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“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.

Padua

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.

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? 🙂

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 (https://www.sfhistory.org )

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 :))))

Whales

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.

https://el-d.livejournal.com/295982.html

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.

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 (https://www.tastemade.com/shiven)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Richmond

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.

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.

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.

LOTR

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.

Gift

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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