Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Predict the Weather

Red sky at morning,
Sailors take warning.
Red sky at night,
Sailors delight.

New York City woke up to a strawberry-and-peach-stained sunrise today; the moment I saw it, the "red sky at morning" rhyme bubbled up from my memory. When I was very young and the launch of the first weather satellite, Vanguard 2, was still a few years away, rhymes like this helped people predict the weather.

Well, we did have Tex Antoine and his sidekick Uncle Wethbee, but their forecasts were not very scientific — possibly because Tex was not a scientist and Uncle Wethbee was made of wood.

The first actual meteorologist I remember seeing on New York television was Dr. Frank Field, who started making waves in 1958 with predictions that were not terribly reliable but at least sounded scientific.

So how would you know whether to invite friends over for that cookout tomorrow night? You'd look to the skies and to the animals and insects around you.

My parents were full of helpful hints. For example, did you know that when cows lie down in the grass during the day, rain is coming? Living in the New York City suburbs, we didn't see cows very often, but when we did — I was ready. By the time I was four, I had developed a still-unverified theory of my own: If the sky is completely cloudless, it will probably rain the next day.

For longer-range forecasts, we turned to The Old Farmer's Almanac, which has been predicting the weather since 1792 and claims 80% accuracy. In this video, the Almanac's current editor reveals the publication's secret forecasting formula.

So look at this sky. Who are you going to believe? The Almanac or the weather widget?

Update: Contrary to the weather widget's prediction, it began raining on Sunday afternoon. Folk wisdom for the win!

The Almanac website has a list of tips to help you forecast the old-fashioned way — by studying things like crickets, wooly bear caterpillars and persimmon seeds. It also offers an array of helpful aphorisms to guide both long- and short-term weather planning. However, to make the best use of them, you'll have to spend more time on a farm.

When cattle lie down in the pasture, it indicates early rain

When rabbits are fat in October and November, expect a long, cold winter.

When the swallow's nest is high, the summer is very dry. When the swallow buildeth low, you can safely reap and sow.

The louder the frogs, the more the rain.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Garden Party

"When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence."
~ Ansel Adams

When I was growing up my dad rarely went anywhere without his camera, but because he preferred film that produced slides, photos of me as a child are rare. A couple of years ago I began converting his old slides into digital photos. Sometimes the results reveal worlds, and sometimes they seem to expose mysteries.

The house I grew up in had a large yard with apple trees, grape vines, rose bushes, peonies, violets, lilies of the valley, wild strawberries and a trellis-covered "summer house" where we told spooky stories on summer nights. The photo below shows the part of the yard directly behind the house. On warm days in spring and summer we would sometimes have lunch there.

This photo was taken on such a day, and that is all I want to say about it. To me, it invites storytelling. So go ahead — have your way with it.

People take pictures of the summer
Just in case someone thought they had missed it
Just to prove that they really existed
~ Ray Davies

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Everyone's 9/11

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.

~ Emily Dickinson, "I measure every Grief I meet"

As I write this, the annual reading of the names of the dead is in progress at the site of the World Trade Center. Voices crack and tears flow as survivors share their memories of their lost loved ones.

On September 11, 2001, it seemed to me the world divided itself into concentric circles of hell. In the center were the people whose voices I'm hearing, those whose loved ones died that day — individual humans devastated by a tragedy on such a grand scale, of such an incomprehensible nature, it was impossible to decipher, fathom or accept. I would not diminish their agony by pretending to understand it.

The second circle held those who lived in one of the places of devastation — New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA. People who saw the flames and smoke, smelled death and inhaled ash and to this day are haunted by it. Anyone who lived in New York will never forget the faces of the lost; their photos, names and phone numbers and the desperate messages from those who loved them and wanted so very much to believe they had escaped death were taped to windows and lamp posts and walls in ever-thicker layers as you traveled downtown. Gradually we came to feel we knew these people through the eloquent stories of victims that appeared in the New York Times.

The third circle contained everyone else whose lives were touched by the horror and devastation — not just in the U.S. but everywhere in the world. The candlelight vigils, the prayers, the tears from every continent made it seem for a moment that perhaps the world could for once come together in understanding.

Nine years later, we know that moment was illusory. Factions of survivors soon began wrestling for control of the horror and its remembrance, some appealing to our better angels for forgiveness and others crying out for revenge. Now cynical political forces and ambitious attention freaks have turned this particular 9/11 anniversary into a cruel circus of bigotry. I admit that it enrages me, and rage is not the emotion I want to feel on this day. 9/11 is everyone's tragedy. For the 10th anniversary next year, let's shut down the cynics and manipulators and restore to this occasion the dignity and compassion it  deserves.

My husband and I like to walk on the Jones Beach boardwalk in cold weather. We found this post card in a souvenir shop there in the winter of 2002.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Too Far Gone to Come Back

"If I listened long enough to you
I'd find a way to believe that it's all true"

~ Tim Hardin, "Reason to Believe"

When I was about 15 I used my allowance to buy a beautiful hairbrush at Caswell-Massey on Lexington Avenue. In those days the store, now gone, was still an old-fashioned apothecary, its shelves stuffed with pretty boxes and glamorous atomizers. The hairbrush I chose was carved from a substantial block of yellow wood, gently rounded on all sides and sanded to a satiny fare-thee-well. The brushy part was made of boar bristles. I wouldn’t buy a brush like that now because I’d think about the boar, but at the time I felt sophisticated and mature whenever I touched it. I carried it with me everywhere.

This was in the mid-1960s, when down in the Village singer-songwriters had become as bright and ubiquitous as sunflowers in late summer. Many came bearing protest songs and others played rock ’n’ roll. A few, like Tim Hardin, were troubadours who were mastering the art of broken-hearted love ballads. Tim Hardin’s best songs — “Reason to Believe,” “If I Were a Carpenter” and this one, “Misty Roses,” are among them — were tiny miracles of melody and poetry.

After two promising albums on the Verve label, he was just beginning to attract the spotlight when the San Francisco sound acid-blasted in from the West. Just like that, he faded into the background.

Five or six years later I had a job writing client bios and press releases for a rock ‘n’ roll PR firm. One day my boss, Connie, said Tim Hardin and his new manager were coming in. We were doing a favor for Rod Stewart. Rod was then lead singer with Rod Stewart and the Faces, my favorite clients and possibly the most entertaining live band of their day.

Rod had recorded Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” on his 1971 solo album, Every Picture Tells a Story, and he was a fan. Now Tim had some gigs lined up, Rod wanted to help him make a comeback and I needed to do a bio interview.

We had a few superstar clients in those days, but most were teenage rock bands. You could sum up their entire life experience in two statements: (1) “I joined a band to meet chicks,” and (2) “I dropped out of school when the band got a contract.” Tim Hardin had been around while. I was looking forward to the interview — he might have stories to tell.

The new manager, John Hemminger, turned out to be a skinny, wired-looking guy who made me nervous. Tim was something else. He was shabby. His hair was dirty in that heavy, ash-dark, been-sleeping-under-a-car way. When he walked with me into the windowless conference room where I normally did the interviews, I noticed an acrid smell. I was relieved when he said he’d like to do the interview in a coffee shop instead. 

We stepped out into a bright mid-afternoon on West 57th Street and walked a few steps when Tim announced he wanted flan. Not only that, he wanted flan from El Faro, an old Spanish restaurant on Greenwich Street.

I knew as soon as we walked into the restaurant Tim had some history there. Everybody seemed to know him, or at least nobody but me was surprised when he ordered a double scotch and eight flans. Then more double scotches. The interview was going nowhere. Tim was rambling, unable to hold a thought for more than a moment or two. It was unsettling. A train wreck was coming and I couldn’t stop it. All I could do was get out of the way. I needed to find a way to extract myself without offending him.

That’s when he asked if he could borrow my hairbrush.

As soon as the words left his mouth I felt a door open and a fresh breeze blow in. I took a moment to think about my boar-bristled beauty and how much it had meant to me and then silently said goodbye. Once Tim used it, I would never want it back. It was hard to let it go, but giving it away would allow me to bail out on this sad, self-destructing man while also being kind. Yes, yes, I said. Here, take this, it’s a great brush, you can keep it. I hope it brings you luck. So long.

I’m not sure exactly what happened with the bio, although I probably cobbled something together from clips. The hairbrush didn’t bring Tim luck. He put out a few more albums, but he never really made a comeback. He died of a heroin overdose in 1980. I’ve owned other hairbrushes. While none compare to the original, I have no regrets.

 "I'm the family's unowned boy, golden curls of envied hair
  Pretty girls with faces fair
  See the shine in the Black Sheep Boy"

 ~ Tim Hardin, "Black Sheep Boy"

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Fine Art of Recycling

“Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.”
~ Lawrence Block

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art came late to collecting modern art, but it continues to add wonderful work. This remarkable sculpture, "Dusasa II," by the Ghanaian artist and university teacher El Anatsui, is a 2008 acquisition.

The first thing you notice is how enormous it is — approximately 20 x 24 feet. Then, as you take in its soft folds and undulations, you go in for a closer look.

The sign on the wall tells you "Dusasa II" is woven from bits of aluminum, copper wire and liquor bottle caps that litter the landscape of West Africa.

It's hard to believe unless you're right there staring at it.

Rice University's Rice Gallery filmed El Anatsui and collaborators as they created a massive installation called "Gli (Wall)" earlier this year. The gallery's website notes that the artist's huge tapestries "recall kente cloth, the emblematic fabric of Ghana. Anatsui’s father and brothers wove the kente of the Ewe people." Click here to see the artist discuss his work as it's being assembled.

"In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind."
~ Louis Pasteur

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday in the Park

"The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose." 
~ Charles Dickens

The weather was glorious today. I wish you could have been there with me in Central Park. But maybe you were — the place was filled with people, but still somehow serene.

When walking on the sidewalks of this crowded city, my serenity depends on tuning things out. The park is different. Out in the fresh air and moving at a slower pace, I find it easy to focus on the details around me. Here are a few of the things I noticed today:
  • So much music: two jazz bands, a lone saxophone player, a singing guitarist and a one-man-band with an accordion, percussion and a fiddle
  • People in motion: strolling, pushing strollers, jogging, riding in pedicabs, riding in horse-drawn carriages, on skateboards, on bicycles

  • Hans Christian Andersen waiting to tell a story
  • A female mime dressed as the sort of porcelain ballerina you normally see in a music box
  • Scantily clad souls stretched out in the sun on Cedar Hill
  • More languages than I could identify
  • A carnival — yes, with rides. Where did that come from?

  • Flotillas of model sailboats navigating the Conservatory Water
  • Waterfowl of several colors and kinds
  • Turtles swimming and turtles sunning themselves on rocks
  • A Koi the size of a small submarine
"I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes my rage, forgetting everything."
~ Pablo Neruda

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Obscurity in a Time of Celebrity

"While fame impedes and constricts, obscurity wraps about a man like a mist; obscurity is dark, ample, and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffusion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful, he alone is at peace."
~ Virginia Woolf

"The Flatiron," Edward Steichen 1904

This quote arrived in my e-mail — it's the thought for today from — and it did its job. It made me think. As reality TV endlessly reminds us, many of us have become obsessed with celebrity. Some are so driven, privacy and dignity are just the opening bids in what they offer in trade for fame. 

Let's hear it for obscurity and the freedom it can bring.