Sunday, October 22, 2017

Hodgepodge 358/365 - Persimmons

I try not to repeat subjects in this blog (though on a couple of occasions I simply forgot that I'd already covered the subject!), but persimmons don't count. So here's something a little different from what I wrote almost a year ago, on day 3 of this incarnation of my 365-day blog, when I went to a friend's house to help her pick persimmons (hachiya) and prepare them for drying, on their way to becoming hoshigaki (干し柿). Today I went back and did it again, only this time I missed out on the picking part, and there were four of us at work, so we made a quick business of peeling and hanging about 100 persimmons.

Here are a few photos I took:

Kim on the left, Daniella, and the persimmon
queen herself, Peggy: red bucket is for the skin
peelings, which will go to feed the local deer;
white bucket is for the calyx trimmings,
which go in the trash

And here are some showing the process in Japan, where they dry the fruits outdoors, and the final product:

I love persimmon time of year, since that is one of the very few truly seasonal fruits and vegetables there are any more, what with agriculturalists all over the globe filling in our seasonal gaps. Asparagus in November? No problem! 

I'll be looking for persimmons in the market the next few weeks, and probably getting back to baking. (This is the one time of the year I do that, for the same reason: I love persimmony baked goods, their chewy texture.)

Here's a recipe I'll try (with ice cream):

Persimmon Pudding

Prep, 20 min.; cook, 55 min. 

1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups persimmon pulp
1 1/2 cups white sugar*
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
2 1/2 cups milk
4 Tb melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.
2. In a mising bowl, combine persimmon pulp, baking soda, sugar, and eggs. Mix well.
3. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, milk, and melted butter. Stir to combine.
4. Pour into baking pan and bake in preheated oven for 55 minutes.** The pudding will rise but will fall when removed from oven.

* Recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups sugar, but commenters say that's too much. I prefer less sweet, so I will try 1 1/2 cups—or maybe even only 1. One can also add more cinnamon and vanilla

** If you stir the pudding every 15 minutes while baking, you won't get a crusty top and it will be less cakelike, more like a true pudding.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hodgepodge 357/365 - Hokusai

First, a poem by East Asian studies and art history professor Roger Keyes, based on his study of the works of the artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). And then, how about a little Hokusai himself? (As always, click on the images to view them larger on black.)

Hokusai says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive—
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Hodgepodge 356/365 - James Baldwin

Last night we watched the documentary I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck, a sort of filmic version of a book that James Baldwin (1924–1987) might have liked to have written. The movie is narrated (by Samuel L. Jackson, almost unrecognizably) in Baldwin’s own words, much of them from an unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, bringing together (or rather colliding) three Baldwin friends and martyrs, Medgar Evers (1925–1963), Malcolm X (1925–1965), and Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1969), as well as from numerous published essays. And it features clips of Baldwin: at a Cambridge University debate in 1965 with William F. Buckley (whom we don’t see) titled “Is the American Dream at the Expense of the American Negro?” (Baldwin won, 540 to 160); on the Dick Cavett Show, where he tangles with Yale philosophy professor Paul Weiss, who claims that blacks “racialize” everything. Baldwin's response is withering.

I had read Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963) at Antioch and been moved, I confess, perhaps more by the beauty of his words—man, could he write—than by careful attention to what he said, or such is my hazy memory at this remove. So I was glad to have this film, which several critics call a powerful “introduction” to his thinking. And now I am inspired to reread Fire and move on to Notes of a Native Son, a collection of essays exploring racial, sexual, and class divisions that, God knows, exist today as much as they did in 1955, though they may have slipped into new permutations.

Baldwin gained much of his early idea of what America was about from the movies (his unrealized ambition was to be a filmmaker), where whites were the stars and blacks were at best loyal subservients. Peck's film uses movies as a lens, or perhaps mirror, through which to hear Baldwin's words, playing choice scene clips—Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), Imitation of Life (1933), The Defiant Ones (1958), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), etc.—under the narration.
In the case of the American Negro, from the moment you are born every stick and stone, every face, is white. Since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, and although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you.” (“The American Dream and the American Negro”)
This documentary made one thing very clear to me: that while there certainly is racism—whites flailing against blacks for some perceived sense of harm—there really is no such thing as “reverse racism.” The anger, even hatred, that African Americans feel today toward white America is rooted in four hundred years of having been put down, oppressed, and treated as less than human, if not outright killed. Perhaps slavery “ended” in 1865, but it hasn’t disappeared. Not by a long shot.

I won’t bother you with a biography, except to say that Baldwin moved to Paris when he was twenty-four, and came back nine years later to cover, and become a spokesman for, the Civil Rights Movement. Black nationalists criticized him for his conciliatory attitude; although he was clearly angry, he continued to expound messages of understanding and love. He returned to France in 1970, and lived there until his death. You can read all about him at Wikipedia or, more thoroughly, in a highly rated biography by David Leeming.

Here's a good essay about a young black man meeting his hero Baldwin after the release of I Am Not Your Negro. Though really, there's no shortage of words about Baldwin out there. Just google him.

What I will bother you with is some quotes—Baldwin by Baldwin. The first few are from the film, and I don't know the written source:

“There are days, this is one of them, when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How precisely you're going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority that you are here. I'm terrified at the moral apathy—the death of the heart—which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don't think I’m human.”

“People finally say to you, in an attempt to dismiss the social reality: ‘But you’re so bitter.’ Well, I may or may not be bitter. But if I were, I would have good reasons for it, chief among them that American blindness or cowardice which allows us to pretend that life presents no reasons for being bitter.”

“I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I'm forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”

“Words like freedom, justice, democracy are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.” (“The Crusade of Indignation,” The Nation, July 7, 1956; published in book form in The Price of the Ticket [1985])

“If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the laws’s protection most!—and listens to their testimony.” (No Name in the Street [1972])

“People who have been wronged will attempt to right the wrong; they would not be people if they didn’t. They can rarely afford to be scrupulous about the means they will use. They will use such means as come to hand. Neither, in the main, will they distinguish one oppressor from another, nor see through to the root principle of their oppression.” (New York Times, April 9, 1967)

“I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.” (“Autobiographical Notes,” 1952; in Notes of a Native Son [1955])

“I am terrified by the slippery bottomless well to be found in the crypt [of a Swiss village's church], down which heretics were hurled to death, and by the obscene, inescapable gargoyles jutting out of the stone and seeming to say that God and the devil can never be divorced. I doubt that the villagers think of the devil when they face a cathedral because they have never been identified with the devil. But I must accept the status which myth, if nothing else, gives me in the West before I can hope to change the myth.” (“Stranger in the Village,” 1953; in Notes of a Native Son)

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free—he has set himself free—for higher dreams, for greater privileges.” (“Faulkner and Desegregation,” Partisan Review, Fall 1956; republished in Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son [1961])

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hodgepodge 355/365 - Notebooks

Two and a half years ago, I wrote about keeping a journal. I just reread what I wrote there, and yep, things are status quo. I could write that post today.

I have a couple of writing friends, Sherilyn and Kim, who journal—or rather, "do handwriting," it may not be journaling per se—every day. Sherilyn recently passed 1,000 days straight of writing in her notebooks. That amounts to forty volumes: she writes only on the recto side, leaving the verso for odd notes. And she writes large. So she goes through journals lickety-split.

Both of them use "Decomposition Books," something I'd never heard of until two years ago at a writing conference. They're basically your average composition notebook, but made out of recycled materials and printed in soy ink, gussied up with whimsical drawings. Some are spiral bound, others perfect bound. I had to buy one, of course, if I was going to hang with the cool kids.

Yesterday Sherilyn shared a picture with us of her newest Decomposition Book: it features manatees. Manatees having tea: manateas! Squee!

That of course made me want to see if there was a design that I had to have. Until I realized that the notebook I bought two years ago remains empty. As do the several notebooks I bought in Italy this year. As do . . . oh, maybe a dozen more. (They're mostly not nearly as large as a composition book, so stop looking at me like that.)

(And in my defense, I got another Decomposition Book last year at a different writing conference, and I started using it forthwith, and it is now this far from being full—and I write small and on every part of every page.)

Yeah, I'm a notebook junkie. A pen junkie, too. And it's time I started writing more by hand, dammit. That would be a good segue for when this wretched blog comes to an end. Right?

So, by way of incentive, I'm going to post here some of the many delightful Decomposition Book covers I might one day treat myself with, if I can whittle down my stack of journals—starting with my pristine Decomposition Book, which is covered with fluttering butterflies. Wish me luck.

I might have to go with this one. Love that sloth!
The inside covers are also very swell:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hodgepodge 354/365 - Poetry (Stephen Vincent Benet)

I stumbled on this poem yesterday, and it reminds me that, yes, I do love American place-names, with their Flats, Grades, Camps, and Hollers, their Cricks, Forks, Fords, and Licks, coming from Spanish, French, Dutch, and German, Algonquin, Navaho, Inuit, and Hawaiian, some silly, some celebratory, some purely descriptive, reminding us of how the people use the land, who lives here, what value they find in the land and its bounty. There is so much rich history in our attachment to place.

American Names

Stephen Vincent Benet

I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.

Seine and Piave are silver spoons,
But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,
There are English counties like hunting-tunes
Played on the keys of a postboy’s horn,
But I will remember where I was born.

I will remember Carquinez Straits,
Little French Lick and Lundy’s Lane,
The Yankee ships and the Yankee dates
And the bullet-towns of Calamity Jane.
I will remember Skunktown Plain.

I will fall in love with a Salem tree
And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz,
I will get me a bottle of Boston sea
And a blue-gum nigger to sing me blues.
I am tired of loving a foreign muse.

Rue des Martyrs and Bleeding-Heart-Yard,
Senlis, Pisa, and Blindman’s Oast,
It is a magic ghost you guard
But I am sick for a newer ghost,
Harrisburg, Spartanburg, Painted Post.

Henry and John were never so
And Henry and John were always right?
Granted, but when it was time to go
And the tea and the laurels had stood all night,
Did they never watch for Nantucket Light?

I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hodgepodge 353/365 - Loma Prieta Earthquake

Twenty-eight years ago, on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., Central California was hit with a 6.9-magnitude earthquake. Game 3 of the "Bay Bridge" World Series (Oakland A's vs. San Francisco Giants) was just starting up, so as soon as it happened, people all across the country knew.

David and I happened to be in Washington, DC. I don't remember how we learned about the quake. What I do remember is that very little actual "news" was reaching us, and that the epicenter of the temblor kept moving south in the reportage: from San Francisco to the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz proper. Since we never heard a word about Monterey, we joked (ha ha) that it was simply gone. We didn't really believe that, but we did worry about our kitty, Tisiphone, who we'd left inside, thinking it wasn't entirely out of the question that she might have been crushed by a falling bookcase.

Eventually—the next day, or maybe even the day after—we reached our neighbors the Fryes, and Hal assured us that all was well: the kitty was fine (he was feeding her), and he'd turned off our water and gas just in case. All in all, Monterey suffered very little damage, being on solid granite. Santa Cruz to the north had more issues, and San Francisco and the East Bay as well: a fallen section of the Bay Bridge, collapse of the two-decker Nimitz Freeway in Oakland, liquefaction and fire in the Marina district, and of course crumbled buildings. Sixty-three people died, and 3,737 were injured.

A friend of mine was on the top deck of the Bay Bridge and noticed something odd going on up ahead, so he slowed way down to take a look. He claimed it was his experience as a river guide—you always get out and check the rapids before you run 'em—that saved him from driving straight off the fallen piece of pavement. He may have been exaggerating, but it's a good story. 

A diver who was cleaning the Kelp Forest tank of the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported that it sounded like a helicopter was landing on the surface, and he got the hell out of there. Others noted that the stone floor of the aquarium looked like it had become a set of rolling waves. A friend who was sitting at a stoplight said it felt like the four tires of the car were flattening in turn, making for a jerky little dance.

People who hiked to the very epicenter, in the Forest of Nisene Marks just south of Santa Cruz, said the destruction—trees scattered like toothpicks—was remarkable. Years later when we finally took ourselves to the spot, you could still seen some of the devastation.

The only significant earthquake I've ever experienced was the Sylmar–San Fernando Earthquake of 1971. It was 6.6 and occurred early in the morning: I awoke to find my bed, on casters, rolling wildly over the hardwood floor of my bedroom and my mother yelling to get up and into a doorway. Then it ended. That night we attended a chamber music concert near UCLA, and I remember an aftershock that sent the big glass chandeliers tinkling and swaying—and the chamber orchestra kept right on playing. Bravo!

I was a little sorry to miss the Loma Prieta Earthquake. But that said, I don't wish for any more big quakes—ever. Hear that, o gods of the seismic realm? Be kind.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Hodgepodge 352/365 - Kintsugi 金継ぎ

A new term for me, and one that I will try to weave into my writing about WWII:* kintsugi (金継ぎ, golden joinery) or kintsukuroi (金繕い, golden repair), the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. It is related to the maki-e (蒔絵), or "sprinkled picture," technique of lacquer decoration.

I see kintsugi termed "the art of precious scars," the point being to treat breakage and repair as something intrinsic to the history of an object (or, perhaps, a person), rather than as something to disguise. It fits squarely into the wabi-sabi (侘寂) aesthetic, the idea that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. Transience and imperfection, baby.

It is an excellent metaphor, and one I ran into today on FB with the #metoo posts, about violence against women. Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, said: "If the internet is making your heart break today, let it crack open wide. That's how we're going to fix this together. Beauty from the pain." Or as Hemingway put it, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

There is much pain in the world, and yet so very much beauty and strength as well.

* . . . when I get back to writing—which I hope will be any day now: one last job to finish.