floyd’s murder was just that thing that always happens and always hurts. She was also much closer to the tear gas. Her riots were real and right there.

    This book was important and good for me to read because it’s as much Not About Me as it’s possible for a novel about a middle-class woman my age living as an ordinary good person in America to be. It’s much more a different world from mine than most fantasy I read, but it’s real and it’s around me.

    The Sentence does have likeable, interesting, and believable characters. And a good, well-twisted plot. And well crafted writing. And just enough throw-away side stories that leave one wanting to know more. These will probably contribute to my re-reading the Sentence, but mainly it’ll be about the alienness and the needing to stop and think through my emotional response to the characters’ view. I like books that make me do this.

    Новогодние привидения

    I always have trouble finding this post by Anna Kozlova, so I’m putting it here. It’s one of those “more true than reality” things and always makes me cry. Of course, it’s not just NY cooking – the ghosts are always with us, and we do so many other things because of them.

    “Не в Хэллоуин в прекрасной нашей Родине духи мертвых выходят из могил, а в Новый год.

    Зла в них нет, но присутствует та зловещая иррациональность, которая вдруг бросает неглупую, очень занятую городскую женщину около сорока к плите вечером 30 декабря.

    И пусть думает, глупышка, что в новогоднюю ночь с ней только муж и дети, и парочка близких друзей, но на самом деле в гостиной будет не протолкнуться.

    Зачем ты, женщина, ставишь на плиту пятилитровую кастрюлю с картошкой на оливье? Кто сожрет столько оливье? Ты? Твой муж? Да вы не помните, когда последний раз чипсы ели, весь год на рисе и курятине, салатике из огурца и сельдерея! Какой оливье, опомнись!

    Но это ведь мертвая прабабушка, Полина Дормидонтовна, стоит у тебя за плечом и шепчет: еще клади, милая, еще картошки, много картошки – хорошо, люблю картошечку!

    Этот шепот вводит в транс, за ним – голод, мрак, война. Дай же прабабушке картошечки, не жалей ее, пятьдесят рублей килограмм стоит, не семнадцатый, чай, год.

    А что ж, думает женщина, только оливье и селедка под шубой из азбуки вкуса?..

    Качают мертвыми головами предки, озадаченные таким неласковым приемом.

    И пробивается сквозь толпу, занявшую всю кухню, прабабушка с другой стороны, Цицилия Иосифовна, сгинувшая в лагере.

    Может, курочки? – спрашивает тихо.

    Да почему же и нет?! – бедная женщина бросается в инстаграм, прямо в омут видеоблогов кавказских жен, которые меньше, чем на тридцать человек, в принципе не готовят.

    И пожалуйста вам, Цицилия Иосифовна!

    Гуся не желаете, а?

    Или утку в апельсиновой глазури с карамелизированным яблоком джанаголд в попке? После оливье-то как пойдет!

    И картошечки к ней! – намекает осмелевшая уже Полина Дормидонтовна.

    Коварен инстаграм, ведь сразу за уткой и джанаголдом от Мадины-нальчик следует полуметровой высоты наполеон, с любовью приготовленный мамой Этери: всех с наступающим, девочки, делайте, не пожалеете, а мне не забудьте подарить сердечко!

    Ох, наполеончика бы… – вздыхает дедушкин братик, умерший в блокаду.

    А как не накормить ребенка?! Как не броситься в круглосуточный магазин за килограммом масла, чтобы щедро приготовить, от души, чтобы в полтретьего ночи внести наполеончик в комнату к счастливцам, уже отведавшим оливье, селедку под шубой и утку от Мадины?

    Ну, а дальше все – беспамятство, темная ночь, петушиные крики.

    Тарталетки с муссом из красной рыбы и сливочного сыра!



    Икра, как можно было забыть!

    И вот когда икра, расталкивает, наконец, всех этих обжорок прадедушка с Дона.

    Рубанув рукой горячий от утки воздух, сообщает: водки!

    Нету водки! – в ужасе понимает женщина.

    Нету водки, последний раз водку-то в шестнадцать пила, в подъезде, с кокаколой.

    Но старик крепок, он не пойдет на ламбруско и шардоне со льдом, это женщине совершенно понятно, и она хватает телефон, звонит мужу и говорит: знаешь, я тут подумала, надо все-таки водки купить.

    А муж, что пробивается по пробкам из Ашана, и в машине у него расположились тетя из Элисты, дедушка-поляк и двоюродный дядя Рубен, добродушно ей говорит: а я купил, знаешь… вот как будто торкнуло что-то у витрины с водкой, две бутылки взял, всем хватит!”

    Notes for the next trip

    1. Keep screenshots of all hotel reservations, tickets and visas in a separate chat
    2. Double-check all scheduling using the local time zone
    3. Bring only one pair of shoes
    4. Do not bring a neck pillow
    5. Do not bring extra warm layers – one of each is enough (e. g. one sweater, one jacket…)
    6. Bring smaller medicine bottles
    7. Bring more stomach meds
    8. Bag the razor
    9. Bring hats with visors
    10. Bring hand sanitizer
    11. Bring museum membership cards
    12. Leave vaccination cards
    13. Pick restaurants with breakfast. Even a bad breakfast is better than nothing.
    14. Do not pick restaurants on shopping streets – go at least one block away
    15. Pack snacks
    16. Buy at least one local SIM card to have a local phone number


    We spent two and a half weeks in Japan, Nov. 21st through Dec. 8th, and it was, just as I expected it to be, amazing. Japan, for me, feels effortless, exciting, interesting, convenient (safe food, walkable streets, and clean bathrooms matter a lot to me), endlessly explorable, and full of small delights.

    I was afraid that it would change from when I came first, but although, almost all the constituent parts of the experience changed, the whole remained remarkably consistent. It’s strange that places don’t change much, even if one does completely different things or comes at different seasons. For instance, whenever I come to Venice the weather is lovely and there’s an interesting exhibition going on, whereas whenever I come to Russia, be it July or December, it’s cold, miserable, and Day of the Paratrooper.

    Things that changed:

    • Instead of traveling alone this time I went with the whole family – all six of us for the first week, and four for the subsequent weeks. This means that our time was very structured and that we barely ever walked. The first week, in particular, was structured by Amazing Spouse in half-hour increments in an act of sheer heroism. None of my usual “roll out of the bed whenever, exit the hotel in a random direction, eat on the way” and no “spend an hour reading in this cute cafe” – we ate three sit-down meals a day and didn’t search for variety.
    • It was November and not May which greatly increased the frequency of persimmons, children in fancy outfits (November is the month for 3-5-7 celebrations), and, oddly, flowering cherry trees (I did not expect fuyuzakura aka winter cherry).
    • There were fewer school children out and about.
    • It was cold. “T-shirt and overshirt and puffy vest and jacket and hat” cold. And dark by 5 pm, so random wandering around time was cut short. This means that gardens and parks closed early and that there were fewer creatively-dressed teenagers around and way more elegantly-coated ladies.
    • It was crowded as heck. Everyone wanted to see momiji fully as much or more as we did. I never thought I’d queue up for an hour for anything other than staple food, let alone for maples, and yet – it was completely worthwhile.
    • Fall foliage and not temples or restaurants, was the theme of most days. Mind you, fall foliage happens in temples and around restaurants, and we visited both – but the foliage was more striking and noticeable than the buildings.
    • We went to museums! Tokyo National Museum, MIHO, Osaka Castle, Nara Crafts museum, Nara Toy museum, Iwasaki garden (and especially mansion), Drum museum, Samurai museum, Sword museum, Hokusai museum, Yayoi Kusama museum, and finally Team Labs (which is less a museum than a museum-sized installation, but I’m including it anyway) – these were unexpectedly more memorable than temples on this trip.
    • We stayed at hotels with onsens, which means there was no going-out-to-bathe.
    • We did more shopping (or, at least, more window shopping) and more animal petting visiting a dog cafe, Bengal cat cafe, and capybara cafe. I love capybaras, although on a nearer acquaintance, cats are definitely more awesome.
    • And, of course, because of traveling as a family and because of the cold I was out-socialized by the end of each day, and completely incapable of noting things down. I did sketch, however, and will try to recreate what I saw in each day based on that. At some point. The issue, of course, is that I don’t have a clear audience for this – future me is academic, adult kids even more so, outside blog readers a remote and unlikely possibility, and the guy I wrote to last time was right here with me. Crying in the wilderness is, if not sensible, understandable enough, but traveloguing? Not that I’ll let the lack of an audience stop me 🙂

    Lucky day

    Today was an incredibly lucky day. Below is a partial list of all the things that were lucky:

    • In the morning it turned out there’s even more really interesting stuff to learn about tea ceremony than I thought
    • Ginkakuji turned out almost completely uncrowded, and far more beautiful than I remembered
    • Right outside of it there were chestnut cream puffs, which aren’t sold except in the Fall
    • Our route to Nanzenji happened to go along Philosopher’s Path, which I wanted to see again but didn’t really have time
    • Along the path we met a gentleman named Marita, who taught us to make bamboo flower boats and drop them into the Lake Biwa canal (this trip has waaay more Lake Biwa canal than my first one) for luck. Mine floated 🙂
    • Sanmon gate at Nanzenji was open, unlike the last time, and we got to go to the top.
    • Nanzen-in was open, and I didn’t make it there last time either
    • While everyone else was eating I made it to Konchiin temple, and saw the crane and turtle garden and the shrine to Tokugawa Ieyasu (with his statue and the famous dragon ceiling). The garden was beautiful and completely empty.
    • While there I was exactly on time to also see the tea room designed by Kobori Enshu (see the first bullet point – how timely that my morning reading told me who he was) that contained Hasegawa Tōhaku’s Monkey Reaching for the Moon’s Reflection with it’s heart-stoppingly elegant fingers. On normal days one can’t even see it – it was a special exhibition. On this day one more minute, and I would have missed it. There was also the Wet Crows screen, which I know I’ve seen before, but cannot remember where, and can’t find images of it. It’s hilarious and beautiful.
    • Just as I ran out of time it turned out the Einkando temple was hosting a night-time illumination
    • I had to wait for it, and accidentally walked into the cutest cafe, full of statuettes and old cameras. A very nice old lady with Brezhnev eyebrows waved a coffee cup at me. I didn’t have the energy to refuse, which was lucky, because as it turned out I needed coffee.
    • I took a spot in line and everyone made it to me just as I was about to go in. Given that it was a half-hour line that was miraculous timing. I also got into this line just in time, behind me it became far longer.
    • As we came out there was exactly one taxi waiting and it was waiting for us
    • Right as I was rested, bathed, and becoming human again B. told me that Naked Flowers at Nijo castle were on until 10 pm and there was no line. Naked Flowers turned out to be a combination ikebana exhibit, illumination, and flower-themed cartoon show on castle walls with great music and aromas. This also means I got the leisurely walk through the castle gardens I was missing.
    • Nita Prose’s latest dropped just as I was running out of books

    Nanzenji turned out not to have been the temple I thought it was. That is to say, the ineffably peaceful temple I thought was Nanzenji is a completely different temple, and I don’t know which one. But, on the bright side, it gives me a reason to come back and search for it. Thoroughly. Kyoto has less than 2,000 temples – how hard can it be? 🙂

    Tea ceremony

    Turns out that the tea ceremony we know in USA (Sen no Rikyū, wabi-sabi, small tea huts, poetry of the simple and humble…) is wabi tea (wabi meaning simple as in (as far as I understand) “простолюдины”).

    There’s also samurai tea, baku-cha ( deriving from work of Kobori Enshu ) (also growing from Rikyu, but claiming to be an improvement) and shōin, or drawing-room tea, for priests and aristocrats. This one seems to be served in large pavilions (e. g. Golden, Silver, Floating pavilions in Kyoto).

    Of course, once one starts looking one finds that the samurai tea at least is being exported, that English-language practitioners of both are all over, and I just never met any and am, from ignorance, failing to recognize the distinction when I see someone drinking tea in popular culture. Since they influenced each other continuously the differences would be even harder to see for an uneducated person.

    After all, there’s a whole long history of tea in Japan of which I was almost entirely unaware.

    Still, one would think that shōin tea would be easier to tell apart from the other two and it takes serious digging before one even learns that it exists. But, since shoin reception halls are used in the samurai tea way perhaps it got enfolded into that to the point where, again, a profane viewer will not be able to tell them apart at a glance.

    Another wonderful day

    Yes, the world is burning and we’re about to enter WWIII. That said, I have enough money to not work for a year without touching my 401K, the weather is perfect, kids are lovely, I have at least two interesting undone crafting projects, my craft table is finally complete (because I also have an amazing spouse, yes), and today was great. In fact, last week was pretty good as well.

    Over the course of the last week I tried hard to eat a pandan bun at the SF MOMA cafe. I failed spectacularly and with great enjoyment.

    I went to Yerba Buena gardens and through the beautiful passage besides the Jewish museum.

    I saw the lanterns in Maiden Lane

    I went to Chinatown and counted the Taiwanese flags. Lately there’s far more of those than of the Chinese flags, which makes me happy.

    I had a perfect breakfast. It included a beautifully sweet and sticky ginger bun, an ideal selection of chocolates, and milk tea.

    I went to up to the Coit tower and down to Levi’s plaza.

    I visited the last lodging of the Emperor (long may he reign in our hearts) and saw the SF Historical Society museum ( )

    I went to the Exploratorium and finally explored the Tactile Dome – which was completely unlike what I expected. The experience of having one sense turned almost completely off was similar to hiking the Golden Canyon in Death Valley. I went through it twice. I want a bean-bed badly. It’s incredible.

    I learned that the Misalignment Museum is nowhere near where the Apple map thinks it is and that I love coxinhas (a Brazilian chicken pastry shaped like a drumstick) and crepe-on-a-stick. And that crepe-on-a-stick is a thing.

    I learned that Bi-Rite ice cream, while lovely, is not really life-changing. And that while balsamic strawberry is nice I’m not really a fan of salted egg and mulberry flavors in ice cream. I bought a wonderful sweater and wandered around to my heart’s content.

    And none of it brought me any closer to the pandan bun. In fact, SF MOMA is nowhere near Valencia or the Coit tower. Ah well, I’ll just have to keep on trying :))))

    Yamanoue No Okura

    When I eat melons
    My children come to my mind;
    When I eat chestnuts
    The longing is even worse.
    Where do they come from,
    Flickering before my eyes,
    Making me helpless
    Endlessly night after night.
    Not letting me sleep in peace?

    Japan, 660ish-733ish, spent a lot of his time on missions to China, governed provinces, tutored a prince. Wrote poems.


    Александр Ланин

    Как известно, всё, что не убивает нас,

    Убивает, просто не сразу.

    Молчащий мир, зверствующий хамас,

    Новости сжавшиеся до Беэри с Кфар Азой.

    Бурые кляксы расползаются по листам

    Свежих газет. Но редактор следит за тоном.

    По кампусам бродит призрак “фри палестайн”

    Изуродованным нравственным камертоном.

    В кои-то веки обедаем вчетвером.

    До ужасов далеко, целых два клика мышкой…

    – “Мама, – спрашивает дочка, – это уже погром?”

    – “Нет, малышка.”

    На паре домов ночью намалевали звёзды,

    Дети в школе шутят про юденфрай.

    Бросить всё и уехать ещё не поздно.

    Уехать и бросить всё ещё не пора.

    Соседи что-то обсуждают, слегка опуская взгляд,

    Но если кончилась соль, мы ходим к соседям.

    В конце концов мало ли, что они говорят.

    Понадобится – уедем.

    Кто-то сбегает к сараю за топором,

    Кто-то проверит, как кухонный нож наточен…

    – “Мама, это уже погром?”

    – “Нет, доча.”

    Как же мы здорово научились не замечать

    Расставленные предками вехи.

    Лет двадцать пять назад я заснул на час,

    Чтобы вынырнуть в двадцать первом веке –

    В огромном свободном мире, где предрассудкам бой,

    Где люди становятся лишь добрей и мудрее,

    Где каждый готов любую тварь уравнять с собой,

    Где можно быть кем угодно. Даже евреем.

    Но и в нашем веке, и в веке двадцать втором,

    И в двадцать третьем, и дальше, пока не канем,

    Девочка спрашивает: “Мама, это уже погром?”

    И ответ прилетает камнем.

    The awesome thing about diagnosed anxiety is that every time I worry about something I can tell myself it’s anxiety. Very comforting.


    Mammy’s Cupboard, Natchez, Mississippi

    Simone Leigh, Cupboard, SF MOMA

    “Leigh, who names Black women and femmes as her audience, invests her work in what she sees as “a tradition of thinking about the status of women by associating the body with the idea of a dwelling, refuge, container, tool, even a loophole of retreat.””

    Simone Leigh was born 27 years after this slowly-whitening restaurant was built, and nowhere near. Her artistic intent, as I understand it, seems entirely the opposite to the intent of the architect, as I understand that.

    Naked emperors

    Victoria Goddard’s new novellette, Game of Courts, is about Cavalier Conju enazo Argellian an Vilius, the Emperor’s chief personal attendant. It is lovely and sensitive and his viewpoint is extremely distinct from Cliopher s. Mdang’s – a hard thing to do for any author, let alone an author with a strong and beloved character right there in the same book.

    Conju is in love (explicitly) with the Emperor. Cliopher is in love (to his own surprise, he thought it was a whole lot of other things) with the Emperor. So is the Moon and a lot of other minor characters.

    Of course this makes me think about why an admired leader must also be a desired person.

    Vespasian: Sacellum Augustali
    Naked Vespasian

    Of course there are half-naked pictures of Putin and Trump, as well, but Vespasian is somewhat less ugly. And yes, I know that Vespasian’s nakedness is supposed to be heroic, not sexual, but the sexiness is definitely there. I think the viewer is very much supposed to realize that kneeling to the Might of Rome may not be all that bad.

    The funny thing is that I can’t remember any naked Great Leaders in Europe between Rome and Putin (except Napoleon, see update). Both Hitler and Stalin appeared fully clothed in every portrait I’ve ever seen, so did the British and Russian monarchs. In fact, the only Western Naked Great Leader I can think of is Washington.

    His statues, of course, appeal to the Romans and bypass the centuries of Christianity. Perhaps the conclusion one may draw from seeing Trump’s and Putin’s nipples is that they are post-Christian.

    Update: I am wrong, and badly wrong. Of course there was a Great Naked Leader in Europe, and it was Napoleon.

    This is Napoleon as Mars the Peacekeeper by Canova, 3.5 meters tall and very impressive. This photo is of a copy from his Napoleon’s mother’s house in Rome. The original was sold by the reinstated French monarchy to the British, who gave it to Wellington as a gift. Wellington put it (all 3.45m) under the stairs in his house and used it as an umbrella stand.

    Shortly afterward a group of English women commissioned a statue of Wellington a full meter higher, which I sincerely look forward to seeing when I’m in Hyde Park. Wellington, however, was not a ruler and so does not really fit into the theme of this post.

    The Mysteries

    Finally read Bill Watterson’s and John Kascht’s new book. I can see why it took them years – it’s beautifully drawn in a Breigel/German fashion. On the same page some things (e. g. the background) can feel like a misty watercolor, others like a still shot from a plasticine cartoon, and others like a photograph. It’s unsettling, dark, and hopeless – again like German’s Hard To Be A God.

    It’s very good, but I wish it had been very different, and I wish Bill Watterson was happy enough to make a different book. Unfortunately, he seems to be a realist.


    Today was a beautiful day – unusually sunny and warm. We all stayed home for various reasons, although it’s a Friday. We hugged. I biked. Older Kid made another miniature book and some amazing fairies for their library. Younger Kid made a cool battle shield. We went to the beach together and it was warm enough to really enjoy wave running. And we saw whales! This is the first time, although we’ve been looking for seven years. There were three, and they kept jumping, showing their backs. One jumped half-way out of the water, and another spent a couple of minutes just flipping his tail.

    Life is good.

    Robots in a minyan

    I am an atheist (thank god). I have looked carefully and hopefully and there’s nothing connecting me to the Jewish community (except shared history, and my kids’ names, and shared fears, and the odd unfulfilled wish to be connected to a Jewish community, and of course, an jealously guarded conviction of my own Jewishness).

    That said, I find it unexpectedly heartwarming that there is at least a hypothetical statement by a rabbi (in fact, multiple statements by multiple rabbis) that under the right conditions (if I understand correctly these are a) being made by Jews or specifically with participation of a Jewish woman or being educated by Jews in their household or converting and b) passing the Turing test) which are already met a robot could be considered a Jew. (Of course, there is also a statement, by a rabbi, that it cannot).

    When something looks human and acts human, to the point that I think it might be human, then halachah might consider the threshold to have been crossed. This makes sense from a Jewish ethical perspective as well… I have a responsibility to treat all that seem human as humans, and it is better to err on the side of caution from an ethical perspective.

    In this context it may be important that the first program to pass the Turing test was pretending to be Jewish (It didn’t claim to be Jewish: just to be named Gootsman, to live in Odessa, and to have a father who’s a doctor.)

    For myself I’d consider it more difficult for an AI to prove itself male, than to prove itself Jewish, but fortunately Conservative and Reform Jews do not require maleness to be part of a minyan. In fact, roborabbi is explicitly female.

    Говорит рабби Цви Ашкенази из Альтоны
    на границе семнадцатого и восемнадцатого века:
    Не может голем
    быть призван в состав миньяна,
    потому что не запретно уничтожение голема,
    а уничтожение человека запретно,
    значит голем – не человек
    (и душа его, если она есть,
    весит даже меньше женской).

    Ночью в библиотеку
    приходит некрупный голем,
    рыжий и серый, и желтоглазый.
    Не причиняет вреда.
    Спрашивает беззвучно:
    «Я знаю, сначала ты решил по-другому:
    ‘Создан из глины, одушевлён словом,
    во всем подобен Адаму,
    вырос в еврейском доме,
    где причина такому не быть евреем?’
    Почему передумал?»

    Отвечает рабби Цви:
    «Потому что вспомнил –
    мой предок,
    Элияху Баал Шем из Хелма,
    сотворил голема, потом уничтожил…
    Если голем этот мог стать частью миньяна,
    значит мой прапрапрадед был убийцей
    как рабби Зейра,
    повелевший другому голему
    рассыпаться прахом,
    только потому что голем не владел речью…
    Как принять решение,
    которое их осудит?»

    За кирпичной стенкой дышит Эльба,
    приречный город Альтона,
    ещё не сожжённый шведом,
    не разбомбленный союзниками,
    звонкий как как глечик
    весёлый датский глиняный город,
    где по улицам можно ходить без большой опаски,
    даже ночью, даже еврейке.
    Голем стоит и не дышит – незачем и нечем.

    Спрашивает рабби Цви пока из Альтоны:
    «Что станешь делать?»

    Цви Гирш бен Иаков – сам непростой товарищ,
    учился в Салониках и в Стамбуле,
    но он не рабби Лев и не рабби Элияху
    и не уверен, что сможет остановить чужую глину,
    если глина решит, что ей нанесли обиду.
    А ей нанесли обиду.

    Голем поднимает голову, отвечает:
    «Трудное какое дело – быть человеком.
    Я как-то теперь не знаю.
    Спокойной ночи.»
    И рассыпается прахом
    на горе квартирной хозяйке:
    как, у такого гостя
    полная библиотека мусора, почва, листья,
    жёлтые побрякушки из южной венгерской глины…
    точно решит, что здесь его не уважают.

    С той, кажется, поры
    перевелись големы по Европе.
    Что-то такое разладилось с местной почвой,
    так что она больше не отвечала Слову.
    Ни для какой причины.

    В 2014 году говорит рабби Марк Голдфедер,
    что из Атланты,
    обычный такой учёный:
    «Создан из глины, одушевлён словом,
    проходит тест Тьюринга,
    где причина такому не быть евреем,
    если захочет?
    Не вижу такой причины.»

    И пока говорит, не видит ещё и,
    что на его телефоне,
    тоже, можно сказать, сотворённом из глины и праха,
    зажигается жёлтый огонёк,
    не предусмотренный конструкцией –
    и уже не гаснет.
    Больше не гаснет.

    Quote of the day

    I remind you, oh my son William, beautiful and adorable, that among your mundane concerns of this world, you take care lest you fail to acquire a great number of books

    Dhuoda of Uzès with thanks to Dr. Bret C. Devereaux  whose blog is absolutely fascinating

    Stranger Times

    Reading CK McDonnell’s Stranger Times short stories “In Other News” because I love this guy’s writing more than I hate stories about vampires. So far there’s been one Pratchett reference per story, but maybe I’m missing some.

    TIL Benét

    Apparently Stephen Vincent Benét (of the David and Daniel Webster) was freaking prescient. He published Into Egypt in 1929 and it reads like something published in 1943 at the earliest, more like 1946+.

    TIL пончики

    TIL that Pączki (pronounced pun-chi-ki) are a Polish food. Strike me with a two-by-four and color me astonished. Naturally, this caused me to reconsider my views on visiting Wisconsin and to do some research on things to do in Milwaukee.

    Then I came to my senses and realized that I can wait until Feb. 14th (yes, they have a special day for it) and get some in SF.

    Life, still good

    I extraverted for 2 full days (3-9, 8-9, 8-10:30=20.5 hours). I was friendly and interested. I was vulnerable and open about my emotions. I was invested in the outcome and forthcoming with my opinions. I praised, listened supportively, and gave credit. I participated actively in a loud game show and had prolonged conversations with multiple people in loud restaurants. I came home nearly dead, but satisfied.

    Everyone was unusually solicitous of me, which, after talking to B, I put down to

    1. A combination of feminine dresses (the potential future personalities dressed me for this one. They are way more extraverted than I am, and more body-confident)

    2. Hurt feet (I wore something other than Birkenstock sandals for the first time in over two years. It hurt. Got bloody welts before I reached the plane.)

    3. General projection of clumsiness that, apparently, sometimes just happens to me, especially when meeting new people. B says it’s not actual clumsiness.

    4. The whole open and vulnerable about emotions thing

    I came home to a cleaned bathroom, happy kids, an evening watching The Great Dictator with B, and a morning with matcha made exactly to my taste (sheer luck) by Younger Kid and flower eggs by Older Kid. “Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good” 🙂

    Coming next- Il Ducato, the updated Lamplighters take on Mikado, with amazing kids 🙂

    Life is very good.

    Life is good

    I went to a party yesterday.

    I extraverted.

    I danced salsa and Bollywood, as part of a small group, a large group, and a pair (as usual, I looked around and invited the shyest woman. She liked it.)

    I ate the most exciting meal in my life to date (

    I woke up dead (extraversion is not my thing), and spent the day doing light crafting, school supply shopping, and random browsing while Awesome Spouse cleaned the room with kids, took them shopping, and brought me flowers and an eclair.

    And now, at a strong suggestion from Awesome Spouse I’m going to go take the bath Youngest Kid set up for me.

    Life is very good.

    TIL – Krishna and Putana

    TIL about Putana, who tried to poison the baby Krishna by rubbing her breasts with poison and breast-feeding him. Krishna, naturally, killed her, but she was cleansed of all sin the act of breast-feeding him and went to the same heaven as his actual foster mother.

    I love stories with unexpected endings. The picture below shows Putana in the act of breast-feeding Krishna and simultaneously dead in her demonic form.


    Accidentally went to see Barbie on Friday. There are many great things about it:

    1. Visuals! Barbieland is a mood ehnancer. It’s beautiful and made with love. The costumes are great, the houses are great, the colors are great – I might just re-watch the first Barbieland morning in slow motion when it’s available on video. And the dolphins! And the camper van!
    2. Mattel marketing done just right – I particularly liked the CEO saying (while roller skating) that he went into this business because he cares about little girls and their dreams in the most non-sexual way possible. Having Ruth Handler describe herself as an old lady with tax evasion issues was also very clever. My favorite was the scene where the Mattel executives chased Barbie through a cubicle hellscape – seriously chef’s kiss. They managed to let Mattel (as a company) be villains BUT leave the audience feeling good about Mattel. That must have been unimaginably difficult and I can only shudder at the thought of the meetings.
    3. Main speech about how hard it is to be a woman that cares about societal expectations or just has to deal with them. It made me cry. It also made me realize that I care more about societal expectations than I thought I did, and I need to start watching for this more carefully.

    What I did not like:

    1. The horrible ending given out as an almost-happy one. At the end Kens are still homeless, with neither constitutional rights nor jobs (but there may be a couple of lower-court judges at some point). The weird Barbie gets a job as a minister of Sanitation by her own choice. Of course, it may just be her being weird and not self-sabotaging, because Barbieland has no need for sanitation.
    2. Cliched idea of men as incapable and abusive by default. Sexism is still sexism when it’s about men.

    These things spoiled the movie for me, lovely as it is. Bzzz, however, says that if it makes someone drop a toxic boyfriend or review their demands of themselves that’s enough. We just aren’t the target audience.

    How to say “Hello” – TIL

    That Massai say hello by asking “How are the kids?” , Kasserian Ingera, and the appropriate response is “The kids are fine”. This comes to you courtesy of our school district superintendent, and all other references also seem to be from US educational circles, which means this may be an urban legend, but if so it’s a good one.

    Cambodians say hello by asking whether you’ve eaten yet, similar to grandmothers.

    Chinese and Thai specifically ask whether you’ve eaten rice. Russians, of course, wish you health, and Georgians wish you victory.

    Kosovars don’t mess around – they ask whether you’re getting old (the correct response is “a bit”).

    Zulus say “I see you” and the response is “I exist for you”, which is very Max Frei and very touching.

    Mission Bay

    One of my favorite neighborhoods in SF – clean, futuristic, walkable, and full of tasty things.

    This is a futureform called Orbital that expresses optimism about the future with diversity, equality, and inclusion. Its makers also describe it as a contemporary folly. I don’t think they thought through the more cynical ways one can interpret this, given that “folly” is not just foolishness, but one that specifically results from lack of foresight or practicality. Arguably, it’s not even a folly, since follies are, by definition, buildings, and this is more of an installation or a sculpture. But it’s lovely and joyful and it made me happy today.

    This is Ichiren-Bozu, “a mythic character that implies consciousness by Masako Miki. It also implies growth and prosperity, which I choose to take as a good sign as I enter a period of conscious (get it? get it?) growth.

    I love SF 1% art tax almost as much as I love SF’s POPOS.

    It paid for this installation, as well as the Mokumokuren at right. The idea of continuous eyes, a demon that leaves in torn shoji until it’s repaired, being actually a protector is pretty awesome. I believe it’s the artist’s own, since in the legends I read the eyes were anything but protective.

    The ghosts of the old umbrella and back-scratcher below also seem very friendly and helpful.

    Today’s aesthetic experience has been brought to you by taxation, as are so many of the other things I enjoy, which is probably why I’ve never felt bad about paying taxes.

    One thing I learned today is that the Bay Trail is already 350 miles long, and projected to be 500. I think this would be a fun walk and should definitely remember it as a future project.


    Took the kids to see The Tudors today. My mental images of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI are based on a very limited number of portraits, and every single one of those portraits was there, as was pretty much every other artwork I would name if anyone asked me to make a list of Tudor artwork. The few that were not there were used in explanatory texts. Most artworks were so immediately familiar that seeing them feels like unexpectedly seeing an old friend. They did not look anything like I would’ve expected.

    In person they are very real and alive, to an extent that I never guessed from the photos. Despite the overall flatness of the background. Despite the unrealistic proportions of the furniture. Despite the costumes and the make-up. “They could almost step out of the frames” is a cliché, but alas – an inescapable one.

    Crafts were new to me, and amazing.

    The detail is overwhelming. There was some blackwork embroidery with patterns so tiny and complicated I could barely distinguish them, and suits of armor covered in patterns on patterns, dizzy-making.

    Incidentally, this particular suit of armor is supposed to be blue (based on the explanatory text). I generally think of this shade as brown. Another odd thing about this suit of armor is that the breathing holes are only on the right side of the helmet.

    The kids claim they enjoyed the exhibition, but it was obviously too much for them. They saw all four rooms in the time it took me to get to the middle of the second room, and after that followed behind me, holding my hands, leaning on me, and generally being cute and tired. But they were good about it, and got their dose of shopping, food, and beach afterward. It was a perfect sunny day, and West Beach was almost entirely empty. Much wave running got runned.

    Washington, DC 8

    On our last day we missed seeing the International Spy Museum and the National Air and Space Museum for the same reason – it was a Saturday and I didn’t think to get tickets in advance. Kids, fortunately, were stoic (like Zeus) and patient. I gave them a choice between the National Portrait Gallery and National Building Museum and they picked the latter.

    The Building Museum is located in an enormous magnificent empty building. It’s surrounded by a frieze by Casper Buberl detailing the units of the Union Army that deserves a separate exhibition on its own. There are photos on the museum site:

    The middle of the central hall normally has a fountain which is currently covered by a sculpture, Look Here by Suchi Reddy. The point of the sculpture is for the viewer to see themeselves reflected in photos of historical acts of protest printed on the reflective forms and to consider that they, the viewer, as well as architecture, are both parts of shaping our society for the better. The small grey squares you can barely see in the middle are bed-sized pillows and rocking chairs on which tired parents recline while their children take part in the LEGO build on the second floor. It is a beautiful and restful spot, which qualities distract from the message of protest and activism.

    Besides the LEGO build there’s an empty room with posters about the life of the founder, General Meigs, a room with a collection of animals in sculpture (very beautiful, but insufficiently explained), some great doll houses and scale models of historical homes , and a really cool exhibit showing different ways of framing a house.

    There are also a lot of empty rooms and a general feeling that we should’ve come during an event or performance. Totally worth it for the beauty and the LEGO break, but next time I’m looking at their calendar before visiting.

    Traveling with kids means that there’s only a short window to see things, and it’s approximately 9 am to 3 pm. After that it’s food and physical activity time. Younger Kid requires 3 hours of physical activity per day plus bed-flopping breaks.

    Overall, it was a great trip – much easier and less stressful than I expected. We saw completely different things than I thought we’d see, ate different foods than I thought we’d eat, and spent far more time at the gym with more enjoyment than I would have believed.

    Washington, DC 7

    As much as National Children’s Museum was a disappointment Planet Word was an unexpected delight. My expectations of it were low, 3/5 – but Younger Kid put it as a 5 and Older Kid as a 4, besides it was two blocks away from the hotel. I feel very lucky that we went there and will come back again if I can. Planet Word is a museum dedicated to words and language, and it’s absolutely beautiful inside and outside.

    One enters through a courtyard with a lit tree and a statue of someone that seems to be trying to pull themselves together out of letters. I’m not sure whether this is what the sculptor intended, but it’s an image that I can really identify with (yes, the dangling participle just here is ironic).

    The tree was not lit when we came, but as we were leaving we saw the first few lamps turned on.

    Inside there are three floors and one starts at the top. The first room contains a lit globe surrounded by tablets, each containing short videos by language carriers about their language. I must have been very tired, because I became a bit teary-eyed at the explanation of how to say some simple thing in Amharic.

    The most interesting things I learned are that Miriwoong (one of the 250ish Native Australian languages) has not words for hello and good bye, but only “How are you”, that Wolof speakers in Senegal do not refer to anything as “mine” if they can plausibly call it “ours”, and that Senegalese in general are so reluctant to talk about their accomplishments that each family has a designated praise giver, whose job it is to bring up the achievements of family members as needed.

    Next is an interactive video played against a wall of 1,000 most common English words, talking about where they came from (1/3 each Saxon, Norman, and borrowed apparently, I assume not enough remains of the Celtic languages to count). An interesting factoid from the video is that teenage girls have been the most active new word inventors since the 15th century at least, and are responsible for introducing “you” instead of “thou” and “does” instead of “doth”. It’s a relatively simple video – a disembodied voice talks, audience shouts answers into microphones, the voice either says “yes, the answer is” or “no, the answer is”, visuals are spare (fire, water, animal silhouettes) but the whole is very beautiful. In fact “simple and beautiful” really defines Planet Word.

    Another fun fact – apparently there’s no agreement on how many words English has, because there’s no agreement on how to count words like “run”, which has 345ish definitions

    The second floor is where I’d stay forever. It starts with a quiet library – color-coordinated books, mirrors in the ceiling, a table for coloring and a center table on which one can place a book from the shelf and see played out on top of it a short video explaining the book or telling some interesting story about how it came to be written. One of the library walls is actually a secret door, leading to a small quiet room with a couch where one can sit and listen to poetry being read out loud and shown on a screen. Here is that door seen from the inside.

    Walls of the library are inset with large mirrors in gilded frames. Underneath each one is a quote from a book that, when said out loud by someone without an accent (I drafted Younger Kid) temporarily transforms the mirror into a diorama from the book while another disembodied voice continues the quote. Each diorama is in a different style and range of material (e. g. The Little Prince is an all-white globe with paper cut-outs inside), all are remarkably beautiful, and many quite realistic, but it’s very hard to make a good photograph of a mirror, so, unfortunately, I can only show two.

    Besides the beautiful library there is a purple room devoted to karaoke, a yellow room (I want a yellow room. Preferably one where I can drink tea in the morning) all about jokes and how to tell them, and a green room in which kids can dip brushes into adjective pails and alter a virtual landscape on the wall by painting over it. For instance “autumnal” turned the leaves yellow and “crepuscular” introduced twilight.

    The bottom floor had a spiral exhibition on ads and the techniques they use, stories of language and a room to record one’s own story, and a gift shop where I was surprised to learn that Older Kid prefers Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter (yes, that same HP that they’ve been reading non-stop for the last 4 years), and the Phantom Tollbooth to both. I read the Phantom Tollbooth in either Odessa or Moscow as a kid, and remember almost nothing except that I liked it and the word “cacophony”. Will have to re-read.

    Younger Kid requested and received a manual on writing jokes for kids and a book about the history of punctuation marks. Can’t wait to see whether he’ll read these. Right now he’s reading a biography of Michael Jordan, acquired as part of his search for gifts for Older Kid (they got a cupcake cookbook in that particular store).

    Washington, DC 6

    Wednesday was a lovely and relaxed day. We strolled Georgetown at random using my favorite process – picked something to look for, in this case a playground. We found three playgrounds, all of which were really cool. One was locked, the other was occupied by a camp, and the third devoted solely to toddlers. We stopped there anyway, because it had fountains. Younger Kid now wants a balance bike and a red Radio Flyer tricycle.

    Georgetown is full of very similar houses, all of which have big enticing balconies, towers, and ornate cast-iron front steps. It seems very cohesive and I would’ve enjoyed walking there more.

    Strangely, DC seems to have very few homeless people, and passerby seem sober and friendly. The streets overall seem safe, clean, and populated. I’ve yet to smell cannabis anywhere, but that may be because we’re more or less staying in the same small area.

    It was really great that Younger Kid was into strolling and discovering a neighborhood with me and seemed to understand why it’s fun. I wish I knew how the day was for him.

    Once we got tired of walking I gave Younger Kid a choice of another museum, historical house, or an aquatic park. Once it became clear that the aquatic park is a boardwalk hike in a swamp with lotuses he picked the historical house. Specifically, Tudor House, inhabited by descendants of Martha Washington for six generations. She did not have children with George Washington, but he raised her kids from a prior marriage and this is the house where they lived.

    The house is surrounded by a beautiful garden. We kept getting lost at it, because we expected the scale to be similar to Filoli. It’s actually (being a city and not a county house) a lot smaller, so we’d constantly look for paths that we’ve passed awhile ago. Younger Kid was somewhat disappointed at not being allowed to touch those lead dogs, but I really liked it that he came up with the prohibition himself, all I had to do was to confirm it.

    The tour is built around the day Marquis de Lafayette came to visit in 1824. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the house and its inhabitants and history, good and bad. It was more the idea of learning things about the past than what those things were – so she was equally enthusiastic about Lafayette, General Lee (who also visited, being a near connection by marriage), the gardener whose name unfortunately I’ve forgotten, and Martha Washington’s punch bowl (very beautiful, Chinese, made for export to Britain).

    Younger Kid requested souvenirs, and got a hat (he’s been begging for a natty hat for awhile now) and lemon balm tea, which he said Older Kid will love. I need to figure out how to resist this particular sales approach.

    Just outside, on the same street we found (and lightly sampled) a neighborhood herb garden. Younger kid also noted the rainbow and Ukrainian flags and concluded that these must be very good people. I’m inclined to agree.

    Next, we went along the Georgetown Heritage Canal. Unfortunately, we were too late to get a boat tour, but we did examine the locks in detail. The next day we missed the same tour because of bad luck with Uber 🙁 It was a beautiful area and I hope Older Kid feels well enough Friday that we can attempt the tour again.

    Sunday, and Monday we finished the day at the pool. Tuesday we were very tired and the pool was, according to Younger Kid, too full of people. That is why Wednesday we went to the gym. The gym at this hotel (Hilton Embassy on 10th) is well hidden – it’s on a lower floor accessible by only one of four elevators and unmarked. But it’s big, and well-equipped, and we spent an hour and a half there. Would’ve been more, but we forgot water bottles and there were no cups.

    Thursday, unfortunately, was almost a complete loss as far as touristing goes – we went to the National Children’s Museum, which is an indoor playground.

    There’s a cool climbing structure with a slide, but the one in San Diego is much more interesting.

    There are some exhibits pretending to be scientific, but after Exploratorium they look weak.

    Younger Kid enjoyed building a swing from wooden blocks and tackle (we tried to fit in a pulley, but there was no rational place for it), using an air stream to lift balls into a basket, and doing baseball practice hits. I was really impressed at how organized the line for the baseball was – kids intuitively, without discussion, agreed on the length of turns and kept to it politely and without fuss.

    Afterward we walked back to the hotel, did another hour and a half of gym, and three hours at the pool. I barely pulled Younger Kid away by telling him the hotel restaurant will close. Fortunately, he really loves this restaurant.

    He’s being quite adventurous with food – ordered a quinoa salad for breakfast (ate out pomegranate seeds and raisins and left the rest, but still) and an apple and cheddar salad for dinner (ate all the apples and cheddar and half the arugula, the waitress even commented on how much he ate – it was a very big bowl). Even more strikingly he followed up the salad with an “exotic mushroom” pizza, as opposed to his normal extra cheese. I’m becoming more and more optimistic about foreign travel.

    Washington, DC 5.5

    Tuesday evening we went on a ghost tour. I picked it because younger kid has never been on one before, and because I thought he might be bored on a historical one. Given how much he’s begged to go on the historical canal tour I may have been wrong about that one.

    The ghost tour was fun, and more story than ghost, although it’s nice to know that the capitol building is haunted by a demon cat (DC, get it, get it?). None of my photos came out well, and the main thing I took away from the tour is the desire to see the Library of Congress from the inside and to do a Halloween overnight at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

    The tour guide was funny, interesting, and generally great (Ghosts of D. C. tour – highly recommend) and it ended next to a very cool thing – a robin roosting tree full of robins. They were asleep and completely ignored us, even though we were almost close enough to touch them (I could’ve reached them if I’d jumped). They seemed fluffy from below, cozy, and somehow magical.

    Washington, DC 5

    On Tuesday we went to the zoo and took literally hundreds of pictures. There are way too many to show here, so I’ll just go with a few favorites. The zoo is big, but we saw all of it, except North American mammals, because we were tired and most of those we’ve seen in the wild.

    Washington Zoo is not especially big (I believe San Diego and Miami may be larger), but it has two outstanding features that other zoos lack. The first, of course, is the pandas. Notice the adorable toe beans. Both kids believe that it looks exactly the same as our cat (the cat, while large, is somewhat smaller and tabby, but also has adorable toe beans)

    My favorite part of the zoo was the Small Mammal House. Unlike other zoos that I’ve seen Washington Zoo has a lot of buildings, and most of them seem larger inside than they are outside. Small Mammal House looks small, but it’s very cleverly planned and positively enormous on the inside.

    There were porcupines. Look at that lovely nose. No, seriously, look at it – isn’t it wonderful?

    This is a chinchilla. Yes, I do feel guilty for eating beef. Yes, there is an obvious connection.

    This is a rare desert sand cat. Younger Kid thinks it looks like our younger cat, but he says that about every non-chubby feline.

    This is a lemur, on his way to goose another lemur and run away with an evil laugh.

    Dwarf mongoose – much cuter than the regular-sized ones.

    Very cute meercats grooming each other.

    Of course it’s not just mammals. We saw at least a dozen different species of turtles and tortoises. This one is definitely threatening.

    One of the coolest buildings was the Think Tank. Also small from the outside, on the inside it’s a full-sized museum of thinking, with lots to read, fun puzzles, interesting historical exhibits, a cool rat house (with a cool rat in it), and two large enclosures – for chimpanzees and orangutans. Orangutans get the option of either staying there or taking a high wire across the whole zoo to their regular enclosure. The point of them being there is to conduct experiments that would help figure out whether or not they are thinking, and if so, what and how. For instance, the experiment described while we were there had orangutans look at their main enclosure on a screen and tracked whether or not they are more likely to go there if they notice the other orangutans do something interesting.

    Orangutans, of course, are impossible to photograph.

    Lastly, we visited the Amazon building, which had really great birds and rays.

    It also had lots of different frogs and toads, a waterfall, and water dripping everywhere from walls and balconies to form stalactites, which was a bit disconcerting.

    Washington, DC 4

    Monday we went to the Hirshhorn Modern Art museum. This is one Younger Kid specifically asked for. I was surprised, but went in with no expectations.

    We started at the sculpture garden outside – sat next to creepy headless people, and ate ice cream. They watched us.

    We also really liked these three:

    Pretty awesome spider made out of strings or wires, thus less scary than a normal spider.

    Miro, because of the amazing textures. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but the box is corrugated cardboard.

    Typewriter eraser. Younger kid felt betrayed – both parents told him there’s no such thing.

    White tree of Gondor (Younger Kid recognized it)

    The Thinker – reminded me of the Black Rabbit from Watership Down

    But our favorite was House I, by Lichtenstein. We did not make it spin, but the moment of going from thinking “it’s flat, but the illusion is that it’s 3D” to realizing that it is 3D was really great.

    Hirshhorn was dark. Like an avalanche of gloom and terror.

    Between the one spiky and beautiful globe of rainbows by Eliasson and the glorious prisms by Mary Bauermeister (above) was

    1. A funereal purple installation about consumerism killing the world
    2. A deadly green film about the jungle (I wish I had photographed the leaves dripping paint) and the actor’s need to be constantly seen (a very sad and cynical riff on Socrates, but gloriously green, wet, and liquid)
    3. An exhibition of modern Chinese photography. I was most struck by a series of portraits of the artist’s parents (from revolution to old age, sickness, and death), a collage of hundreds of identical 3-people family photos, and a version of the traditional four seasons paintings (circle in a square with a branch and a bird) in which all birds have been messily killed. Keep in mind that I steered away from the scarier walls.
    4. A floor dedicated to an abstract Pickett’s Charge – chaos and violence in torn paper.
    5. An overwhelming, chaotic, complex and screaming black and white room about ravens, flood, absurdity, and inevitable destruction of the world, which may be a dream anyway.
    6. An exhibition centered on the pains and troubles of being a non-male artist
    7. A red white and black room about current politics and the world in general
    8. A desert-colored meditation by Dana Awartani about impermanence of home and memory. There was a mosaic tile, re-created with sand, on the floor, and a movie about the destruction of the same in an abandoned home in the village where her grandparents used to live before history happened, as it does. She made an immensely complicated pattern with colored sand in order to sweep it up, a melancholy mandala.

    Therefore it’s not surprising that we went straight home afterwards, pausing only to admire a small enclosed and fragrant garden. What is surprising although it probably shouldn’t be is that Younger Kid paid careful attention to all of the above (esp. Dana Awartani’s film) and seemed to be thinking about it.

    Washington, DC 3

    On Sunday we started at the Beauvoir Playground, which is big, and lovely, and which I mainly did not see because I was sitting at the top guarding our luggage.

    The playground is right next to the National Cathedral, lucky for me. Kids were a bit aghast at the idea of visiting a working church, but I managed to convince them.

    The cathedral was just as beautiful as expected. I particularly enjoyed the carving of hell fire above the main entrance and the space window.

    That done, we dropped off Older Kid in their first-ever strangers-only sleepaway camp (Animal Sciences+Leadership) and went on a tour of all Washington DC souvenir shops because Younger Kid wanted to buy a gift for Older Kid.

    We made it through approximately 8, and bought a rubber duck and sunglasses. There is MAGA merchandise everywhere, and it’s really unpleasant. My compromise was buying from a store that had both kinds of merch.

    Three hours at the pool, and that’s Sunday 🙂

    Washington, DC 2

    Oddly enough the 30+ degree heat is not too bad, nor is the humidity. In fact, I could use a bit more of the latter – the grey rainy weather is wonderful. I’m not really enjoying the sun, but the rain this morning was wonderful.

    There is a lot of greenery everywhere, and all of it is either blooming or fruiting. Hibiscus flowers are amazing irl.

    The kids were still very jetlagged and unhappy because of lack of sleep, so did not take heat well. They did perk up for a bit when faced with a row of 20+ food trucks in front of the museum of Natural History, at least half of which were selling ice-cream and boba, but Younger’s ice-cream turned out to be yogurt, and Older was just plain miserable. So, we decided to skip walking the National Mall, and went to the Natural History museum. It was amazingly beautiful.

    There are random unconnected areas. We went to Mammals (Older Kid), Cell Phones (accident), Butterflies (joint decision), Insects (while waiting for butterflies), and three gift shops (Younger kid). Gems were insanely crowded, we peeked in and went right out.

    Mammals are mainly stuffed mammals, which excited Older and saddened Younger and myself.

    My top three things about that section were the statue of the Earliest Mammalian Ancestor

    The elephant family tree (I would love having something like this on the wall)

    Insects were great, and I could’ve used more of them.

    Overall, each section was too small, and none had enough explanations, but I may just be spoiled.

    The butterfly garden was small, but very full of butterflies and fragnant. It will, however, have to be a separate post 🙂

    Washington, DC 1

    The flight was full of pleasant surprises, from the send-off (I don’t normally giggle through the security line) to the short lines, to the kid packs distributed in the plane.

    Unfortunately, the sleeping on the plane idea did not work. Neither I nor Older Kid slept, and Younger Kid slept little and fitfully 🙁

    Fortunately, we were able to check in at 8 am and have breakfast at the hotel. This cost less than the breakfast anywhere else would’ve, and really simplified my life.

    The hotel is right next to the park, and we saw some lovely things on our walk.

    Suddenly running into the Ford Theatre and the house where Lincoln died (across the street) was odd. It’s the feeling of history I got at Paris and I did not expect it, although I probably should have.

    One of my favorite buildings was the Woodward & Lothrop building, richly decorated in newly-re-painted ironwork.

    The anguished face underneath the W&L logo is Zeus, known for his stoicism, while the horrifying ones below are self-portraits (sic!) of Horae, who, apparently, have major issues, probably as a result of being raised by Zeus.

    I am unsure of which Hora portrayed herself above, but she is certainly fair-haired.

    Books Read

    1. Emma – Emotional Load and Mental Load. These two books were exactly as I expected based on reading the comics online – unpleasantly on-point when it comes to gender and disturbingly at variance with my assumptions and beliefs when it comes to economics (she’s very socialist). That, of course, makes them very worth reading and thinking about. The biggest surprise was that Youngest Kid read both with apparent interest, which is not what one would expect of a boy his age. My future DIL has much to be grateful for (not that I’d tell her, of course). Here’s Emma’s best-known comic
    2. Chinelo Anyadiegwu – Igbo Mythology For Kids. Probably the nicest mythology book I’ve ever read and the only one that can be given to children without parental supervision. The author believes that mythology is alive and that telling it in their own way is ok. I don’t really believe that traditional Igbo mythology is all that tolerant towards non-cis-hetero people, but it’s nice to have a mythology book that is. Mythology books don’t normally have parents that are good within my definition of good parenting – it’s nice to have one that does. It’s also nice to have a mythology book that successfully tries to give an idea of the society to which the myths belong. For instance, the characters don’t just “go to market” – they start at a specific time for an explained reason, walk along a specific path with an explained group of other people, see detailed and explained things along the way… my favorite! I wouldn’t say I know anything about life in Southeastern Nigeria based on this book, but I know slightly less nothing, and there’s a solid basis there for enriching exploration. I’m really happy I bought this and signed up for author alerts.
    3. Dave Eggers – Eyes and the Impossible. Another lovely book. Can be given to kids with no supervision, can be used as relaxation reading, can just be held and admired because it’s published with an excessive gorgeousness that’s sensual verging on sexual. It was particularly pleasant to slowly realize the action happens in Golden Gate park but during a decade when I was nearby but entirely unaware of it. It is really tempting to compare Eyes and the Impossible to Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, which is why I almost didn’t buy it – but the wood! the liquid gold edge! the smooth creamy paper! the illustrations! It’s not at all like that. It even has a foreword that says it isn’t like that. It’s more like Seton Thompson or Bianki, but without the hopelessness and cruelty. Signed up for author alerts and updated the library list.
    4. Richard C. Morais – The Hundred-Foot Journey. It’s… a book. About cooking and immigration from India, written by someone who neither cooked, nor immigrated, nor spent time in India. It carefully hits all the right buttons. It adds nothing whatsoever to my knowledge of either India or haute cuisine, probably because the author read all the same books as me. I got it because of an endorsement on the back by Anthony Bourdain, and I can definitely see why he liked it – Morais repeats many of his opinions.
    5. Caimh McDonnell – McGarry Stateside. So far the author is a few books ahead of me, but I’m gaining steadily. Definitely re-readable from any point in the series, and I really look forward to watching the TV series

    Another awesome day

    Woke up to a hot breakfast (two dishes! fancy eggs and sandwich), tea, cleaned counter, unloaded dishwasher, cute notes, and a pom-pom on my spot courtesy of the kids.

    Took a nice relaxing bath with a fun book (Disaster Inc, Caimh McDonnell) and bubbles in a cleaned bathroom.

    Arranged and hang two more memories frames, in that blank spot over the couch that’s been annoying me ever since last October-ish when the construction stopped and I started doing Zoom meetings on the couch (really Skype and Telegram, but who’s counting).

    Put some stickers onto the cat shelf over my head because taking it down and covering it in wall paper is more work than I feel like doing.

    Got a light crafting project going – exciting.

    Am listening to a fascinating class by Linor Goralik on costume and just heard a great story: Apparently during the Meiji period Japan started electrifying far-off regions. The effect was about the same as it is for cell towers – people got worried in inverse proportion to education levels. There were stories that electrical wires must be painted with the blood of virgins. As a direct response unmarried women all over rural Japan started to blacken their teeth, at great expense, to look married in case an electrician comes by (before electricity only married women blackened their teeth).

    Life is good.

    Dublin Trilogy

    Got to book 6, Firewater Blues, of the Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell and it’s unexpectedly laugh-out-loud hilarious, unlike the previous books, which are exciting and re-readable, but not more than mildly funny. Oddly, I remember a few of them, which means I must have read the book series out of order at some point. I wonder what was going on that made me do that.

    The main character, Bunny McGarry would be a stereotypical Good Strong Man if he didn’t go in so heavily for political correctness (I love every single time he teaches people that being shitty to women and minorities is not nice) and wasn’t so well and pleasantly written.

    My personal issue with Good Strong Men in books and movies is that most of them would be dangerous to me in real life. Bunny McGarry might not actually love me as a person if he met me (or, in fact, notice) but he would definitely be safe, and knowing that allows me to relax and enjoy the books.

    Favorite anti-Semites

    Mine are definitely Georgette Heyer and Shakespeare. I quit Saki and Dorothy Sayers but still regret them. Heyer and Shakespeare I’ll probably never quit, although I don’t give Heyer to my kids.

    Thought about this because I tried to watch New Ohio Theatre’s Shylock and the Shakespeareans last week on Vimeo. It was good. So good, in fact, that I couldn’t get past the first act and it still irks me like a splinter a week later. If they keep it online I may try to get back to it, or just watch the end, for closure.

    It’s not-quite-a-remake of the Merchant of Venice. Separate play about the same events, in a more modern (but equally imaginary) time and place. It’s hilarious (I loved entitled and clueless Portia and her maid) in that instantly-recognizable Jewish “a funny thing happened on the way to the gas chambers” style. Unlike every other modern Merchant of Venice this play leans hard into the anti-Semitism. It’s a play about Shakespeare as anti-Semite and about living with anti-Semitism all around one.

    It’s like inhabiting two realities at once – one in which I’m a rich educated white woman in the most liberal place on Earth with all the privileges pertaining to this status, in a world that’s getting more and more liberal (it is, really) every year, AI making the world even more user-friendly, medicine improving, Juneteenth finally a Federal holiday, major scientific advances in clean energy… And another reality in which the Earth is burning, resources are becoming more scarce, and people who literally want to kill me and my kids are more and more powerful and violent.

    Switching from one to the other is like switching from the duck to the rabbit, except the rabbit wants to kill you.

    Another wonderful day

    Today started well – I slept in, and woke up just in time to go to the neighbor’s garage sale. Kids got LEGO and cool crafting stuff. and I got some socialization in. Then we went to see Wizard of Oz at ACT which I picked because of the director, Sam Pinkleton of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.

    It turned out to be great fun, if much more traditional than I expected. Disney all the way, with allowances for local SF color. It was also more interactive than I expected, but in a good way – we all got to wave yellow napkins to signify the Yellow Brick Road, and the kids got Oreos and lollipops. I’m going to always buy front row seats for children’s plays now – that was a nice touch.

    Having subtitles was a good thing, even though they were not conveniently located to our seats. I only had to use them two or three times, but just knowing they were there felt great.

    And then I came back home to ginger and turmeric with marmalade, a clean house, a drawn bath with a good book to read (I’m on part 8ish? I think? of the Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell), and one of my favorite teas.

    Life is definitely very good.

    Dear San Francisco

    Dear San Francisco is an amazing show. We went to see it today and I’m probably going to go at least once more.

    It’s the second 7 Fingers production we’ve seen, the first being the Passengers. I liked this one a bit more, because it is more joyful and about San Francisco (also possibly because we had better seats), but both were just right.

    It’s circus (specifically acrobatics and juggling) slightly leavened by theater set to really great music (Colin Gagne). There is some very light audience interaction – we got candy and a couple of words from the performers, which is about the enjoyable level of interactivity for me.

    The most impressive act was diabolos juggling by Shengnan Pan and her husband Enmeng Song. They did unbelievable things with diabolos, including catching one thrown across the hall, very touchingly thanked their teacher, Lu Yi, and told the story of meeting and falling in love in San Francisco while she taught him diabolos (apparently a female-only pursuit in China), and introduced one of their children.

    On the other hand, Chloe Sommers Walier twirled a number of hula hoops in complicated patterns while holding one upright on her nose, and (not at the same time) while being carried on someone’s shoulders, so perhaps that was the most impressive act.

    The “humorous” act was cringy and clashed badly with the rest of the show, but was probably necessary to let everyone rest.

    The other acts, trapeze, hoop jumping, pole acrobatics were also impressive and all seemed amazing to me, but the best part was how charming the actors were while doing them. It’s what I really love about circus – the firgun of watching people do impossible things and be happy and proud that they’ve done them.

    This week in YA

    Just finished three YAish books (1 and 2 because the Older Kid said so, 3 voluntarily, because I liked the Old Chosen One idea). It’s really refreshing to read about characters that are very much not like myself (i. e. not city people, not Jewish) and at the same time are not fantasy characters, so even though I didn’t love-love any of the three the first two were, at least, interesting.

    1. This Might Get Awkward by Kara McDowell – it is a very model of the modern YA romance. Everyone is Battling Something. Misunderstandings are Conquered Through Open Discussion. Everyone is Actually a Good Person. Bonus points because I got to listen to country music I’d never have come across otherwise and for the author’s obvious love for Lake Powell which is in Arizona and very beautiful. I visited it once, I believe, and have the fondest memories.
    2. Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw – it is an illustrated novel in my least favorite format (busy black-and-white) about Teenagers Facing Difficult Facts, Testing Friendships, and Discovering Themselves. There’s a lot of angst. The comics are charming (even to me – and I’m very much not a comic person) every character a pleasure to see, and add significantly to the story (in one important passage the picture directly contradicts the text – a really powerful move). Imo the main heroine’s relationship with her mother is insufficiently explored and the change feels unrealistic. I also have a hard time believing that a lawyer’s widow has to wait tables for a living or that, if she does, she can easily spare $30K or that teens brought up to strict Catholicism will not so much as think about Jesus in 300 pages.
    3. The Remarkable Retirement of Edna Fisher by E. M. Anderson – it’s a book about the Chosen One, except the Chosen One is an old lady. Otherwise it’s about par for the course – Edna Fisher Makes Unexpected Friends Along The Way, discovers a surprising ability to wield weapons (badly, but well enough to last more than seconds against a well-trained military man less than half her age), has disabilities that disappear when the plot needs it etc. There are plenty of convenient coincidences -literally everywhere Mrs. Fisher goes there’s a bush with a symphony orchestra concealed inside. She is Chosen to stop mass dragon attacks by wizards that apparently couldn’t care less whether the attacks actually get stopped. It turns out that the attacks are led by former Knights (Knights are a military body that fights Dragons somewhere Out There) that object to what seems to be a level of hazing standard for the Russian army. Their objections include attacking both Knight bases and civilian towns indiscriminately because their Leader has Angst. Of course, when everyone reveals the levels of hazing the Good Leaders are Abhorred. That’s not how hazing was in Their Day. It’s Shameful. That said, approximately 90% of the way into the book the idea that killing unnamed characters is not quite nice begins to be thoroughly explored and the ending has a slight barely-there tint of realism that, unfortunately, prevents it from being fully satisfying to any of the characters. There’s a general feeling of a richer, fascinating world around the characters that the author probably expands in other books.

    Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812

    I’ve been wanting to see this musical for the longest time, and lucked out – a friend told me it’s on Friday. There were only a few dates left, and only one that I could actually make in this overscheduled month (seriously – it’s more of a social whirl than I’ve had in years, including pre-COVID years).

    So, me and Younger Kid went the very next day.

    It was awesome. Totally worth the hour drive.

    The 3Below theater was new to me – intimate, well laid-out, and located inside a parking lot. There was no parking, due to the FanimeCon, but that’s ok, because we got to see the convention-goers, and they were beautiful. There were also no fancy desserts, despite a really cool ice-cream concoction being listed in the online menu, but we made do with popcorn.

    The play itself was everything I wanted – energetic, with light, cheerful, and memorable music and a good-faith approach to War and Peace. The opera scene was particularly good – the opera was exactly the way Tolstoy described it (that is, completely removed from the usual opera experience and seen with deliberately naive eyes.). Natasha was beautiful and innocent. Sonia’s song brought me to tears. Anatole was perfect for his role and looked (per kid) like Elon Musk. Andrey looked like the Best Marriage Party In Russia and was hilarious as Old Bolkonsky.

    Everyone moved in and out of multiple parts with graceful ease, rarely even changing costume. They just showed distinct personalities and functions with a slight change in posture and facial expression because that’s just how good they are. Each performer got a main singing role with at least one good song, a part in the ensemble, a part as one of the musicans, and a part as furniture so that Helene also played the violin, while Princess Mary portrayed an opera singer, a dancer, and a maid. Kuragin, Dolohov, and Balaga moved furniture and offered hands as needed. Everyone delivered letters.

    Both Bezuhoffs were made up to look too old for their roles, and seemed more contemporaries of Ahrosimova than of Andrey, let alone Natasha, but Helene had a Bosom that fully conformed with my imagination, a wanton red dress, and a beautiful voice.

    Quotes were used appropriately and often. Stereotypes were amusing and not mean-spirited. Costumes were period-accurate-enough without being distracting or overdone. Dancing was enthusiastic and good (especially Balaga’s). Scene design was clever – particularly all the staircases, and the way decorations suddenly changed color from light wood to gold when a mood called for it.

    Despite the sad subject matter (there’s Lost Love, Attempted Suicide, and Ethical Struggles) Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812 was just sheer exhilarating fun, a pleasure to remember. I wish I had the time to see it again.

    Chinese Historical Society of SF

    Today was an awesome day. I went with a friend to the Chinese Historical Society Museum on Clay St to see their collection of miniatures by Frank Wong and they happened to be having an exhibit on Bruce Lee.

    The miniatures were even better than I expected. Here’s a 3D view of the biggest one. Do check it out, it’s mind-blowing. The whole thing is smaller than a carry-on.

    And here’s my favorite one – the Chinese New Year.

    Besides the miniatures there were also some really cool and funny murals celebrating Bruce Lee and an adorable collection of miniature models of imaginary statuary by the local students. The statues were LEGO-sized, made of anything from cardboard to 3D printing, and celebrated important figures of progress. I am not quite sure how these are connected to Bruce Lee, but that’s probably because I did not have the time to watch the accompanying videos yet.

    The We Are Bruce Lee exhibition in general was very interesting and heavily tilted towards showing his importance as a builder of good inter-racial relationships, his impact on race relationships, and his all-around good-guyness. I think I understand better why he was so beloved during his life time and will probably watch some of the movies. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one and that is obviously an oversight. The exhibition included a short excerpt from Fist of Fury where Bruce Lee kicks a “No Dogs Or Chinese Allowed” sign – it looked awesome, especially the complete indifference of the Japanese woman who is seeing her entire escort smashed up.

    What really made the exhibition for me is the digitally-enhanced giant mural. It is a triptych, with the side pieces being entirely digital and showing things like rain, hills, trees, and quotes from Bruce Lee, and the center piece showing Bruce Lee as the Burning Bush.

    The underlying mural is awash with motion. The dragon moves. The fire running over his body is occasionally replaced by lightning. There is rain and flood. Neither my words nor the picture below, nor the picture accessible through the 3D view of the exhibition can convey the least part of the mural’s magnificence.

    This is Bruce Lee as God. The accompanying text says that he transcends space and time and is worth reading in its entirety.

    It was so amazing to be able to share the experience of seeing this worship with a friend. It is impossible to describe, and the moment of stunned amazement is so much better when shared.

    Here are more art works by the Macro Waves Collective.

    We continued to lunch at the Hang Ah Dim Sum which has been on my list for awhile. It’s over 100 years old, and is the first Dim Sum place in SF. After tasting the shrimp and coriander dumplings I fully understand why they lasted so long. After lunch we dropped by the Fortune Cookie Company to see the cookies being made and get one of the hot crispy discs. It was very hard to resist buying a bag of glazed cookies, but the long line helped.

    Overall a perfect outing and now there are two more places on my “love to visit” list.

    Recent books read

    Just finished: Victoria Goddard’s Clary Sage, a longish short story about how Hal, the Duke of Fillering Pool decides to go to Morrowlea Of The Radically Egalitarian Traditions. Sweet, light, and satisfying. Reminded me of why I liked the Greenwing & Dart series before the religion started getting heavy.

    The Particolored Unicorn by Jon DeCles. Came recommended by Katherine Addison, one of my favorite writers (oddly, because Sarah Monette, another pen name of the same person, is very much not). This book has all the things it needs to be hilarious – witty descriptions, great dialogue, plenty of fun references to literary classics (Douglas Adams etc.), charming and wacky characters…

    Should be similar to Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds in feel, but is not. Maybe there’s a bit too much of the author’s political views in the book (I mainly agree with those, but including them explicitly is wrong for the genre), or maybe it’s the general air of trying too hard. There is a sequel and I won’t be searching for it 🙁

    Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Cauldwell. Good solid detective story set in Venice and full of charming and wacky characters. Unfortunately, not enough Venice and way too much reliance on complicated lawyer speech for humorous effect. A really good thing, but not my thing, or perhaps I was just too tired to appreciate the language as much as it deserves (and it really, truly, deserves a lot of appreciation).

    Drinking Midnight Wine by Simon R. Green – a story of a man in his thirties who has everything – a paid-for house in a charming town near the scenic and historic Bath, a low-effort job in a charming old bookstore that pays for all his necessities, a few buddies he drinks with at the local pubs, and his health.

    Yet, he is not content.

    His life is empty, lonely, purposeless… He follows a beautiful woman through a mysterious door and becomes a Focal Point, Champion of Humankind, and Important. He also develops a golden tongue and awesome artifact-assisted fighting skills. After a lot of exposition he Saves the World and Gets the Woman of His Dreams.

    Good solid example of the genre, the author’s liking for his characters and the rich backstory in his head are obvious and touching, but the main character wakes the cynic in me, and once woken the cynic nitpicks.


    Алексей Цветков

    While driving home from Death Valley we listened to the Fall of Civilizations episode on Han, and of course I could not help but remember this poem by Aleksei Tsvetkov , although this takes place much later, post-Tang and pre-seventeenth century (which is a large spread).

    Paul Cooper says every phrase in a sepulchral tone that is quite fitting to the theme, but after a while becomes somewhat funny, because “he murdered thousands” just shouldn’t be said with the same expression as “he was a good rider”. It is, however, an expression very appropriate to the poem, so I’m imagining Paul Cooper reading it.


    в эти тревожные минуты
    наши мысли почти неминуемо
    устремляются к императору
    как ему одиноко в ледяном дворце
    и почему он все время молчит

    у яшмовых ворот толпа затоптала шпиона
    гарнизон на востоке остался без риса
    ходили слухи что велено посылать
    юных девушек для полкового котла
    не верю но младшей соседской дочери
    нет уже второй вечер

    новый слуга вернулся лишь около полуночи
    без шапочки и от него пахло вином
    рассказывал что чжурчжэни уже в столице
    и что кровь на площади у жемчужного храма
    стояла по щиколотку как черное зеркало
    последнее время он невыносимо груб
    надо велеть управляющему высечь
    эти чжурчжэни для них только повод

    навестил достопочтенный советник и
    с листками танской каллиграфии
    купил за бесценок у букиниста
    бесценок и есть но было неудобно
    огорчать друга велел подать вино и сливы
    из последнего запаса но того стоило
    давно так чудно не коротали вечер
    на обратном пути достопочтенного и
    выбросили из паланкина и забили палками
    эти чжурчжэни у них только предлог

    снова горит но теперь на западе
    стражникам работы по горло
    старый халат свалялся и не греет
    надо бы отправить за хворостом
    но некого и вряд ли кто продаст
    как прекрасна луна в черном бархате небес
    в черном шелке дыма

    похоже горит у самого дворца
    с той стороны где конюшни и гарем
    кисти давно не чищены и тушь пересохла
    император богоравен но и он боится
    мы знаем что он боится за нас
    но у нас уже не осталось для него
    слов утешения

    the mirror

    without fail our thoughts in these vexing times
    are with the emperor lonesome in his icy
    palace sunk in his unremitting silence

    a spy was trampled at the jasper gate
    the eastern garrison has run out of rice
    one hears of a decree to round up and
    butcher young maidens for the soldiers’ stew
    i give it little faith although the neighbor’s
    youngest’s been missing two nights in a row

    the new servant took off was gone till midnight
    came back without his cap reeking of wine
    the jurchen are within the walls he says
    and at the plaza by the pearl shrine blood
    was ankle-deep glistening like a black mirror
    he’s been too insolent of late the steward
    must be requested to apply the rod
    those jurchen are just a ruse for their ilk

    a visit from the venerable yi
    his brittle sheets of tang calligraphy
    obtained from a bookseller for a trifle
    trifle indeed but who would want to hurt
    a friend i had them fetch some wine and plums
    the last of the old stock but it was worth it
    never an evening was so full of mirth
    on his way back the venerable yi
    was torn out of his litter thrushed to death
    with canes those jurchen nothing but a ruse

    a conflagration this time in the west
    the guards will have their work cut out for them
    curse the old gown all matted and it’s cold
    should have dispatched them to stock up on brushwood
    but there’s no one to send and none for sale
    how splendid is the moon in the black velvet
    of the night sky in the black silk of smoke

    looks like the flare is aiming for the palace
    from where the stables should be and the harem
    i haven’t cleaned my brush the ink is dry
    the emperor may be godlike but he feels
    the fear we know he is afraid for us
    but we alas have hardly any words
    left to console him

    Yet another good day

    Garden at the Black Bird Bookshop and Cafe

    Went to see Sargent in Spain. Legion of Honor often shows non-representative works (e. g. gaunt men by Rubens, or full-length mythological males by Greuze), and this Sargent exhibit was not an exception – not a single socialite! (OK, there was one pre-teen boy, but).

    Sargent loved flamenco, so much of the exhibit is flamenco dancers, with paintings accompanied by thoughtful and interesting notes by members of a Roma advisory group. Consequently one learns almost as much about the mode of living of Roma in Spain as one does about Sargent’s ditto.

    Some of the notes are merely informative, some are amusing (e. g. the facial expression of the Spanish Roma Woman is said to be difficult to understand, or some words to that effect. I think the difficulty in understanding is due to the lack in English of the words “все достало”. Others are poignant, such as when the notes author addresses the Spanish Roma Family to tell them of his worry that his daughter will not grow up to be Roma.

    This speaks to me very directly, because, unless something horrible happens, my children will not grow up to be Jews in the visceral way that I am a Jew. They are aware of their Jewish heritage, but I think it’s no more real to them than the (theoretical) Vikings somewhere up the Russian side of my family tree are to me. To my grandchildren it will probably be even less. I feel that this is a loss, but cannot explain why, or what it is precisely being lost. Certainly I myself do not feel the lack of a visceral attachment to my Slavic heritage as a loss.

    Getting back to art, it’s really amazing how much better art is in conveying an experience than realistic representation, how much more real it is than reality. Compare this video of La Carmencita dancing with Sargent’s portrait of La Carmencita dancing – the video does not really let (me, now) understand why her dancing ( to contemporary eyewitnesses) felt “wild” and “breath-taking”, but the second at least gives an idea of the wildness and beauty they experienced.

    After Legion of Honor I went to the Black Bird Bookshop, which, besides a most beautiful and peaceful garden, has an unusual and lovely selection of books. I got Igbo Mythology for Kids; Forests, Fairies, and Fungi Sticker Anthology, and an amazingly lovely The Eyes And The Impossible. I don’t even know what it’s about, but I couldn’t put it down.

    I have the hardest time resisting beautiful books.

    Финист Ясный Сокол

    Read “Финист ясный сокол” Светланы Петрийчук. It’s rather clearer than most articles I saw on ISIS wives. The author and director were arrested last week for “propaganda of terrorism”. There is, of course, no propaganda of terrorism in the play, they were arrested for existing in Russia.

    The author seems to have meant this as an anti-terrorist play, but to me it reads more like a play about the false lure of abstract ideas. The main character(s) follows Love into the role of the Sacrificing Striving Lover much like one might follow a will-of-the-wisp, and to a similar dirty swampy end. They could have for the same reasons and with the same effect followed Faith, Revenge, Loyalty, Nation… I wonder what the Yahoo Purple Lady is up to now.


    Realized that I forgot to note finishing The Hobbit with kids. It was amazing. This time no one was traumatized, and everyone had fun. To celebrate, here’s my favorite poem on the subject, by Elena Mikhalkova.

    Derring-Do for Beginners

    Yet another Victoria Goddard novella, just as satisfying and spirit-lifting as I’ve grown to expect. This one is about the youthful meeting of Jullanar not yet of the Sea, Damian not yet Captain of the Red Company (but already probably greatest swordsman in the Nine Worlds), and Fitzroy not yet (as far as I can figure out) Angursell. The links above, btw, lead to the author’s pages with some quotes from the early versions of the story. Both the writing and the story grew significantly better in the years since these were posted.

    Damian gets the trademark “his life was sad and his family did not understand him, but Communication, Insight From Relative Strangers, and Serendipity opened their eyes, made his accomplishments clear, and helped him understand his challenges” plot line and Fitzroy is mainly there for comic relief, which means Jullanar’s story is the more interesting one of the three. There is quite a bit of emphasis placed on colonialism and colonial worldview, but as usual the characters are so charming and descriptions are so lovely that some heavy-handedness is easily forgivable. After all, it’s not like Hugo and Gautier didn’t indulge themselves in the same.

    Those descriptions, though! Just the colors alone would be enough to make this a perpetual re-read. I can’t wait for Victoria Goddard to reach her deserved level of fame so I can buy the fancy, glossy, fully-illustrated boxed set of the Nine Worlds books.

    Good Things This Week

    • I have a really comfortable reading place on the veranda again
    • Victoria Goddard published yet another novella and it’s NOT about making Cliopher Mdang OR Jemis Greenwing Even More Happy And Victorious (not that I’m not eager to find out what amazing things will happen to Cliopher Mdang next)
    • Saw the Anselm Kiefer retrospective at SF MOMA again, this time without kids, with a good friend, and using their audio guide. It’s really hard to look away from his paintings, I keep coming back to them and seeing them in my mind’s eye.
    • Saw Gerhard Richter again (because it’s the same exhibition, yes) – the way he makes oils look like pastels is uncannily beautiful and absolutely mind-blowing in all of the very diverse ways he painted.
    • Had a really good conversation
    • Got started on the craft station. Turns out it’s a whole-family project, which somehow makes it less stressful and more fun. Also, there’s that warm and fuzzy feeling of being supported 🙂
    • Started watching Fall of Civilizations: Han Dynasty by Older Kid’s request. They took notes! It’s really interesting. Will probably listen to the other episodes on Spotify – the video is nice, but I’m a text person.
    • Have I mentioned SF MOMA? Really amazing exhibit on furniture (mainly chairs, a few lamps, very few peculiar objects).
    • Made a super-quick chicken soup that Older Kid actually ate, which is great, because they were sick and didn’t want to eat. Feeling Parentally Accomplished.
    • Singing teacher claims I have a wide and unexplored range. This is going to be fun. Turns out learning things is my hobby – who knew I even had one?
    • Showed kids Oscar. They laughed.


    Turns out to be so much lovelier than I thought it would be. It’s weird how many prejudices one has without realizing that one has them.


    Cool things about color I learned today:

    1. When Newton said “blue” he may have meant what we mean by “cyan”. Ish. Newton seems to have seen indigo as a shade of blue. Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, sees indigo as a shade of purple.
    2. There’s a CSS color (#663399) named Rebecca Purple (warning – this one is terribly sad)
    3. Hanuno’o language, from Philippines, has four color categories that are distinguished by light/dark and red/green and at the same time indicate wetness/dryness and strength/weakness

    This is a good place to put my favorite links about color:

    1. Visualization of color in cultures
    2. Himba colors
    3. Changing how you talk about color (“this is a purple pencil” vs “this is a pencil that’s purple”) affects how well a toddler will identify colors. Also, toddlers seem to identify colors by the same mechanism horses use to do arithmetic, i. e. by responding to the non-verbal signals of their handler.
    4. Obligatory xkcd

    Bea Wolf by Weinersmith/Boulet

    Absolutely perfect children’s book. Everything from the size to the dust jacket and paper quality to the illustrations is harmoniously chosen, well-crafted, and worthy of the text.

    The illustrations are amazing in themselves. It is weird as it is to read a Weinersmith book that does not look like And they also don’t look like They are easy to “read”, but very detailed and convey both the innocence of the story at the meta level and the awe, terror, and glory of the story from the inside. The detail level will add to re-reading, I’m sure there will be more and more cool finds every time.

    The poem itself is true to the original in the aforementioned awe, terror, and glory as well as in the satisfying use of kennings and alliteration. It’s juicy and fun to read and suitable for children without cutting down on fear and danger. I was dubious that this could be done, and I was wrong to doubt.

    Overall a joy, worth many re-reads, and I hope they do the part with Grendel’s mother next.

    Ryan North, How to Take Over the World: Practical Schemes and Scientific Solutions for the Aspiring Supervillain

    Really good popular science book – clearly written, detailed, with fun illustrations. Guessing that 50% or more of the information will soon be outdated, but the remainder is enough to make it re-readable. On my personal rating scale of: “Avoid everyone who likes anything this person wrote” to “Reread whenever I need a pick-me-up” this is a solid “Re-read pieces when in a hurry”.


    1. Avoid everyone who likes anything this person ever wrote
    2. People who like this are suspicious but might be ok
    3. Avoid this author
    4. Avoid this book
    5. No point finishing
    6. Won’t re-read, but it was time well spent
    7. Seek out other books by this author
    8. Might re-read, especially in short pieces
    9. Set aside for re-reading
    10. Re-read regularly
    11. Re-read when sad or tired
    12. Seek out other people who like books by this author

    Today was a perfect day

    Saw the Gregangelo museum for the first time (and will definitely come back). It’s an overpoweringly beautiful place, there’s so much color, texture, detail, so many reflections and little surprises, so many hidden meanings and references. We spent 1.5 hours there and saw what Gregangelo Herrera (whom we were super lucky to have as a guide) says is approximately 1/3 of the rooms/installations.

    It was infinitely better than I expected, and is now firmly on my list of favorite places in the US.

    It’s odd how many things lately turn out to be even better than I expect them to be. Perhaps I need to raise my expectations.

    We were additionally lucky to have the kids with us – originally we planned an outing without them, but this is exactly the kind of thing I’d want to share with them.
    That being so we followed with games and snacks, and then I got a half-hour to meditate looking at one of my favorite views.

    Playing with chatbots

    It’s much more fun to give the same prompt to Bing and ChatAI than to either separately. From what I can see so far ChatAI is endearing and nice (probably connected), while Bing is just. darn. mean.

    For instance, I asked both to write a simple letter of complaint to a teacher because I don’t trust myself not to tear this particular teacher’s head off. ChatAI came through with something that barely needed to be altered, while Bing’s version was even meaner than my own.

    Bing is definitely better than I am at searching – no surprise there. Makes tasks like comparing editions much easier.

    Which is why I now know that the Roadside Picnic translation I want is the Bromfield one, despite how much the Folio Society one shocks me with sheer gorgeousness.

    Tree Nook

    This was my first book nook, made entirely from scratch. Геройству что виною было? Скупость. I just can’t bear the thought of paying over $200 and getting something that isn’t perfectly the way I imagined it.

    Apparently my idea of the perfect cozy place is an apartment building populated by people I like. This surprised the heck out of me. I blame the influence of my MIL and her children’s stories.
    Of course there’s a cozy balcony with a cat and a table for drinking tea while reading

    Cinderella puzzle

    Largest puzzle I’ve done yet. Even with the whole family helping this took forever. Like a vampire, when presented with a pile of small similar objects I can’t stop until I sort them.

    Sunny Town

    This is another CoolKatz Craft book nook, the Traditional Christmas Intrigue. I’m not a Christmas person.

    What made this one special is the kids participating. E made the person in the window (intended to represent them) and decided that their best friend lives in the white house. Y made the gondola and decided that the person to live in the magic-and-books house must be E. They themselves, obviously, occupy the cat house on the right.


    This is Venice Alley from Cool Catz Craft, but I decided not to follow directions.

    This Venice is fully submerged on a regular basis, which is why it’s inhabitants are mercats and octopuses. The summer months, when water retreats and exposes the buildings, are giant lotus season.
    I am particularly happy with how the black cat came out. You can juuuust see it peeking around the corner.

    It reminds me of my favorite day in Venice, June 7 of 2002. I delayed at St. Mark’s Square to see what the pigeons would do when it got covered with water. Turns out the pigeons, unlike myself, can fly and simply moved to the masts of the boats moored nearby. I, however, walked back to my hotel in the rain, waist-deep in warm water. It was exhilarating.


    TIL that цокотуха is an actual word in Ukrainian. As in Shevchenko, “Бодай же вас, цокотухи, та злидні побили”. From the text it means something like “prattlers”.


    Finished watching the extended version with the kids today. Together it’s an even better experience. Can’t wait for the new movies (Rise of the Rohirrim in 2024 + whatever unspecified things they’re keeping Peter Jackson updated on “every step of the way”) to come out.


    Today I got gifted this site, and it’s the best gift ever. You know what, folks? I think I’m happy.

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