Spring, Beautiful Spring….

March 25, 2014 at 8:14 pm (Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Weather)

Where is it, I wonder?

“O Wind, if Winter comes / Can Spring be far behind?” Yes, Mr Shelley – apparently, it can be very far behind!

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day?

March 17, 2014 at 10:40 pm (books, Mystery fiction, Weather)

Yes, here in the Free State, it’s déja vu all over again (if you’ll forgive the tautology):

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Ah, well what can one do except, once again, turn to one’s books:

I’m still working my leisurely way through Miklos Banffy’s magisterial trilogy:

oldbanffy4I’m also engaged in yet another happy exercise in paired reading. First, I’m reading a new book on the history of ancient Egypt. It’s called, fittingly enough, A History of Ancient Egypt. 9781250030115  The subtitle, though, is very telling: ‘From  the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid.” The first chapter, “Beside the Pale Lake,” covers the thousand years from 5,000 to 4,000 BC. This is a good thousand years before the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt and the beginning of the Archaic or Early Dynastic Period, which ultimately led to the birth of the Old Kingdom. Author John Romer follows this fascinating trajectory mainly through the momentous discoveries of various archeologists. They find lots of pots, of increasingly subtle manufacture and design, but so far the most striking, not to mention haunting, object I’ve encountered is the Merimda Head:

human mask, Merimde

It was at Marimda…within the strata of the later phases of the settlement, deposited during a two-hundred-year period following the middle of the fourth millennium BC, that archaeologists recovered the fragments of the oldest known sculpture of a human being ever to have been found in Egypt. A clay head as round as a potato, it is a well-made and surprising work. It is also the earliest known evidence of how people living in the valley of the lower Nile saw themselves.

John Romer, in A History of Ancient Egypt

Right.

the-golden-scales-by-parker-bilal  Now we jump forward a couple of millennia to meet Makana, a private investigator living in a dilapidated houseboat in teeming present day Cairo. He’s barely making ends meet when he acquires a fabulously wealthy client who engages him to search for a missing soccer star. Uh oh – trouble ahead, right? You bet!

I’ve had my eye on this series ever since it debuted (with this novel) in 2012. Then two things happened: I read a very positive review of  The Ghost Runner, the latest entry in the series. Then I discovered that The Golden Scales was available for Kindle download at $1.99. I try not to make decisions about my reading matter on such a flimsy basis, but…well, really, I could not resist! And I’m glad that I didn’t. Parker Bilal‘s style is polished, and he has a nice line in private eye irreverence:

There was a lot of gold on that hand. Makana had a frying pan hanging in the kitchen about the size of that wristwatch. It answered any nagging queries he still had about the purpose of the gorilla. If you were going to walk around with that much gold on display, you would need a big friend.

Well, there’s more – when isn’t there? – but I guess I’ll stop here. There’s just that much more shoveling to do. It’s exercise. of a sort, but not nearly as much fun as zumba.

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Things to do when stuck inside due to (yet another) snow storm

March 3, 2014 at 8:09 pm (books, Cats, Family, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), opera, Weather)

First and foremost, one must acknowledge the supremacy of Mother Nature:

[Video production courtesy of Ron’s Tech Magic]

One can always address one’s piles of stuff with a view to sorting, weeding, and stacking in a neat and orderly manner:

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Well, maybe later – much later….
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One may escape to Ireland’s Wild River. Poetic and gorgeously photographed – I highly recommend this Nature special. (The river in question is the Shannon.)

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One may obsess over one’s son, daughter-in-law (now more like a daughter, lucky me!), grandson and granddaughter. All have lately been vacationing in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming:

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Okay: luggage, check; skis, check; backpacks, check; stroller, check. Wait a minute - where's...?

Okay: luggage, check; skis, check; backpacks, check; stroller, check. Wait a minute – where’s…?

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One may gaze in awe upon great works of art, such as Parmigianino’s Portrait of a  Man with a Book and the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo Van der Goes:

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One can listen to beautiful music. Fortunately this storm held off long enough for us to  see the Met in HD performance of Alexander Borodin‘s  Prince Igor. What a joy to be able to see live, world class opera in a movie theater fifteen minutes from your front door! Recently I wrote about my fixation on the Polovtsian Dances. This is the opera where that music originates.

It’s a new production, and the choreography for the familiar, well-loved dances is highly unusual. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I did. Click here to view a short segment.

Here’s the trailer for the 2013-2014 season in HD:

A recent Bolshoi Opera production of Prince Igor can be viewed on YouTube:

What gorgeous melodies! This music brings tears to  my eyes.
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Oh – and of course one may catch up on one’s reading. For me, this means the following:

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I’m working my way in leisurely fashion through Miklos Banffy’s  riveting magnum opus, The Transylvania Trilogy.  Here’s an excerpt:

The young people flowed out into the great drawing-room of the castle where the supper was laid. The gypsy musicians vanished to their by now third meal of the evening, and Janos Kadar, helped by a maid, started changing the candles in the Venetian chandeliers. As he did so, young Ferko and the footmen rushed to remove spots of candle-grease from the floor and polish the parquet.

In the drawing-room the long dinner-table had been re-erected to form a buffet and on it was displayed a capercaillie, haunches of venison, all from the Laczoks’ mountain estates in Czik; and home-cured hams, hare and guinea-fowl pâtés and other specialities of Var-Siklod, the recipes of which remained Countess Ida’s closely guarded secret (all that she would ever admit, and then only to a few intimate friends, was: ‘My dear, it’s quite impossible without sweet Tokay!’).

At one end of the table were grouped all the desserts – mountainous cakes with intricate sugar decorations, compotes of fruit, fresh fruit arranged elaborately on silver dishes, and tarts of all descriptions served with bowls of snowy whipped cream. As well as champagne there were other wines, both red and white. An innovation, following the recent fashion for imitating English ways, was a large copper samovar from which the Laczok girls served tea.

As the guests were finishing their supper and beginning to leave the table replete with delicious food and many glasses of wine, the gypsy musicians filed into the room and took up their places to play the traditional interval music. On these occasions Laji Pongracz would play, in turn, all the young girls’ special tunes. At the winter serenades he had made sure that he knew exactly who had chosen which melody as their own and now, each time he started a new tune, he would look directly at the girl whose song it was and smile at her with a discreet but still knowing air.

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Banffy does a magnificent job of evoking an elegant world, now utterly lost. Originally published  between 1934 and 1940, these novels were only recently translated into English from the Hungarian by Patrick Thursfield and Mikos Banffy’s daughter, Katalin Banffy-Jelen. Miklos Banffy’s work here is strongly reminiscent of the Tolstoy of Anna Karenina. He is in fact sometimes referred to as the Transylvanian Tolstoy. High praise indeed, and from what I’ve read so far, deserved.
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I’m also about two thirds of the way through An Officer and a Spy, Robert Harris’s novelized retelling of the notorious Dreyfus Affair.  I’m in awe of the gifts and versatility of this author. He’s made something of a specialty of historical thrillers, and in my view, he’s better at it than just about anyone else. Pompeii, Imperium, Conspirata – all three excellent. Harris has also penned contemporary thrillers that are equally compelling. I’ve read two: The Fear Index and The Ghost. The latter was filmed as The Ghost Writer. Harris wrote the screenplay; the director was Roman Polanski. The film more than did justice to its source.

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Finally, I’d like to close by giving credit where it’s due, to that irreplaceable aid to concentration, the cat. IMG_0542-M  Yes, it’s Miss Audrey Jane Marple, whose fidelity to her role as Companion Animal is unsurpassed!

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Spring snow (also Passover precipitation)

March 26, 2013 at 2:03 am (Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Music, Weather)

I shot this video footage and the closing photograph in the early hours of this morning. Editing, technical work, and choice of soundtrack for the final product were all  carried out by the ever resourceful Ron.

I don’t recall snow ever falling on Passover before today.

The music is “Troika,” from the Lieutenant Kije Suite by  Sergei Prokofiev. The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Yuri Temirkanov.

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Apocalypse averted – for some but not others; and some beautiful images to soothe the soul

November 3, 2012 at 12:49 am (Art, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Weather)

As Governor O’Malley has observed, we here in Maryland were spared the worst of Hurricane Sandy’s destructive rampage. Not so the people of New York and New Jersey, as you no doubt know by now.

I spent six of my childhood summers in Deal, New Jersey, in a large and stately home that we rented for the season. I remember that the house was furnished with a large library that included a great many Nancy Drew mysteries; I naturally read each and every one of them.

(Stylistically, the house in Deal resembled this Tudor revival edifice featured on the borough’s website.)

Deal was a sleepy, albeit beautiful, little place. For livelier entertainment, my parents would take us to Asbury Park, where we would stroll the boardwalk, shoot skee ball, and much on peanuts purchased at the Planters store. I fear now that all of that is gone.   

Click here for some ways in which you can contribute to the recovery effort.

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In her new book Glittering Images, Camille Paglia pleads eloquently for  the return to primacy of the visual arts. “We must relearn how to see,” she urges us. Paglia continues, her tone is almost imploring:

Children above all deserve rescue from the torrential stream of flickering images, which addict them to seductive distractions and make social reality, with its duties and ethical concerns, seem dull and futile. The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception— best supplied by the contemplation of art. Looking at art requires stillness and receptivity, which realign our senses and produce a magical tranquillity.

Here are some images that may contribute toward that tranquility – or at least, toward a sense of mystery.

By Caspar David Friedrich:

View of a harbor

Winter landscape

Wanderer in a Sea of Mists

By Karl Friedrich Schinkel:

Medieval Town by Water

Morning

Medieval City on a River

By Carl Philipp Fohr:

The Knight before the Charcoal-burner’s Hut

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Derecho!

July 2, 2012 at 1:36 am (books, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Weather)

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines  derecho as “…a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” The rest of us here in the mid-Atlantic region are calling it one heck of a storm. (I like to keep this blog family friendly.) Think of it as a thunderstorm on steroids.

There’s a  photo on the NOAA site that speaks volumes. It was taken by Brittney Misialek, a former WGN weather intern. Here’s the caption:

Photo of the gust front “arcus” cloud on the leading edge of a derecho-producing storm system. The photo was taken on the evening of July 10, 2008 in Hampshire, Illinois as the derecho neared the Chicago metropolitan area. The derecho had formed around noon local time in southern Minnesota.

In an article in today’s print edition of the Washington Post, Jason Samenow states: “Only a meteorologist was likely to have made the right guess about the violent storm system that hit the Washington area Friday night.” With respect, I’d like to offer a small amendment to that statement. Readers familiar with Northwest Angle, a 2011 work  of crime fiction by William Kent Krueger, will also have heard of derechos.

Although I very much admire the work of this writer, I have not yet read this recent entry in his Cork O’Connor series. I did, however, read the Author’s Note that precedes the text a couple of weeks ago. In it,  Krueger offers the following as background to his novel:

On July 3, 1999, a cluster of thunderstorms developed in the Black Hills area of South Dakota and began to track to the northeast. On the morning of July 4, something phenomenal occurred with this storm system, something monstrous. At the edge of western Minnesota, the storm clouds gathered and exploded, creating what would become one of the most destructive derechos ever to sweep across this continent.

A derecho is a unique storm system, a bow-shaped formation of towering black clouds that generate straight-line winds of hurricane force. The derecho that formed on July 4 barreled across northern Minnesota.

Krueger goes on to describe the devastation wrought by the derecho on one of his favorite places, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, “…a land so beautiful it’s as near heaven as you’re likely to find anywhere in this earth.”

The Author’s Note concludes:

I have always known that such a storm would play a part in one of my stories. This is the story. 

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Click here for Jason Samenow’s account of Friday night’s storm.

There are plenty of people in this area who are still without power. Our local power company, BGE, has put a Storm Center on its website. In addition, the Washington Post has some useful information concerning numbers to call, if you need further assistance.

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No light

September 9, 2011 at 8:30 pm (Family, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Weather)

On August 28 I wrote a post entitled “First an earthquake, then a hurricane…” The first line of the post is “What next?”

I now have the answer that question: what has come next is rain – drenching, deluging, unremitting, unceasing rain.

The historic district of Ellicott City is five or six miles away from us It consists of a few blocks antique stores, eateries, and various other independently owned small retail establishments. There’s the B&O Railroad Museum and a recently opened hotel, the Obladi.

Most importantly to Ron and me, it is home to our favorite restaurant, Tersiguel’s.

Old Ellicott City is bordered by the Patapsco River; a smaller river, the Tiber, runs behind some of the shops. Nestled in a valley, it is  in its way quite picturesque, and normally a pleasant place to stroll, dine, and shop. However,Old Ellicott City can also be described as geographically unfortunate. Over the years it has  been plagued by both fire and floods, making it a somewhat Biblically resonant place. On Wednesday it got walloped yet again, as shown in this video, which was apparently screened as far away as Brisbane, Australia:

(Tersiguel’s can be seen intermittently; it’s the white building in the far left corner.)

We’ve been lucky so far – no loss of power, no leaks or floods. But because of uncertainty and continuing rain, we had to cancel our trip to see the excellent small person and her equally excellent Mom and Dad:

Instead, we will go next month and help celebrate her first birthday.

Going without the sun for days on end has been one of the hardest aspects of this siege of stormy weather. Day after day of waking up to a sky the color of dirty dishwater can be profoundly depressing. Meanwhile, they’re calling for more precipitation. As one forecaster plaintively put it: Somebody turn off the rain machine! Actually as I write this, the Blazing Orb, so long hidden from view, is trying to emerge from its cloudy obfuscation. (Well, really, I have to have just a little bit of fun with this!) Go Sun, go! We’ll take what we can get. But alas, it is already in retreat….

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First an earthquake, then a hurricane…

August 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm (Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Weather)

What next?

Just kidding, Mother Nature – JUST KIDDING…

It’s been an eventful week. First, Tuesday’s earthquake, an event so rare in these parts and so bizarre that you couldn’t credit what was happening, even though you knew it couldn’t be anything else. Then yesterday – Saturday – along comes Irene.

Here in central Maryland, the storm seemed to reach its apogee last night around 2 AM. As I write this, it’s just after 10 AM, and the worst appears to be over. Winds are still gusting impressively, but the rain has pretty much stopped. It’s gradually and steadily getting lighter.

We’ve been fortunate in regard to our premises. There’s no obvious damage to the house (though we’ll be going out later to inspect the roof). The basement is still dry. Most crucially, we have not lost power. This is almost certainly due to the fact that the power lines hereabouts have been placed underground.

The grounds are littered with leaves, twigs, and small tree branches. But  the driveway remains unobstructed. And as I look outside – mirabile dictu – the sun is trying to come out!

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