Wednesday, February 17, 2010

through a glass darkly

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

When I was in religion class in grade school, this passage was like a punch in the chest by the schoolyard bully. I was happy as a child, why would I want to quit? And why would God issue such an edict of mandatory machismo? What happened "of such is the kingdom of God?".

This Bible passage is used by churches to justify the suspension of unconditional love and kindness. It's "childish" to assume that we should all be kind and unconditionally forgiving to one another. It's a "childish" thing to simply take someone at their word, and trust them. Truly "mature" love and kindness is bestowed only on the "right people, those who look and act like us, those who share the same creed of properly approved beliefs. Put away the "childish" thought that we love one another without first judging them. Who could love someone who is not entirely under one's control? Isn't it a little naive to simply feed someone because they are hungry? To visit them because they are sick? Jesus Himself could be accused of "childish" beliefs.

The passage goes on: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." Could it be that the Church conveniently got the translation backwards? Who is really seeing "through a glass, darkly?" and who is it really that sees "face to face"?

The Bible is a translation of a Greek script, made by the established Church of the early centuries A.D. Could the reference have been conveniently reversed by a dogmatic regime, for better control of the masses? Are we witnessing a second crucifixion of the man who brought a child into the midst and said "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."?

I believe that the passage is translated backwards, because as it stands, it runs exactly opposite of the teachings of Jesus. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free!"

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet February

February Sweets

This post is inspired by a package I received from Lisa Page of Texas. She got a package of Brach's Maple Nut Goodies out of her time machine and sent them to me. They look like mushrooms and taste like heaven. Peanuts and toffee bits in a chewy maple flavored nougat. Magic mushrooms, indeed. A magical flavor that takes us back to the late 1960s.

One of my first real jobs in high school was working at Woolworth's Dime Store in Watertown, Wisconsin. I worked with (sometimes for) Angie, in the candy and cosmetics department. Of course, everybody there was always extra good to Angie because Angie held the key to that room downstairs. Down in the center of the basement - in a secure wooden enclosure, was the Candy Room. And sometimes I would be designated as a key-holder to this sacred domain. Why me? Gravity, mainly - no matter how sweet it is, a 25-pound box of candy weighs 25 lbs, and these candies have to be brought upstairs by hand. By me, of course. On a torn-off corner of a piece of wrapping paper - encrypted in a shorthand that only Angie knew completely - the daily list.

Inside the candy room, the smell was, well, just imagine being surrounded by stacks of boxes all full of living, breathing CHOCOLATE! Once inside the fortress you realize why the candy room has to be guarded by the fortress-like gate with a steel padlock. Without the fortification, the candy would be powerless to defend itself from the Quality Control efforts of the entire staff.

February was candy month at Woolworths, the prime time to be sentenced to work in this glorious prison. February was the beginning of candy-centric holidays. Already upstairs and going full tilt in February, were the valentines treats - red gum-drop hearts, and those multi-colored multi-flavored little colored hearts, each with its own message, some good, some dubious. And then in honor of George Washington's birthday, the chocolate-covered cherries! Woolworth's was the only place to get a decent box of chocolate covered cherries, you know the kind that burst out with juice when you bite into them, and a tart cherry floating in the middle. Does anybody remember the gummi axes? We didn't call them gummi's at that time, but they had little cherry-flavored axes, to commemorate George Washington's chopping down his father's cherry tree.

And then, fully into Lent -- the marble cake cookies. They were similar to the Nabisco devil's food cookies you can get now, but Marble Cake Cookies were rich golden cake inside and a chocolatey coating (not really chocolate, but chocolate-flavored). I could not get enough of these, and because I was Angie's pet, I could get first choice of the fresh ones!

And then - the ultimate candy holiday - Easter! Marshmallow eggs, chocolate bunnies, and of course those little yellow marshmallow chickens, similar to the "peeps" that they have now. And the jelly beans! You could get large coconut filled, regular size fruit flavor, multi-colored spicy ones, and the little mini ones with a much more pungent flavor. You could also get tan-colored all-caramel eggs, or all-black, called Crow Eggs. And the wrapped creme-filled eggs which came in maple, cherry, vanilla, chocolate, coconut, or other fillings.

So, from February to Easter, carrying the candy up the stairs became priority number one as soon as I arrived after school. Even Roger the Baptist had to carry some up if we were falling behind the demand.

Valentines was busy, but Easter was simply crazy. The candy-counter was almost all Easter candy, and there was a seasonal section which became devoted to mostly candy, the wrapped-pre-packaged items. Keeping this all stocked involved a lot of heavy stomping up the stairs, and not without its rewards. Angie was always needing help sampling for 'quality control' purposes

The day before Easter was the final push. On that Saturday, we had to come in an hour early, piling up backup stock under the counters, and carting away the empties as the clerks frantically shoveled the shelves full of product. And at the end of the day, the day before Easter, after we closed and cleaned up, Mr. Conard the manager gave each of us a grocery bag, and told us to take whatever Easter candy was left - take as much as you want. And we did!

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Friday, February 12, 2010


This is the tenderest interpretation of "My Funny Valentine" that I've ever heard. Only a life-time of experience could breathe this much vitality into a song. Bette is my favorite musician, and this is my favorite song in her repertoire. She performed this in 2009 as part of a Valentine's show.

Happy Valentine's Day. Do something you love with someone you love.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pt.20 The Coliseum at Arles

Pt.20-TheColiseum at Arles

Follow this grand adventure from the beginning:
Link to Pt.1 of this series

Sacre Bleu, What Are Le Romans Building?
We went back into the city of Arles. The shoreline has an expansive park with a round flower garden, forming a place for cars to turn around. We went back through the shop area we had been through before, not stopping, and as we proceeded another block, wondering if we’d gone the wrong way, we saw it — the Coliseum. Already on a high hill, the Coliseum is located on top of a two-flight stairway. It is very imposing in 1998. Think of how it must have been the biggest thing that Frenchmen ever saw during the Roman Empire. It must have been very intimidating to have someone who could build such an imposing structure take over and occupy your country.

What? No Gladiators?
The Coliseum is open to the public for exploration when it is not being used for public events. The facility is in such good shape that it is still being used for rock concerts, bullfights, and other special events. It was set up for a sculpture exhibition when we visited. The performance area was full of half-assembled and partially finished modern sculptures made of wood, clay, styrofoam, etc. Nothing impressive except some cobalt blue foam structure that looked like a 3D Van Gogh, with mountains and trees protruding a la Starry Night.

We entered at about 10 feet above the performance area. The original stone ridges were used to mount wooden bleachers. Where the original structure had been destroyed, the gap was bridged with wood and metal scaffolding. The access was controlled to one entrance by gates which had been installed over all of the entrances but the main one. We walked around about a quarter of the way, and then ducked into the under-structure through an exit gate. It is very well preserved. We went up and down original staircases. The outside wall supports the upper bleachers; the wall is made up of an endless series of tall arches which extend all the way around the coliseum. The arena is constructed much the same as a modern stadium, stairs lead to the upper seating areas, and access and exit would be almost simultaneous, with no waiting, if the structure were full, and all the exits utilized.

Ready for Your Closeup, Monseur?
We went as high as we could go, walked around another 1/4 turn, and then we went down the stairs as far as we could. We reached the performance entrance. Lotsa “performers” must have gone down this path, recently and anciently, from Christians of old to the bulls of modern times, only to find that their performing days were numbered, and that number was one. There were ante-rooms adjoining the hallway, some with large entrances, and some with narrow entrances. The entire inside had a strange distinctive smell that I have never smelled before or since, and can still recall by thinking about it. It was like a very old mixture of urine, sweat, and mustiness, which had soaked into the structure so thoroughly that its very stones were permeated with it. Nothing fresh. It did not smell like a restroom, or a urinal, or a locker room, or a cattle barn. This was a distinctive “coliseum” smell.

At Last I Can Buy My Chateau! Merci, Monseur!
While exploring the outer wings of the coliseum, we heard guitar music. Looking up, about half the height of the top of the coliseum, and overlooking the coliseum, was a row of stores balanced on the edge of a dropoff. It is from one of these shops that the sounds came. We later went up the steep hill, because the grass was greener there, and found a number of Van Gogh prints for about $3 each at one of the shops. We passed the shop with the musician, and he was just sitting on the sidewalk, playing his guitar, and he was not that exceptional a player. I reached into my pocket and sought out the largest coin. A 20-cent piece, worth 2/5 of a Franc, was what I pulled out of my pocket. The coin is larger than many coins more valuable, larger than 1 franc, larger than 5f, and larger than 10f. It is, however, only worth 2/5 of 18 cents, or about six cents. The guitar player paused, picked up the coin, stretched out his arm to regard it from a distance, kissed it tenderly, and stuffed it in his front shirt pocket. Touche.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Olive Me

One of my wife's favorite Christmas presents this year was a beautiful huge one-gallon glass jar filled with Big Fat Juicy Spanish Queen Olives stuffed with tangy pimentos. My lifelong buddy Norm from Madison gave it to her. She loves olives. These were grown and packed in Seville, harvested by tall Spaniards in neatly pressed white linen shirts, and packed carefully into jars by virtuous olive-skinned beauties who look like the Sun Maid Raisin Lady.

So, Sunday I tried to open the jar. It was too tall for the electric jar opener. That was a good thing, because when you have a jar of olives too tall for the electric jar opener, you got a whooole wagonload of olives. Gives one a feeling of wealth. So I grabbed the jar gently, and with a twist of my wrist - and nothing happened. So I grabbed the jar firmly, and twisted on it until my fingers almost fell off. Nothing again - this lid was securely attached. I grabbed the jar, wrapped it under my arm, and twisted the lid until my face was red and something under one of my ribs felt like it was giving way. When I popped my eyeballs back into their sockets, I could see that the jar was still standing there insolently sealed, mocking me. The cat was disappointed that I got the eyeballs back in - thought he had a new cat toy. Sorry, Syd.
It really puts a man in his place to be reduced to trying household hints his wife has seen on TV, on one of those "everything you know is wrong" shows. Oh, yes, gently running the lid under hot water, or was it cold water? OK, Dear, was that to make the jar slippery, so it would fall on the floor and break? THAT would get the olives out! Tapping gently along the edge of the lid with the handle of a butter knife. WELL YOU KNOW HOW MARTHA @#$%$ STEWART OPENS JARS?? SHE HAS ONE OF HER @#$%$# SERVANTS DO IT FOR HER!

Then in the night, my guardian angel spake unto me: "Oil Filter Wrench". I didn't own an oil filter wrench, but that can be solved by walking into a self-service automotive store with three dollars in your hand. In my little town whenever someone goes out of business, it is mandatory for some entrepeneur to start a self-service Auto Parts store in the defunct location. Race Trak Auto, Home Grease Monkey, Watcherfingers Kar Partz, Pete's Piston Palace, Lane-a-Road Oil Change - so many have tried to make their fortunes from the guys in the sleeveless t-shirts.

I hit the road. At the top of Howell Avenue, the randomizer started playing "Pulp Culture" by Thomas Dolby, as the lights of Howell beamed at me with their promise of Fast and Cheap Auto Parts. But I soon found that at 7 pm, most of the auto places were closed or out of business. National Ace Hardware even locked the door in my face. I KNOW YOU SAW ME, YOU $#$ BASTARD! Well, next thing you know, I was down all the way past the airport, and still no filter wrench. But when you're 'way past the airport on Howell, you're almost at........

**** FARM AND FLEET! **** Yeah, baby! A place that knocks you over with the smell of tires when you walk in the front door is sure to have a filter wrench. Yes, they did! There was an entire little wall of them, prices ranging all the way up to $70.00. I chose a little red-handled beauty for seven bucks. Got some Sta-bil for the snowblower, too, as long as I was there.

On the way home, Jim Carroll was singing "People Who Died" (guess what happened to Jim last year?) When I arrived home, I got the lid off the jar before I took my coat off. The mere sight of that tool was enough to loosen that olive jar's seal. It was so easy with the right equipment for the job. Wonder if Martha Stewart has an Automotive Oil Filter Wrench in her kitchen?
And if you're reading this, Norm, those are the best olives we have ever owned! Good thing there's a whole gallon of 'em!

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