Monday, March 26, 2007

Palos Verdes Blue...Boy!

I came home from school today to find my "better half" out planting in our garden. Oh joy! She's back, I said to myself. She was planting carpet rose bushes to take the place of several victims of our recent freeze. They are a small, low-lying roses that spread out and cover a larger area than, say a bush.(2' tall and 4' wide) These are "apple blossum" color, meaning they start out pink and change to white. She so loves color in our yards. It makes her happy.

Lately we've also noticed more butterflies flitting around; last season too; yellow and black with a spot of blue or black with an orange stripe. It had gotten to where we rarely saw swallowtails or monarchs anymore. They seem to be coming back? Let's hope. The above picture is from an article in the L.A. Times on Monday, 26th by Deborah Schoch. It is all about the valiant efforts to save the "Palos Verdes Blue", one of the rarest butterflies in America. It is about the size of your thumb nail and a beautiful hue of blue once out of its pupa casing. There have only been 219 seen since the last count in 2006. This is up from less than 50 sightings in 2003. Like so many frogs and amphibians, butterflies and moths are our "canaries in the mineshafts" and their dwindling numbers or extinction is a warning about their threatened habitat and consequently "ours". Their down to just one viable location just north of the Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro, CA. It is only because it is a Navy Fuel Depot area and developers aren't allow there yet. (yes, I worked for two gigantic "developers/builders" Pulte/Del Webb and Pardee/Weyerhaueser, and there is still some guilt) Because these insects live on the deerweed and locoweed growing on military land, the Uban Wildlands Group is handling this 10-year-old breeding program for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Jana Johnson, a 37 year old, biologist with an affinity for country music is raising and coaxing the latest groups of hatching pupae with music of all kinds in her labs in San Pedro and Moorpark. If the species is to survive, her program must produce enough pupae to establish colonies elsewhere on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The also talks to them in the same soothing tones she uses with her two sons. Johnson say, "If a butterfly struggles, unable to spring free of its pod, or shake off that last casing, its wings won't expand properly. If he doesn't expand, he can;t fly and if he can't fly, he can't mate. If he is not "pretty", he gets rejected." In this race to save the Palos Verdes Blue, everything is about courtship, mating and eggs. She feeds the young hatchlings on wads of toilet paper soaked with honey-water and "Fierce Melon Gatorade" as nectar substitues based on research from the University of Florida which has a captive breeding program for the Miami Blue. (Passion Fruit was second) They need the sugars and electrolytes and the color attracts them like bright colored flowers. It makes them "happy".

I've been wearing blue these last few days too. I haven't quite been flitting around the garden but "I'm in the Flow" of new life, and birth. Our newest grandson was born this last Saturday and his proud parents, Clark and Vi are overjoyed with us. He was alittle early, over 6#'s, 19" and very healthy. Mom and Dad are a bit tired by the long labors. His name? Xavier James Burgan. Quite rare and endangered as a name, I think. I like it. I googled the name and found out it means "Bright" and the most famous namesake is St. Francis Xavier who was the most "successful" missionary for the Catholic Church in the 16th Century since St. Paul in bringing converts to the Faith. He died in China doing "God's Work". His name also starts with the "roman numeral" X = 10. I had jokingly challenged my son and his wife to pick a roman numeral name since his name starts with a C (=100) and his wife's name is VI (= 6). I really don't think they took me seriously, since she says she went to a school by that name. But, who knows. "What's in a name..."anyway? Will it be coo-ed to by his mother and father and family in love? Yes! He will be loved, fed and nurtured as the newest member of our Burgan Clan. He will get to hear his dad's music and his see his mom's beautiful smile everyday. He has "Quantum Probabilities" of growing up to be healthy, happy adult...this little Baby Blue... Boy! Bob!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tenacious Tivo Trial

We have just had what will become known, in perpetuity,as the "Tenacious Tivo Trial" Incident. I write about it here because it is a monumental testimony to my wife's "Fight On!" Spirit of never giving up. She is a "Bull Dog" in this way. It is also proof of her record-keeping and filing system of every technical manual we have ever had to buy. She's a person who has had to "read manuals" and figure things out on her own throughout our married life just because we couldn't usually afford to call a service man or buy a new one. It is also because I was often "not home" to help her through these trials with my working second jobs etc. She was also a "Compliance Administrator" for her HMO to the DOC. She had to figure out all the tedious rules of legal compliance to keep the Intervalley Health Plan up and running. When she left that job for sales, Acct. Exec., they had to hire three people to do what she had been doing technically.

Here's how this particular "Tivo Trial" happened this morning. I usually get up early, swim and have my cup of coffee with the newspapers. I'm a bit clumsy, especially in the morning, after my hot jacuzzi with my arthritic fingers. I have a few broken coffee cups etc. to prove that. Anyway, I pressed two tivo buttons at the same time again and "froze up" the unit. Last time I did that, I called Tivo and they told me to unplug the unit and count to 20 and the reboot it. So as I was trying to do that, I must've knocked loose the "S-video" input line. Suddenly the screen went blank. Panic! We can't live without our Tivos. This living room one had last night's UCLA game in "March Madness" on it. So, not knowing exactly which cord came loose from which socket, and having to fish around, by feel in the back of the machine which is on top of the TV in a cubby hole, I just couldn't make my big hands do what was required.

Betty, my wife, was still sleeping. I didn't want to wake her up...oh no...been there, done that...not a wise thing to do. When she eventually arose, and was coffeed etc. she got out her file of Tivo manuals. She reads. Then her small hands get to work and after, several trial and error attempts and even a call to our "technologically talented" son. She figured it out and got it working again all by herself. She had gotten a magifying mirror from the bathroom that she uses daily, held the mini-flashlight, and figured out the schematic in reverse. She said she doesn't even know what an "S-Video" cable does, but she does know that the book says not to plug in the "yellow one" when the "red and white" one are already engaged.

I had stepped out of the room, a pit-stop needed. When I came back she had it running again and without "rebooting" She then proceeded to write down what she had done so when it happen again, she'll be ready. She filed it all away somewhere in her vast, but very organized files.

You can see why this is just another reason I can't live without her. She has this indomitable stubborness and tenacity and won't let anything deter her...not even multiple melanomas. I love her so. Bob!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Music and Lyrics

My wife's turn to pick a chic flic, but I must admit, "Music and Lyrics" was alot of fun. Drew Barymore and Hugh Grant looked cute together as their characters and they had chemistry, as they say. You can't not think of Drew without remembering her first character in E.T. with that sweet little-girl smile. Hugh, of course, is such a veteran of this type of movie. i.e. Notting Hill, Runaway Bride(?) no, 3 Weddings and a Funeral. He's so self-depricating. His extreme example of self-loathing was brought up on Jay Leno when Jay asked,"What were you thinking?" and he retorted, "Not with my head."(no pun intended)
They just "work" as a duo... a song-writing duo. He seems to be able to play the piano etc., maybe he really does, and she was so quick on the rhyming couplets. Quick reparte and witty comments made this movie, chic flic more than just tolerable. The usual "formula" for sit-coms follows a pretty predictable course but with some surprises and a old fashioned sweetness that has been missing lately at the movies. Too much salty "popcorn" and sacarin "soda". They are also poking fun at the "music business" as just a business with no sentiment in it anymore...maybe there never was. They succeed in co-writing a new love song for the current hotty (young pop-rock starlet) that is really more of a sexy dancer who tries to sing than a singer who tries to dance.

It reminded us of many ways. Betty, of course, is more about the lyrics; I like to think I'm music, harmony or at least the tune. This is one of our long-standing, long-running jokes. We like to challenge each other to rhyme with a line or a phrase we have just said or sung to each other...the more obtuse or remote the better. Lately, in the past 20 years we do the same with crossword puzzles. We always take one along, and if we are bored with the scene, say shopping or a restaurant, or our own lack of conversation topics, we just pass a crossword back and forth, preferrably the Sunday Edition doing only one down and one accross. There has always been this give and take in our relationship (almost 45 yrs. now) We have striven for brevity as the soul of wit in our life together...not shortness of life but quickness and humor in comments and observations.

The cogent content for me came when Hugh wrote and sang a song for Drew after years of blockage from his "hits" in the 80's. His theme? "Don't write me off yet". This struck a chord, pun intended, with me. Although I do notice a decrease or lessening in my verbal abilities i.e. this very writing, posting blogs, I still feel I have something to say and feel about any number of topics. I've always had this but it was probably sublimated when I taught and worked extra jobs. I was just too darn tired most of the time. Now, I do have the time...and I am trying to write. I have a children's book churning around on the back mix metaphors. I like to play with poems and lyrics; especially rewriting existing ones. I don't share those publically unless truly inspired. The last posted in the comments of the previous blog.

In music, I still sing the "lead" part in a barbershop quartet group. Our quartet is temporarily named "The Shakers"* because we come just before "The After-Shocks", another group in our up-coming program/contest. I miss singing with a chorale now but it is just too hard physically. Listening to good choral music is a distant second to actual singing and blending in with a large group as a tenor. I'd sing with the local Sun Lakes Chorale, they meet in the morning, but I'm currently going to college at that time and the group is too large and unchallenging musicallly. i.e. some of the men don't sing tenor or bass but just the melody or some form of it an octave lower. I still enjoy CD's of tenors like Josh Groban, or Il Devo or The Ten Tenors. I know, my taste in music is not "current" or "pop". Josh makes an attempt at it with his latest album "Awake". "So She Dances" is my favorite on it.*(not the Shakers of "Simple Gifts")

Music and Lyrics are often combined in the dance. Our favorite show on TV right now is "Dancing With the Stars" It adds that kinetic dimension to the beat, the lyric and the melody that, when interpreted with grace (yes, there's that word again, grace) is very entertaining and thrilling. Yes, we did vote last night and this A.M on line...about 22 times for our favorite couples. This is one of our new pleasures together...we don't dance much hip, her knees. Ah, life is so short, so sweet, but still lots of fun with my resident lyricist. Bob!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Amazing Grace Pt. 2

This is the masterpiece woodcut I was referring to in "Amazing Grace Pt. 1". It is called, "Allegory of Law and Grace by Lucas Cranach the Elder. It was done in 1530 and is about 10 5/8" X 1' 3/4". It was produced in the years after the onset of the Reformation (1517). Protestants viewed low-key images such as woodcut prints as useful devotional aids. Prints provided a prime vehicle for "educating the masses", because artist could print them easily, permitting wide circulation and sale of numerous copies. Woodcuts were among the least expensive of all the art forms, making them more accessible to a wider audience than traditional commissioned art, such as paintings and sculptures.

In this print, Cranach depicted the differences between Catholicism (based on Old Testament Law, according to Luther) and Protestantism (based on a belief in God's Grace) in two images separated by a centrally placed tree. On the left half, Judgment Day has arrived, as represented by Christ's appearance at the top of the scene, hovering amid a cloud halo and accompanied by angels and saints. Christ raises his left hand in the traditional gesture of damnation, and, below, a skeleton drives off a terrified person to burn for eternity in Hell. This person tried to live a good and honorable life, but, despite his efforts, he fell short. Moses stands to the side, holding the Tablets of the Law - The Commandments Catholics follow in their attempt to attain salvation.

In contrast to this Catholic reliance on good works and clean living, the Protestants emphasized God's Grace as a source of redemption. Accordingly, God showers the sinner in the right half of the print with Grace, as streams of blood flow from the crucified Christ. On the far right, Christ emerges from the tomb and promises salvation to all who believe in Him. (unless his "bones" are still in an ossuary in Jerusalem...see previous blog post "Dem Bones")

At Wittenberg, Germany, Cranach became a friend and follower of Martin Luther; indeed, his close association with Luther and the degree to which Luther influenced (if not guided) his imagery led scholars to refer to Cranach as the "painter of the Reformation."

So I can see how this might influence the hymn writing and lyrics of the time. What is doing the same today? Bob!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Amazing Grace?

We just saw the film "Amazing Grace" directed by Michael Apted. It is about the campaign against the slave trade in 19th century Britain, led by the famous abolitionist William Wilberforse, who was responsible for steering anti-slave trade legislation through the British parliament. The title is a reference to the hymn "Amazing Grace" and the film also recounts John Newton's inspiration for writing this hymn during that time.

My wife and I were split on the "impact" of this film. She thought it was boring and tedious. I, having chosen it, (my turn) liked it for a number of reasons. It is a period piece about "life" back in the late 1700's and the stark differences between the "classes" in England at the time. We both enjoyed the scenes from "Bath" in western England were rich people (MP's) at the time "took the waters". We had a day there as tourists and "took the tea" not the "waters". The House of Commons, even then, was run by the wealthier, "landed" merchants who were getting and staying rich off the "slave trade" out of Africa (Sierra Leone) and the new plantation owners in America. It is a time in history that fascinates me and I'm studying the Art History Period right now (Baroque to Roccoco) Extreme embellishment, richness for the wealthy (merchant) patrons was what was mostly saved and called "masterpieces".

The protagonists in the "true" story were "William Wiberforse", played by Ioan Gruffudd of Capt. Hornblower (TV Series) fame and "John Newton", played by Albert Finney now quite old...remember him in "Tom Jones" and the "eating orgy"? Then there was the "token" steadfast woman, his life support who kept William at the daunting task when his health was failing along with his resolve. Her name was "Barbara Spooner" played by Romola Garai. He also had the "help"(?) of an addiction to "ludlum" an opiate until the birth of his first child. (They don't get into the "drug trade" at the time with China.

Anyway, it was very thought provoking to me to consider some of the historical issues at that time. Abolitionist were very unpopular in England and the M.P.'s in the majority came up with some very creative and naive reasons to continue "slaving"...mostly they had to do with the economy of Britian at the time...not moral issues at all. Year after year William and his group of "Abs", mainly ministers, would propose the "bill" to the parliament and year after year it was voted down. Each year he was able to get more and more support for it. He did this with suprise tours of "slave ships" docked in the harbor to show the appauling conditions that the slaves had to endure for three weeks and more in passage. Life, at that time, was so squalid for the common man anyway that it didn't change many a mind. He got the support of the new Prime Minister, William Pitt, but then politics got in the way, and a "War with France" was brewing. A local preacher, John Newton, had a "history of slaving" that he was forced into in his youth. He had a "miraculous vision" on board ship and converted to a form of Calvinism (popular protestant) at the time. He persuaded William to keep up the fight and he also wrote the lyrics to the hymn "Amazing Grace" because he felt that that was what saved him from his life of slave trading. He eventually goes blind but is able to be present in parliament when William's Abolitionist Bill is passed (over 200 to 16). It ends with a rousing rendition of "Amazing Grace" played by the traditional bagpipes in front of Westminister Abby.(where Wilberforse is now buried).

What is "amazing" and shocking to me is that, what "won the day" was not overriding "morality" or conscience, but "the merchant class pocketbook" again. In order to get the initial bill through the House they had to "lie" and slip a "quiet bill through" on some innocent rules of "trade". This was suggested by a "lawyer" who was just returning from the New World" (Jamaica, Haiti) where he was "gathering evidence". What he notice on the return trip to England was that the "neutral American ships" flying the "Stars and Stripes" were not "boarded and searched" by the "Privateers" from England and France. So the slave ships were striking their "home colors" and falsely raising our "colors" whenever spotted. So the Abolitionist simply proposed that that practice be stopped by the Royal Navy. Soon the "neutral slavers" were not getting through. They were stopped and their "human cargo" was stolen by the "privateers and French". English merchant money was lost and they got the attention of their representative in the House.

"Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see."
I have never "bought" this "wretch" belief that is still prevolent. Conversion and reformation from "one state of mind/opinion" to another, yes. John Newton, ironically, ended up eventually blind after that fateful "vision" that showed him his "wretchedness". Many still enslave...minds.
"Thro' many dangers, toils and snare,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home."
The contrast in belief back then, and even now is "Law vs. Grace". There is even a masterpiece woodcut print called "The Allegorie of Law and Grace by Lucas Cranach the Elder, of the common belief back in the High Renaissance. This came from the Reformation vs. the Counter-Reformation battles in Europe. The catholic church preached that everyone was "under law"...i.e. sin, hell or at least purgatory. The Lutheran and Calvinists preached that everyone was "under grace"...and need only to believe, repent and personally "talk to God" (no priest needed) This reminds me of a time that I taught at Chaparral School with a teacher name Chuck Noffsinger and our boss was definitely "an under law guy". Chuck was so happy when we got a new principal that he commented that he thought he had gone to "teacher heaven" and was "under grace". He was a staunch conversionist (had a Bible on his desk) and sometimes preached in class, and at teacher meetings too. He was a great art teacher and taught my sons "cartooning and Xmas Windows" painting. Minds and hearts can still be grace.
"Shall I be wafted through the skies,
On flowery beds of ease,
Where others strive to win the prize,
And sail through bloody seas"
"When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun."
See what I mean? These verses, over the years, have been added by the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and preserved by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie who mixed it with a hymn "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?" Enslavement continues? Bob!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Teaching to Learn is Learning to Teach

Here it is Mid Term already again. Doesn't the time fly when you're having fun "learning"? At least that is what I used to believe when I taught. It has been more than six years since I was actively engaged in "teaching and learning" full time (as a career). Maybe it takes some "distance" from the profession, a degree of "stepping away" or maybe it just takes "being a student" again to begin to realize the delicate and dependent relationship that is, as the title above suggests: "Teaching is to Learning as Learning is to Teaching".

I have had a number of recent experiences and observations of the above that certainly have impressed on me how vitally linked these two activities are. i.e. one creates the other, one feeds the other and not just in our formal "institutions" called schools, colleges, universities etc. Relationships are key at all levels and in all subject areas I believe. And lately, I've seen vibrant and healthy ones and...the opposite. I can only reflect back on my own experiences while drawing these conclusions and hopefully learn to share and accentuate the positive ones.

My midterm in my Physical Fitness class was very "hands-on" and interactive. We had to prove that we had become more than alittle bit familiar with our "muscle groups" and what "trains and improves them". We did this with a written test of identification and spelling. The "coach" pointed to the muscle group on her body and we had to name it. This was "a piece 'o cake" because I had been trying to exercise and improve the flexibility of most of these groups. She was very "animated" and helpful/hintful. She also assured us that if we missed five or more we could take the test again. We then went up to the track to have our jog/walk test. I had suggested that we take the written test first since "some of us" might be too tired and "shakey" after the heat and stress of the "laps". She listened. Six laps around a field of uneven turf is a challenge at my age. I was determined to do it and show improvement from my first time at the start of the semester. With her verbal encouragement at every lap marker, I did improve by more than three minutes. I was so jazzed. All that work had paid off and I was beginning to enjoy exercising my "bod" again. This time I wasn't "next to last" but "next-to-next-to last". You see I walk the whole trip at a steady jogging. Others, the kids, who I have more than 40 years on were trying to do six-minute miles. I even have more that 20 years on the professor...and yet she made me feel "self-actualized" I had learned something. It was as though "I taught myself"...but I know I hadn't. There was her example and encouragement all the the many weeks and days.

After my hand-packed lunch I had my other midterm. I felt pretty confident that I knew the material. There were five chapters of Art History with more than 250 pieces of "Art" (paintings, sculptures, architectural examples) covering more than 525 years (mid 1200 A.D. to mid 1700 A.D.) There were hundreds of artists and architects, styles, trends, movements, schools to memorize and show understanding about. There were many historical events and movements that also had to be dealt with. This is what you call "a survey class". What is being called for is mainly "surface knowledge and recognition". It is very difficult even for someone like me who has "lived" and seen alot of these works of art and places of interest. So we had already had two multiple-choice tests, one twice with revisions. I did better on the first attempt(s) or guesses. Now for midterm, here they come again, same tests with most of the questions in the "negative" and only 30 or so new ones. This would've been ok if we had actually found out what the correct answers were to the previous ones we missed. But no, we had to go "figure them out" from the four or five "distractors" we hadn't chosen previously. We never got a "firm grip" on what was thought to be correct answers and why. So I now have this "sinking feeling" that I may not have learned as much as I thought I had. When I brought up my "numbered scantron" I had to make sure it was in the pile in the correct numerical order with all the other that all were accounted for...none missing. None of this "evaluative knowledge" must be compromised in case it is put to use in the future.

One hundred questions about Art and not one "visual" slide or projection for comparison or analysis; and I ask you, is this anyway to "teach or learn the Love of Art"? I'm not discouraged because I'm taking the class for other "reasons" but just think of all those young, neophyte Art Students and even those who are just taking the class to "get the credits" and get through it. Will this method teach them to learn more about Art? enjoy it? Or just how to better take a test? I'm betting the latter. Why do they still have classes like this? Why are they taught this way. Is it really just easier? Is it worth it in the long run? I'm thinking, "Nope!"

Then I got to thinking...I was a "tenured teacher" for many years. I was a "mentor teacher" in my district. I was not only asked to help teach students but also new teachers. Did I ever get to the place where I was just "going through the paces", just "marking time" until I could retire? Was I presenting a "good and vibrant" approach to learning and teaching toward the last of my 38 years or was I looking for the "survey technique", the "scantron evaluation"...of what I tried to teach? Was I so disenchanted with my subject(s) and students that I did the least I could get away with and still call it "school"? Was I open to any questions or suggestions from my students and administrators or was I just trying to "cram in" as much material as I could?

Fortunately, I was blessed, or lucky, to work at the "Elementary Level" and have other challenges to "teaching and learning". I felt I taught "some of students...some of the times"; probably never "all of the students...all of the times"...but I tried my hardest to make sure they felt they were learning and liking it. I tried to figure out ways to get them to help each other and teach each other. i.e. share what they had learned with me and with each other. At one time I actually thought that teaching was a "Performing Art". Now, I'm seeing that both teacher and student have to "perform" and exchange roles at times to be in a successful learning relationship. Yes, I do keep going back to an old saying that was shared with me by one of my first teaching year's Hispanic Grandparents: "El que da, recibe! El que ensene, apprende!" "He who gives, receives. He who teaches, learns"

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bridges to Terabithia

Yes, I have been to "Terabithia" many a time. In fact, you might say, I have lived there most of my childhood and adult careers.

Back in "the day" when us kids were told to "go out and play" after school...pre-television, video game days, we had to be pretty inventive with our neighborhood friends and believe me, we were. We created all kinds of "imaginary realms" for our "escapes". The books we read (had to read) helped that too.

I was greatly into "Robin Hood" and "King Arthur's Round Table". We had a terraced backyard and the upper terrace was our "Terabithian Realm". We had a gigantic avocado tree that "served" as many a castle and "armour tree" where we hung all our "silent weapons" we had "hand crafted". We took various roles and had running "battles" from our "underground fort" in the unoccupied "back lot". This was also where I planted my first garden of fast-growing vegetables and buried my first pet and a opossum playing "possum". We made mudball hand grenades filled with rocks for those pesky (imaginary and real) adversaries (various neighbor kids we fell in and out with) We made shields and helmets out of anything we could find in the trash behind the garage.

Soon bikes and roller coasters were involved. We lived near the corner of a hill that was perfect for long, thrilling rides One coaster just had to have "jets" nailed to its underside and I remember saving up my allowance for those special jets you could only by in the local hardware store (no more than 4" long) What a disappointment when they had no measureable effect on our downhill coast.

Soon we had to fit in our terabithian play after dinner in the summer until dark. We, of course, were allowed to go barefoot at that time of the year and it was so hard to put on those new shoes for school in the fall. Neighborhood jobs, not just chores at home, took more and more time away from those halcyon days. At one time I had seven lawns around the neighborhood to mow weekly. I pushed my own (dad's) mower, catcher, sack, hand trimmer and broom to each neighbor's lawn and was so happy to get up to $1.75 (for the whole lawn) once a week. Here I also created "worlds of creative mowing patterns and designs"...anything to make it go easier and quicker, like fun.

We lived accross the street from the backside of Forest Lawn Cemetery. Up and across the street there was a another vacant lot behind some homes where nobody was ever home. There was a hole in the fence behind the "Court of David" (yes, a repllica of the real one in Florence, Italy) We got quite a thrill sneaking into this area of Forest Lawn and risking being caught and taken to our parents or the police. We continued our "Terabithian Ways" here too. Little did I know then that I would be working at this cemetery as a college kid later as a "pall bearer for hire".

You can see why I gravitated toward the "creative subjects" in school. I soon was involved in music and drama productions from elementary school, Junior High and High School. More chances for me to "escape to Terabithia" in an acceptable way. "King of the May Day" in Kindergarten set me off. "Turkey-lurkey" in our second grades recorded production of "Chicken Little". (very appropriate, don't you think, for my later career choices) Mystery Theater co-lead in Junior High...some "murder in the bogs of Scotland" I think. I had to wear a tweed jacket I remember. I concentrated more on music in High School and did a couple musicals, one I remember was "Lost Horizons" ... we chimed in at the end with the chorus, "Beyond the Blue Horizons Lies a rising sun!"
Here I started to work on my "terabithia of writing" with teachers who enjoyed my "flights of fantasy" in their assignments. In college I again concentrated on music, vocal music, because it had that same ability to "send me to terabithia".

So you see it was a very natural thing for me to love teaching elementary school and do it through my "terabithian eyes". I had one rule: "If I got bored, I knew the kids were." So I kept it open for lots of drama, creative problem solving, i.e. "Burgan Bucks", Disneyland Trips, semi-annual class play productions, and lots of reading aloud to the class after lunch break. I tried to choose books that kept "terabithia alive" in them and me. i.e. "Charlie and Chocolate Factory" was big at the time, "Hobbit", "Narnia", and towards' the end "Harry Potter's series. I think we got to book three.

On one of our choir tours to Europe before I retired, I brought this special book above to preview(read) so I'd be prepared to read it to the class. I remember that Kirk Schaumann, my singing tenor buddy in the choir, asked to read (reread) the book on the bus. He sat behind my wife and I. It was then I realized that I'd have trouble reading has a tragic death in it and I usually had trouble reading these passages aloud. Yes, I'm from the old school that says "men" should not cry in front of others, especially their students. (I had the class TV on when the Challenger went down and the first teacher in space was killed...that was a tear-jerker) There were other incidents that I probably choose to not remember. So, I never read "Bridge..." to my classes. It was just too...true in so many ways for me. i.e. The little sister who just had to "tag along". The "one main best friend" of the opposite sex in the neighborhood. The getting my pants pulled down in a "tackle football" backyard game with the girls watching from "the tree" and being so "em-bare-assed" that I wouldn't come out of the house for a month...the bullies in school and to and from school...being beat up and locked in the gas station restroom. The guilt trips so embedded in me by my church and parents when "things" went "wrong"..."God, what have I done to deserve this?" Certain that I was "going to hell" or other friends would. (yes, this is in the book too)

We all have these memories I assume. It would be a terrible shame if the kids now-a-days don't have those same opportunities for "bridging to terabithia". I just can't think that video games, nintendo DS's etc. can provide the same total involvement. Do our kids even have any "non-structured", unplanned out, unscheduled time anymore? Bob!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Meat Still Life

This is one Masterpiece I plan to see when I visit Uppsala, Sweden this summer. It is in the University Collection there. It was painted by Pieter Aertsen in 1551. Over 450 years ago people were still enthralled with meat. (animal flesh of all kinds) The artist lived 70 years, which is long in the 1500's.(he must've been a vegetarian) He worked and lived mostly in Antwerp (more than three decades). This area is now the "low lands" or Netherlands/Belgium. It was a great place for an artist in those days because of all the wealth from commerce and commissions. At a glance, this painting (oil on panel, 4' x 6') appears to be a descriptive genre scene. On display is an array of meat products - a side of a hog, chickens, sausages, a stuffed intestine, pig's feet, meat pies, a cow's head, a hog's head and hanging entrails. Also visible are fish, pretzels, cheese and butter.

Like other artists of his time, Massys for example, Aertsen embedded strategically placed religious images as reminders to the viewer. In the background, "Joseph" leads a donkey carrying "Mary and the Christ Child" (photo above is cropped on the left to exclude this) The Holy Family stops to offer alms to a beggar and his son, while the people behind the Holy Family wend their way toward a church. Furthermore, the crossed fishes on the platter and the pretzels and wine in the rafters on the upper left all refer to "spiritual food" (pretzels often served as bread during Lent) Aertsen accentuated these allusions to salvation through Christ by contrasting them to their opposite - a life of gluttony, lust, and sloth. He represented this degeneracy with the "oyster and mussel shells" (believed by Netherlanders to possess aphrodisiacal properties) scattered on the ground on the painting's right side, along with the people seen eating and carousing nearby under the roof.

Where would you hang a picture like this? Now it is obviously in a collection in a museum of a major university for study but who commissioned it and why? Was it a rich merchant wanting to impress his clientele? And, if the priest dropped over he could point out all the religious allegorical symbolism as a conversation piece. Would they display it near or over the dining room table? I suppose, back then, it didn't bother folks to be reminded of the actual animals as they ate their prime cuts of "boef", "veal", "porke". It didn't seem "sinful" or crude to look into the eyes of those innocent creatures and lick your chops. As Anthony Bourdaine says, "If you are dumber than me and slower than me, then you are "in" me." Isn't it interesting that the seafood, i.e. oysters, clams, mussels were considered "bad" for you (tempting you into sex) where they actually are better for you than "red or fatty meats"? I wonder what they would've thought about "tofurkey", "veggie burgers"?

Don't get me wrong. I'm a firm believer in consuming protein in many different forms. Our species wouldn't be here if we didn't have some pretty dedicated wolly mammoth hunters. Our skills at obtaining "protein" have progressed a bit since then and scientifically we have found out that we don't need as high a percentage of our diet to be "meat" how often did they get to put mammoth "prime rib" on the blue plate special? Hunters and gatherers were mostly scroungers.

I'm just wondering why this "masterpiece" of "art" made it into my History of Art Text over all the other possible candidates of the time. Could it be that it was "one of a kind" for the time/era? After all, so many artist back then, Renaissance to Baroque Periods were imagining "demons and hellish monsters devouring us, bodily in hell...according to the clergy of the time that it wasn't that unusual to create a "Still Life" of what they were forced to eat. It was not unlike "Survivor Fiji" recently when they had to eat such delicasies as "pig snout" with the hairs still attached....anything to win an immunity challenge.

It is commendable that it was a "still life". Moving meat, on the hoof, so to speak, would be much more difficult to paint, let alone capture don't you think?...especially with a pallet and paint brush in your hands. Bob!