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Milestone, V

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment

seven

Ron’s View regulars know that when December 29 comes around, it’s time for my annual post on the number of miles I’ve driven my car in the past year, with additional analysis of the monthly/annual driving averages since I brought it home seven years ago tomorrow. As I observed two years ago, “I don’t imagine anyone besides me finds this all that interesting. Nonetheless, I enjoy doing the analysis, and writing a post about it allows me to record the data in a convenient place.”

In my first milestone post, four years ago, I found that I had driven a total of 11,640 miles, for an average of 3880 miles per year or 323 1/3 miles per month.

Three years ago, I had driven only an additional 3268 miles, for a total of 14,908 miles, bringing the annual and monthly averages down to 3727 miles and 310 1/2.

Two years ago, I had added 3693 miles to my total, yielding an odometer reading of 18,601. If we forget that extra mile, we find that my cumulative averages were 3720 miles per year and 310 miles per month.

A year ago, I added 3634 miles, closing the year with an odometer reading is 22,235. My cumulative annual average was down to 3705 5/6, with a monthly average of 308 5/6 miles.

We’re ready for this year’s result. I just went outside to check, and my current odometer reading is 25,740. Thus, in the last year I have driven 3505 miles, or just over 292 miles per month. My cumulative annual average has dropped further, to 3677 1/7 miles, and my monthly average is down to 306 3/7 miles.

Once again, I wonder if my car will outlast me. One of these years, we’ll need to use it for a major road trip. Last year, there was a three-day trip to Walla Walla, which added close to 600 miles in one shot. No such trips this year. A coastal drive at least as far south as Monterey awaits. Maybe in retirement.

Categories: Automobiles

The Examined Life

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Examined_Life

A week ago I wrote two posts, one about Under Tower Peak, the thriller I had begun reading, and one about The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, the report on the route from Central America to the US that I anticipated reading next.

As it turns out, we spent Christmas in San Diego. Or, more precisely, Coronado. (I may say a bit about our trip in a future post or two.) I made some headway on Under Tower Peak on the flight down Monday. At one point, the pilot pointed out Lake Tahoe on the left. Thanks to my seat in row 9 in Alaska’s setup of its 737s, I had no window. I’ll be avoiding row 9 in the future. I could see a bit through the window behind me if I leaned way back, though even then, I had to peek between the wing and the engine if I wanted to see anything not way out to the east. Thus, I never did see Tahoe. But when he pointed out Mono Lake a short time later, I had a perfect view, at which point I realized that I was flying over the very country in which Under Tower Peak takes place—the part of the Sierra Nevada between Reno and Yosemite. That was fun, as was the book, whose main character knows this territory intimately. He is a genuine modern cowboy and an Iraq War vet, at home with guns, horses, and mules, all of which comes in handy.

I finished Under Tower Peak on our flight back to Seattle Thursday night. With time to spare, I turned to The Beast. It is not easy reading. Nor did I expect it to be. I’ll get back to it, but Friday night I began looking around for something else.

In reviewing Michiko Kakutani’s 10 favorite books of 2013, I came upon one I had missed, despite her review last July: Steven Grosz’s The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves. In her short blurb, Kakutani writes:

Despite its self-help-like title, this moving book of patient portraits by the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz will make the reader think of Freud’s keenly observed and literary-minded case studies. Writing with sympathy and insight, Mr. Grosz distills 25 years of work into a series of slim, piercing chapters that read like a combination of Chekhov and Oliver Sacks. As someone who helps his patients connect the dots in their lives, Mr. Grosz suggests, as Isak Dinesen once wrote, that “all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.”

Here is the description from the author website:

We are all storytellers – we make stories to make sense of our lives. But it is not enough to tell tales. There must be someone to listen.

In his work as a practising psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz has spent the last twenty-five years uncovering the hidden feelings behind our most baffling behaviour. The Examined Life distils over 50,000 hours of conversation into pure psychological insight, without the jargon.

This extraordinary book is about one ordinary process: talking, listening and understanding. Its aphoristic and elegant stories teach us a new kind of attentiveness. They also unveil a delicate self-portrait of the analyst at work, and show how lessons learned in the consulting room can reveal as much to him as to the patient.

These are stories about our everyday lives: they are about the people we love and the lies that we tell; the changes we bear, and the grief. Ultimately, they show us not only how we lose ourselves but how we might find ourselves too.

I downloaded the free portion Friday night, read the first tale (that’s all one gets, once one gets past the introductory material), then downloaded the full book yesterday morning and finished reading it this afternoon. The stories are short, the book goes by in a flash.

I wouldn’t say the stories show us “how we might find ourselves.” That’s a bit hokey. As Kakutani comments, and despite the book’s sub-title, it really isn’t a self-help book. You will not learn to be your own therapist. Rather, it is a compilation of fascinating tales, many marvelously told, some (different ones, I suppose, for different readers) hitting close to home.

Grosz is careful to say less rather than more. Many tales reach a climax at a moment of awareness, when the pieces come together. Or at least Grosz suggests that they do, whether for him or for the patient. But he never belabors the point. We rarely see what happened next, if the moment of insight changed the patient’s life significantly or not. One may at times feel cheated, but I came to find that this made the book more powerful. No simple tying everything together, like weekly network TV dramas.

I was reminded, in this regard, of a course I took fall semester of my junior year in college. I don’t remember the title, but it was about personality theory, taught by George Goethals, an expert on adolescence. It might just have been the best course I took.

There was an extensive reading list. Harry Stack Sullivan. John Bowlby. Goethals offered enlightening lectures twice weekly, supplemented by weekly section meetings. My superb section leader must have been getting his PhD as a therapist, but he was already working full time as a counselor and associate director at a university counseling center with the odd name Bureau of Study Counsel. And he grew up one town away from me on Long Island. Each student, early in the semester, had to write a report about a relationship in the student’s life. Later in the semester, we had to write a second paper applaying one of the theories we had studied in order to shed light on the relationship.

There was one more component, and this is what Grosz’s book brought to mind. Six times during the course, Goethals stepped aside, bringing in a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School to present cases from his own practice. Each hour, he would tell us about a patient, the case history, the treatment, and the result. We had been reading about theory. He was here to tell us about real life, his underlying message being that real life is messy. He organized the cases in descending order, from complete success to total failure.

I wish I could remember the details. The last one was absolutely devastating. It involved a patient, a gun, a threat to his own life, maybe ending in suicide. Or perhaps I’m conflating the last two cases, one a suicide the other a threatening patient. The lectures left us shaken.

Since Grosz ends his stories in midstream, we don’t know which ones are failures, the revealing moment ultimately less than revealing. But the revelations themselves, some anyway, also have the power to leave us shaken.

Categories: Books

9 From L.A.

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment
Circle Blue, De Wain Valentine, 1970, 70"x5.5"

Circle Blue, De Wain Valentine, 1970, 70″x5.5″

[Melissa Davis, in Seattle Times]

Yesterday Gail and I went to the latest show at the Wright Exhibition Space*, 9 from L.A., sponsored jointly by Virginia Wright, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Getty Conservation Institute. It will run into April. I highly recommend going.

*I have explained in previous posts on the Wright Exhibition Space—for instance, this one—that it “is a small gallery that mounts shows from time to time drawn largely, or entirely, from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend going, whatever the show, because the art is superb, the mix of art is interesting, you often have the space to yourself or nearly to yourself, there’s an informative little printed guide, and there’s often a docent to introduce you to the show and chat with. The gallery is open Thursdays and Saturday, with free admission.”

The email to the mailing list announcing the show offered the following description:

Following the acclaimed Pacific Standard Time initiative that was held in venues across L.A. in 2011, Mrs. Wright has brought together works from her collection, SAM’s and loans that include important works by L.A. artists including Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, John McCracken, Peter Alexander, De Wain Valentine and more. Wright was also inspired by a show organized by the Contemporary Arts Council at SAM called 10 from Los Angeles.

A highlight of 9 from L.A. is Gray Column (1975-76), a towering, polyester resin sculpture by Valentine. Gray Column was recently conserved and the first time it was on view to the public was in Pacific Standard Time.

SAM’s chief conservator, Nicholas Dorman, worked with Dr. Tom Learner of the GCI to bring Gray Column to Seattle, along with a display, developed by Dr. Learner, that describes how the sculpture was originally made and discusses some of the issues surrounding its conservation.

At twelve feet high and eight feet across, Gray Column is a spectacular embodiment of Valentine’s pioneering use of polyester resin for the creation of art– an innovation that would allow him to produce translucent shapes and forms at the scale he wanted. Thicker and opaque at the base, Gray Column gradually tapers to little more than an inch thick at its top almost disappearing into the ceiling.

Virginia Wright offers further background in a short note on the handout available when you enter the space.

When the Getty agreed to install De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column in our exhibition space, it seemed right to accompany it with works by other artists of his generation. I remembered a 1966 exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, commissioned by the Contempoary Art Council and organized by John Coplans, entitled “Ten from Los Angeles.” 47 years later, it still sounded like a good title for our current show, which includes many of the same artists featured in the 1966 exhibition.

See also Robert Ayers’ review in early November in the Seattle Times, from which the photo at the top is taken. He opens with his own description of the exhibition space.

Sixteen years after it first opened, the Wright Exhibition Space is still on the list of Seattle’s best-kept secrets. It is without doubt one of the city’s most beautiful places for looking at art, and you could not choose a better time to seek it out. The current exhibition is an excellent example of what the Wright Foundation does sublimely well.

Sitting pretty between the economic pressures of a commercial gallery and the civic or academic obligations of a museum, the foundation allows Virginia Wright to curate according to her very particular passions. The resulting exhibit delights and fascinates in equal measure.

We entered the space, picked up copies of the sheet listing the fourteen works in the show, and began to make our way around. Soon Sylvia, the docent, invited us to join her and another couple as she began her overview. She then took us to see each of the pieces, grouping them by artist and spending a lot of time on Valentine.

The featured work, Gray Column, is one of two matching columns that were commissioned by a company in Illinois for their new building. When the architect lowered the planned ceiling height, the columns were installed rotated ninety degrees, lying on their sides. This was back in the mid-’70s. Eventually the pieces came back to the artist, and then two years ago the Getty built a show around them, From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column.

Gray Column was one of the largest sculptures De Wain Valentine ever cast with polyester resin―the material with which he worked through the 1960s and 1970s to create his dazzling Circles and Columns. This monumental, free-standing slab, measuring 12 feet high and 8 feet wide, will be displayed to the public for the first time. The exhibition From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s “Gray Column” tells the story of how this extraordinary piece was made and features preparatory drawings and maquettes, videos documenting the fabrication process, interviews with the artist, and a discussion of the conservation of this sculpture.

One of the three spaces into which the Wright Exhibition Space is divided contains some of the material from this show, including a polyester resin cast divided into thirds. In the photo of it below that I took, you can perhaps make out that there are three different sections: the left third is unfinished, the middle is partly polished, and the right is fully polished, with viewers invited to touch.

valentinemanquette

Photos show Valentine and assistants at work, from casting to polishing. Sylvia mentioned that before the Wright show opened, Valentine’s wife was busy re-polishing the column. The resin changes over time, raising conservation questions about whether to re-polish or leave as is. Of course, with the artist still alive and in possession of the work, he is free to make that decision.

Here’s one of the photos in the exhibition, taken from the Getty website:

De Wain Valentine in front of Gray Column, 1975–76, during the polishing stage.

De Wain Valentine in front of Gray Column, 1975–76, during the polishing stage.

[Photo courtesy of De Wain Valentine]

And another from the Getty website:

Gray Column, 1975–76, De Wain Valentine. Polyester resin. 140 x 87 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.

Gray Column, 1975–76, De Wain Valentine. Polyester resin. 140 x 87 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.

Sylvia told us that Valentine’s Circle Blue, which is owned by Virginia Wright, sits in front of a window in her condo, looking out over Puget Sound. A third Valentine piece in the show, also owned by Wright, is only 6″ x 11″ and normally sits on a table at her home.

Oh, I just remembered that Sylvia showed us a NYT review of the Getty show, written in September 2011. It’s here, and it has a bigger photo of Gray Column:

graycolumn2

[Konrad Fiedler for The New York Times]

You can get a sense of how it is reflective below, where it is thick, but translucent higher up.

Although De Wain Valentine’s work is at the exhibition’s heart, the other artists’ works are wonderful complements. The Valentine column and circle are balanced by a 12-foot-high Robert Irwin pillar that has a profile something like two wedges and an eight-foot rectangular solid of stainless steel by John McCracken. Another McCracken piece is below.

John McCracken, Untitled, 1964, 60" x 60"

John McCracken, Untitled, 1964, 60″ x 60″

The different paint textures gave me a sense that I was looking through the triangle into the sky, as if looking out from within a James Turrell skyspace.

One last example, the one contemporary piece, a painting that is exactly the same size as McCracken’s:

Peter Alexander, Big Pink Square, 2012, 60" x 60"

Peter Alexander, Big Pink Square, 2012, 60″ x 60″

You have until April 25th. And remember, they’re open only Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 am to 2 pm. Go if you can.

Categories: Art

The Beast

December 22, 2013 1 comment

thebeast

I have my next book lined up, once I finish Under Tower Peak. It will be Oscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, which came out in Spanish a few years ago, but is appearing in translation only now. From the book’s webpage:

One day a few years ago, 300 migrants were kidnapped between the remote desert towns of Altar, Mexico, and Sasabe, Arizona. A local priest got 120 released, many with broken ankles and other marks of abuse, but the rest vanished. Óscar Martínez, a young writer from El Salvador, was in Altar soon after the abduction, and his account of the migrant disappearances is only one of the harrowing stories he garnered from two years spent traveling up and down the migrant trail from Central America and across the US border. More than a quarter of a million Central Americans make this increasingly dangerous journey each year, and each year as many as 20,000 of them are kidnapped.

Martínez writes in powerful, unforgettable prose about clinging to the tops of freight trains; finding respite, work and hardship in shelters and brothels; and riding shotgun with the
border patrol. Illustrated with stunning full-color photographs, The Beast is the first book to shed light on the harsh new reality of the migrant trail in the age of the narcotraficantes.

I learned of The Beast Tuesday night in going through the Financial Times’ list of books of the year. Some ways down (it’s a long list), I came upon this recommendation of Junot Diaz:

The most extraordinary (and harrowing) book I read this year was Oscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail. This is a bravura act of frontline reporting that tracks the horror passage that many immigrants must survive (and some don’t) to reach the US from the south. These immigrants are preyed on by everyone and yet they cling to hope like they cling to the trains that will bring some of them to what they pray will be better lives. Beautiful and searing and impossible to put down.

That got my attention. Minutes later, I was looking at the Wednesday NYT online and realized this was the very book whose review I had passed over earlier in the evening. Larry Rohter concludes:

Migrants don’t just die, they’re not just maimed or shot or hacked to death,” Mr. Martínez writes. “The scars of their journey don’t only mark their bodies, they run deeper than that. Living in such fear leaves something inside them, a trace and a swelling that grabs hold of their thoughts and cycles through their head.” By capturing that grim reality, and in such gripping prose and detail, Mr. Martínez has both distinguished himself and done us all a vital public service.

Later I discovered that The Beast also shows up on the Economist’s list of books of the year:

Drawing on eight trips accompanying illegal migrants from Central America across the border into the United States. Oscar Martínez, a Salvadoran journalist, does a beautiful job describing a world that is hellish, violent and depraved.

I’ve downloaded it and will begin reading soon.

Categories: Books

Under Tower Peak

December 22, 2013 Leave a comment

undertowerpeak

A week ago, in writing about Ian Rankin’s latest crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, I mentioned learning of Bart Paul’s Under Tower Peak. The Wall Street Journal’s list of 2013’s ten best mysteries closes with this brief comment:

And “Under Tower Peak,” Bart Paul’s suspenseful debut, accompanies a pack-station guide in California’s Sierra Nevada through a hair-raising adventure starting with the mountaintop discovery of a dead billionaire inside a crashed plane.

The book appears to have been ignored by many of the usual reviewers, but it did get a full WSJ review last April by Tom Nolan. He opens by observing that

Bart Paul’s scenic and suspenseful debut novel, “Under Tower Peak,” a western thriller set in contemporary Sierra Nevada, displays some formidable influences—Hemingway’s, for instance, in the first-chapter opening: “Early in the season we rode up to the forks to fix the trail above the snow cabin. The winter had been good and the aspens had leafed out down in the canyon at the edges of the meadows. . . . The only sounds were the steady scuff of the horses’ hooves.” Shadows of Cormac McCarthy and Jim Harrison also flutter across the pages of this swift-moving tale, narrated by an Iraq-war veteran returned to the rugged terrain of his youth to work a few seasons as a cowboy and pack-station guide. “I always felt at home up in this country, the wilder the better,” says protagonist Tommy Smith partway into an unexpected adventure that proves as dangerous as anything he encountered in the military. “But now that big mountain half scared me to death.”

Nolan concludes that the

nonstop action in “Under Tower Peak” is well-paced, the plot twists surprising (even shocking) and the occasional humor welcome. In the end, it’s that right-stuff quality known as true grit that may save Tommy Smith’s bacon—and that elevates this fine first novel into a must-read book.

That’s enough for me. I’ve downloaded the book and gotten through the first chapter. No unexpected adventure or shocking plot twists yet. I’m ready.

Categories: Books

Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, 2

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Litter, 750-1375, Peruvian, Lambayeque, North Coast, wood, gold, silver, cinnabar, sulphurous copper, ammonia, shells, turquoise, feathers

Litter, 750-1375, Peruvian, Lambayeque, North Coast, wood, gold, silver, cinnabar, sulphurous copper, ammonia, shells, turquoise, feathers

[Photo: Joaquín Rubio]

It’s been two months since I wrote about the then-new exhibition Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon at the Seattle Art Museum. With its close three weeks away, we returned on Thursday morning for a tour with SAM’s curator of Native American art, Barbara Brotherton. Before I say a few words about that, let me quote again from the exhibition website:

Discover the mysteries of Machu Picchu, treasures from royal tombs and archeological wonders from one of the cradles of civilization in Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon. More than 3,000 years of artistic history reveal a land of rich complexity and startling beauty.

This unusually wide-ranging exhibition covers archeology, ancient rituals, royal ceremonies, conquest and colonization, the formation of the republic and the emergence of a new national identity. Experience the unfolding of culture through the creative achievements of Peru, from gold funerary masks to modern folk art.

The Seattle Art Museum is proud to be the only U.S. venue presenting this spectacular exhibition of more than 300 works, including national treasures never before seen outside of Peru.

And let me quote also from my first post on the exhibition, recounting our experience on opening night:

We made an unfortunate error, relying on habit to pass from the opening room to a second one in a clockwise direction, not realizing that this time the natural route was counter-clockwise. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings were evidence something was amiss, but maybe objects were grouped by medium, not chronologically. Plus, the exhibition showpiece—the forehead ornament—was in a neighboring space. So maybe there wasn’t a strict chronological order.

Off we went, room to room, evidence mounting that we were walking backwards. I should note that we weren’t alone in this choice, the people moving in both directions adding to the confusion. Well, no matter. We saw many extraordinary objects. And we can go counter-clockwise on our next visit.

This time we did go counter-clockwise. Not that there was any chance of erring, since we were following Barbara’s lead.

Thanks both to viewing in chronological order and to Barbara’s comments, we were able to appreciate everything much better, and to realize just how fabulous a show this is. One passes through rooms of objects from the Mochica culture of 100-800, then the Lambayeque culture of about 750 to 1375 and Huari culture of 700-1200, leading to the Inca objects of the fifteenth century and then, suddenly, the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s. As one leaves the Inca room to enter the first room of art and artifacts influenced by Spain and Catholicism, one experiences in some small way the dramatic shock of that time.

Barbara opened our eyes to the ways that the locals, through their art, adopted Catholicism yet grafted onto it their own native culture. One memorable example is a painting depicting Mary in a triangular gown from neck to feet that gives her the shape of a mountain, realizing her as both Jesus’s mother and traditional earth goddess.

There’s still time to see the show. And still time for a tour. I recommend both.

Categories: Art, Museums

Saints of the Shadow Bible

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment

rankinsaints

I explained a week ago, in my post on Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land, that I began it a few Thursdays ago when my copy of Ian Rankin’s latest Edinburgh crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, failed to arrive from the UK. I had pre-ordered the Rankin book from UK Amazon so it would ship immediately on publication, unwilling to wait for its US publication in mid-January. But when it didn’t come on that Thursday, I downloaded and began reading the free portion of Shavit’s book. The Rankin book arrived the next day, but too late. I was hooked on Shavit.

Since finishing the Shavit book, I have been slow to turn to Rankin, despite my love of his famous character John Rebus and my eagerness to learn of Rebus’s newest exploits. The new book and last year’s The Impossible Dead are unexpected gifts, what with Rebus’s retirement in Exit Music a few years ago and Rankin’s introduction of a new character, Malcolm Fox, in two subsequent novels. It didn’t appear that Rebus was coming back.

But he has, twice now. Why wasn’t I diving in? I suppose the problem is that I have grown accustomed to reading on my Kindle or iPad. No need to turn on a light when I go to bed or wake up. Thus, I’ve spent the last week avoiding Rebus, instead downloading opening portions of other novels and trying them out. Like, for instance, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which I considered reading when it came out earlier this year, and which I saw mentioned by someone last week in an end-of-year list of favorite books. And another book, Bart Paul’s Under Tower Peak, which came to my attention two nights ago when I was reading online yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, with its own best-of-the-year lists. The Paul book makes the list of ten best mysteries as the closing recommendation:

And “Under Tower Peak,” Bart Paul’s suspenseful debut, accompanies a pack-station guide in California’s Sierra Nevada through a hair-raising adventure starting with the mountaintop discovery of a dead billionaire inside a crashed plane.

I hadn’t recalled seeing mention of this book before. On further investigation, I found that the NYT hadn’t reviewed it, but the WSJ did, back in April, with Tom Nolan concluding that “the nonstop action in “Under Tower Peak” is well-paced, the plot twists surprising (even shocking) and the occasional humor welcome. In the end, it’s that right-stuff quality known as true grit that … elevates this fine first novel into a must-read book.”

Wow!

Yesterday morning, I read the free opening portion, at which point the moment of decision had come. Download the rest and keep reading? Or turn to Rankin and Rebus? I chose Rebus, mostly for fear that if I keep delaying, its US publication will occur. I dare not leave the book unread that long. I paid the extra cost of shipping from the UK, after all, in order to receive the physical book. (One can’t download the e-version of a UK book onto a US Kindle if the book hasn’t been published here yet.) I can’t let it sit until the US Kindle version becomes available.

I’m now a fifth of the way through and enjoying it immensely. Too bad I deferred reading it.

What next? Maybe back to Under Tower Peak. Probably not The Interestings. Another possibility is Alice McDermott’s Someone, a novel that is on some book-of-the-year lists and whose free portion I read some weeks ago. Or one of the many history books on my reading list.

Categories: Books

Flight Tracking

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Virgin603

Ever since a certain family member (who prefers that I not tell the details of his life on Ron’s View, so I’m leaving him nameless) went away to college years back, I found myself tracking his flights when he headed to school or back home. I still do it, sometimes texting gate info or other advice as he lands at intermediate stops. This weekend offered the ultimate tracking experience, thanks to his three-flight itinerary from Seattle to JFK to London Heathrow to Cape Town. What a journey!

Nothing too exotic about Friday’s first segment, one we’ve all flown many times. I didn’t start tracking until he was already over western Michigan, having just crossed Lake Michigan. Next time I looked, he was above northern New Jersey. I watched the plane make the usual big turn out over the Atlantic before heading back north to the barrier beaches of Long Island and into JFK. All home turf to me as a native Long Islander.

After a brief overnight stopover, he was off to London. By the time I awoke yesterday morning and thought to start tracking, the plane was approaching the southern coast of Ireland. Next look and he was in the west of England. The plane continued east, straight to the south of Heathrow, then made a circle southwards and back to the north, in for a landing I thought, only to turn to the east and south again, at which point FlightAware stopped tracking. Where did he go? I never did find out. It took over half an hour before Virgin Atlantic recorded the flight as landing.

Two hours later, he was embarked on the overnight, twelve-hour flight to Cape Town. The plane was, anyway. I had to hope he was on it. When I first took a look, he was over southern France. We headed out for a while, the fun beginning on our return.

I thought I knew the location of the world’s countries pretty well. Eastern Europe, the old USSR, the Stans? No problem. Asia? Under control. But Africa not so much, as it turns out.

The big country in northern Africa that he was flying over? Algeria. I know that one. But what about the big country to its southeast?

I should explain, as you can see above, that FlightAware draws in boundaries of countries, but doesn’t identify them.

I know Egypt and Libya in the northeast. I know that Sudan and Chad lie below them. But, um, what is that country just west of Chad? I took the screenshot above a few minutes ago, tracking tonight’s flight, not last night’s. And the plane happens to be right where it was last night when I was stumped.

Mali? Not quite. It’s Niger. Mali is to the west. Oh well.

Next I looked, the plane was over Gabon, just past the bend there on the Atlantic, but I struck out on that one too. Angola, the big guy farther south, was no problem. I finally went to bed as the plane was nearing Angola’s southern border, heading toward Namibia. I never did see it enter South Africa’s airspace. I awoke to learn that the plane landed on time, the family member’s journey over.

I better study up before his return flights.

Categories: Family, Flying, Geography

Jordan on Seaver in Calistoga

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment

1calistoga

I read a great piece yesterday by Pat Jordan, one-time pitching prospect turned writer, in which he describes a visit to old friend Tom Seaver, one-time pitching great turned winemaker. Seaver and his wife, Nancy, live in Calistoga, California, where they run Seaver Vineyards.

Seaver Vineyards produces Cabernet Sauvignon in limited production of between 400-500 cases per year. Grown on a south facing slope on Diamond Mountain, our wine is made from 3 different clones (a 4th clone planted in 2009 will be incorporated into the 2011 vintage) grown on our 3.5 acre vineyard.

The 2005 vintage was our inaugural vintage, released in 2008. Beginning with the ’05 vintage we have offered two bottlings of our Cabernet, GTS and Nancy’s Fancy, mainly because the characteristics of the grapes grown on the smaller hill of the vineyard have been very different than those grown on the big hill.

We were in Calistoga in October, 2008. On the last full day of our visit to Healdsburg, which lies across the mountains in Sonoma County, we decided to venture over to the Napa Valley between winery visits. It was a beautiful drive, bringing us down into Calistoga, where we ate lunch, then visited the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History. (I took the photo up top as we were getting back in the car after lunch to drive around town, stumbling on the museum during the drive.) As I read Jordan’s description of the Seavers’ home on Diamond Mountain, I imagined that I had looked up at it from town.

The Jordan article has many delights, even for readers who aren’t baseball fans, though especially for those who care about baseball. Seaver’s insights are fascinating. It’s a surprise to realize that Seaver didn’t make all that much from his baseball days, despite being one of the greatest pitchers ever. He did well, of course, but an order of magnitude less well than today’s stars. He wasn’t a multimillionaire buying an existing successful venture as a hobby. Rather, he bought undeveloped land and made a go of it from scratch as a real business.

I hesitate to quote from the article, as I don’t want to spoil its pleasures. Go read it.

Categories: Sports, Wine, Writing

My Promised Land

December 8, 2013 1 comment

mypromisedland

When I finished John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid on Thursday morning two and a half weeks ago, I thought the timing perfect because Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, was due to arrive in the post later that day from the UK. (I had pre-ordered it from the UK Amazon, unwilling to wait for its US publication in mid-January.) But when I got home that evening, it wasn’t there. Meanwhile, Dwight Garner’s review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel had appeared in the NYT the day before, reawakening the interest I had in it after reading Oren Kessler’s WSJ review two weeks before.

Kessler:

In the spring of 1897 a steamer carrying a delegation of 21 British Jews left Port Said, Egypt, for Jaffa—the last leg of its journey to the Holy Land. Leading the pack was Herbert Bentwich, an affluent London lawyer and Zionist leader and the great-grandfather of Ari Shavit, a columnist for the Haaretz newspaper and one of Israel’s most influential political commentators.

In “My Promised Land,” his first book in English, Mr. Shavit charts Israel’s history partly through the lives of his pioneering forebears: His grandfather, Herbert’s son, was a Cambridge-educated pedagogue who helped develop Israel’s education system, while his father was a chemist at the eye of Israel’s nuclear program. The result is roughly equal parts personal and family memoir, Israeli history, and prophecies for the land’s future. It is one of the most nuanced and challenging books written on Israel in years.

And Garner:

“My Promised Land” shifts into higher gear in its middle sections, with the claiming of the Masada fortress in the 1940s as a symbol for Zionism, and with the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. This book’s middle 200 pages are almost certainly the most powerful pages of nonfiction I’ve read this year.

It’s not just that Mr. Shavit lays out the story of Israel’s founding with clarity and precision. This is a story we’ve read before, in a stack of books that, laid end to end, would wrap 88 times around the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It’s that he so deliberately scrutinizes the denial he locates at the heart of Israeli consciousness.

This book’s central chapter is probably the one about how the Palestinian citizenry was driven from the Arab city of Lydda in 1948. Many were killed; some were tortured during interrogations. There was looting. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, long columns, were driven from their homes into the desert. In expulsions like this one lie his country’s original sin, the author argues, beyond the settlements of its later expansion.

“Lydda is our black box,” he declares. “In it lies the dark secret of Zionism.” Mr. Shavit is a powerful writer about denial. The miracle that is Israel, he says, is “based on denial. The nation I am born into has erased Palestine from the face of the earth.”

It’s among Mr. Shavit’s gifts as a writer and thinker that he can see this fact plainly yet condemn “the bleeding-heart Israeli liberals of later years who condemn what” was done in Lydda “but enjoy the fruits of their deed.”

Garner’s claim that the “book’s middle 200 pages” are “the most powerful pages of nonfiction I’ve read this year” sure got my attention. I downloaded the free portion that Thursday evening and began reading. Rankin’s book arrived the next day, but it was too late. I was hooked. (I also saw that next day, with the NYT Sunday book review posted online, that it would featured as the subject of the lead review, by Leon Wieseltier.

Until we get to the tedious later pages, each chapter of My Promised Land focuses on a particular time, place, and set of people, with some superb story telling based on historical research and interviews. The first chapter revolves around Shavit’s great-grandfather’s 1897 visit. The second drew me in through its treatment of Jewish settlement in the Harod Valley in the 1920s, with a focus on Kibbutz Ein Harod.

The further I read into this chapter, the more I had a sense of déja vu. Not that I had been there, but my cousin Batia had settled a kibbutz in the 1920s, and I began to suspect that it was in the same valley. Sure enough, later in the chapter, Shavit wrote about a day in April 1926 when the members of Ein Harod and some neighboring kibbutzim, including Beit Alpha, stopped work early to wash up and prepare to attend a concert held in a valley amphitheater. Shavit takes a moment here to explain that none other than Jascha Heifetz had performed in this quarry a few months earlier. As for Beit Alpha, that’s the kibbutz my cousin founded.

Batia was my mother’s (much older) first cousin. Her mother and grandmother—my grandfather’s sister and mother—were active Zionists in Poland. Batia moved to Beit Alpha in the 1920s. Her sister and mother stayed behind to continue their efforts, ultimately perishing in the Holocaust. When I met Batia over forty years later, in the summer of 1970, she was a kind older woman (not so much older perhaps than I am now) living in Tel Aviv with her husband, a chemist at the Weizmann Institute of Science who commuted to Rehovot daily to work on a chemistry curriculum for the nation’s high schools. One son was an engineer with two young children, living in a suburb south of Tel Aviv. The other was an advanced student at the Technion, still serving in the Army. It was a professional urban family, living in a modest apartment where I spent a lot of time.

A year later, on a return trip to Israel, I came to Tel Aviv one weekend to visit Batia and Fritz, as was the norm, and off we went on a Saturday morning on a long drive to a kibbutz where they had friends. It was Beit Alpha. To my surprise, when we arrived Batia and Fritz were treated like honored guests, as pioneer members decades before. This was counter to everything I knew about them. We had the most delightful afternoon. I remember the kibbutz as sitting on the lower slopes of a hill or mountain, with the West Bank border just beyond. On reading Shavit’s account, I realized this was Mount Gilboa.

Anyway, as Garner mentions in his review, the book hits full stride in chapter 4 with Shavit’s treatment of the expulsion of Arabs from Lydda in the 1948 war. From there, for 200 pages or more, the reader is in for a powerful experience. An essential theme for Shavit is that the Jewish settlers lost their way, or their innocence, not with the West Bank settlements in the aftermath of the 1967 and 1973 wars but with the expulsion of Arabs in the 1948 war. This was, as it were, the original sin.

The book lost its way, at least for me, in the closing chapters, which become more a monologue in which Shavit expresses his concerns about Israel’s direction, less a historically focused treatment of key moments in Israel’s history in which a series of fascinating characters is introduced. The penultimate chapter goes on and on about the threat of Iran’s nuclear weapon development, something that evidently was a Shavit cause in his newspaper writing for years. The final chapter, one of the two longest, is an extended essay on the challenges the country faces. I would have been happy if the book ended before them.

Categories: Books, History