Sunday, June 29, 2008

Two Planets

(Famous Blue Marble photo of Earth, taken from Apollo 17 and borrowed by me from Wikipedia.)

I have referred several times recently to dealing with culture shock/fatigue by pretending that the United States and the place where I usually live exist on different planets. The reason for this is that if I am constantly comparing the two places, it is hard for me to enjoy being here in the US. I see acres of clothing in a store and I think about the second-hand clothing sold on the street at home. I go to the library and start feeling emotional because I wish such a bounty of books was available to kids in my neighborhood. I even teared up at the park, and at Cheekwood, for the same reason. I can't avoid feeling overwhelmed some of the time, but I try to minimize that feeling.

Also, I often blurt out strange things that people don't understand. For example, once I was walking down the street in early August and a family was emptying the kiddie pool they had had in their back yard during the summer. As I saw the water flowing down the street, I felt almost sick. "Do they realize how many times they could have flushed the toilet with that water?" I started to rant. "Do they know how many people have to carry water miles on their heads, and they are just pouring it out on the street?" Fortunately, only my family heard this tirade. Comments like that tend to make people uncomfortable, in my experience. I say this sort of thing less often if I am doing my other-planet fantasy.

The fact is, I can't help thinking of the following passage from Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains (great book, by the way).

He [Paul Farmer] went on writing his letter. I looked around. The airport, Charles de Gaulle [in Paris], has an angular, steel-and-glass simplicity, which struck me just then as frighteningly complex, which made me feel projected into a future I didn't understand. I thought of its duty-free shop, where one could buy first-class pâté, confit d'oie, grand cru wines. "You started that letter on a hike in rural Haiti," I mused aloud, thinking now of those arid highlands, of medieval peasant huts, donkey ambulances. "It seems like another world."

Farmer looked up, smiling, and in a chirpy-sounding voice he said, "But that feeling has the disadvantage of being..." He paused a beat. "Wrong."

"Well," I retorted, "it depends on how you look at it."

"No, it doesn't," he replied, in a very pleasant voice. "The polite thing to say would be, 'You're right. It's a parallel universe. There really is no relation between the massive accumulation of wealth in one part of the world and abject misery in another.'" He looked at me. He'd made me laugh. "You know I'm being funny about something serious," he said.

One time I listened to Farmer give a talk on HIV to a class at the Harvard School of Public Health, and in the midst of reciting data, he mentioned the Haitian phrase "looking for life, destroying life." Then he explained, "It's an expression Haitians use if a poor woman selling mangoes falls off a truck and dies." I felt as if for that moment I could see a little way into his mind. It seemed like a place of hyperconnectivity. At moments like that, I thought that what he wanted was to erase both time and geography, connecting all parts of his life and tying them instrumentally between the gleaming corporate offices of Paris and New York and a legless man lying on the mud floor of a hut in the remotest part of remote Haiti. Of all the world's errors, he seemed to feel, the most fundamental was the "erasing" of people, the "hiding away" of suffering. "My big struggle is how people can not care, erase, not remember."

It's easier for me if I don't remember, if I don't think about the huge differences between the first world and the third. But I think Farmer is right. It's hard to live between worlds, but some days I have no choice. Because thinking there is no connection has the disadvantage of being...wrong.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


This morning my mom and I got up early and ran (actually, we walked) in the 5K race that this community always has for the 4th of July. We always walk - one year I even pushed a stroller with a two-year-old in it - and we still usually get medals. I guess most of the women in town of our (advanced) age have better things to do. This morning I did not get a prize, but my mother was third in her age group. Whoopee! It was a lot of fun, as it always is.

And then, there is the race t-shirt, which I can wear for the year and pretend I'm an athlete. I always look to see where articles of clothing are made, and that's the first thing I did after I picked up my number and answered the question about what size I wanted. The shirts - blue this year - were made in the country where I live. Once they arrived in the United States, they had an American flag printed on the front and the names of the race sponsors on the back. It's strange to think about the journey my t-shirt has made, and thinking about it interferes with my culture-shock-reducing strategy of pretending that the US and the place where I usually spend my time are on two different planets.

My son couldn't understand why I didn't win a prize. He kept bouncing around at my knees, saying, "But Mom, you won! You came to the finish line!"

Yeah. By that definition, I won.

After the race, I had a pretty American Saturday. I ate, went shopping, watched some TV. And, of course, I checked out the Saturday Review of Books.

Report: Many U.S. Parents Outsourcing Child Care Overseas

Friday, June 27, 2008

Poetry Friday - Ozymandias

In honor of today's elections in Zimbabwe, I offer this reminder of the transitory nature of human power, no matter how impressive it may seem.

Ozymandias of Egypt
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The roundup is at Biblio File.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Yesterday we spent some time at Cheekwood, just like last year. Once again, there is an fairy tale theme, but this year with all different exhibits.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Poetry Friday

We were on the road today and I didn't have a chance to participate, but here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I heard this great story on the radio this evening. (You can read the story or listen at that link.)

These visual artists live in New York City, one of the most expensive places on the planet. They don't have a lot of money (OK, that's all relative, but by US standards they don't). And yet - surprise! - they are happy, and they may teach all of us some lessons about growing old and being contented.

I loved listening to Hank Vergona say that "a walk down a quiet street — especially toward dusk — is as good as going to Caracas or Venezuela or anywhere. It is nourishing. That is part of art's purpose."


Here's this week's Carnival of Education.


When you saw that title, you probably thought of the Midwest, and yes, that flooding is horrible. I've been watching the coverage and reading about the dangers of the waters. People are suffering.

But I was listening to a podcast this morning and I found out about some other flooding I hadn't heard of. (The podcast, by the way, was Africa Today, from the BBC - Monday's edition. I learn about many situations on this program that I wouldn't know about otherwise.) Apparently people in Somalia who are already in displaced person camps are now facing flooding after three years of drought. Two and a half million people are displaced inside Somalia. Here's an article about this situation. This isn't on the scale of the flooding in the United States, but the people in Somalia have much less to lose and have already been dealing with crisis after crisis for years. And they don't have enough to eat. Here's a more comprehensive article about the many problems facing Somalia.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Prince Caspian, with Many, Many Spoilers

In spite of what I had read here and here, last night we went to see Prince Caspian.

This isn't going to be a movie review, more of a list of what we liked and what we didn't, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should quit reading, because I don't want to spoil it for you. But we really loved it, a bit to our surprise. We had read the book aloud as a family, and two of us in the family practically know it by heart, and yes, there were many things that were different from the book. But in most cases, we were willing to accept them and understood why the film-makers found them necessary.

What we liked:

- It made sense to us that Peter had become a bit of a belligerent, obnoxious teenager. It wouldn't be too easy to make the transition from High King to an ordinary schoolboy wearing that goofy uniform.

- While I kind of missed the part from the book where they slowly, gradually made the connection that they were in Cair Paravel, I was OK with them telescoping it a bit. And the scenery was beautiful.

- At first I was not at all happy about Trumpkin being taken to Miraz's castle but it did give us a chance to meet Glozelle and Sopespian and get some context for why they weren't too fond of Miraz. If they were going to reshape the order of the story, they did it well, I thought. I liked it that they transitioned into Trumpkin being in the boat with the soldiers - kind of rejoining the book's version of events.

- I loved the banter between the children and Trumpkin and found it very much in the spirit of the book, even if the actual things said were different. A favorite: Peter introducing himself as "Peter the Magnificent," Susan's response, "You could probably have left off the magnificent," and Trumpkin's dry, "Probably." Some reviews I read were negative about the portrayal of Trumpkin but I liked him. Sure, he is more important in the book because it's from him that we learn all about Caspian's childhood and what led up to the situation in Narnia, but I liked the cynical way the movie Trumpkin viewed the past and the present.

- I liked Caspian's encounters with the Old Narnians.

- Reepicheep! I was preparing to be horrified by the portrayal of this favorite character, but I wasn't. I thought he was great. He was swaggering, courageous, over-sensitive (witness his response when Lucy calls him "cute"). I liked the part when he showed up for the first time. I liked his dialogue and we all loved the scene where he tied up the cat. I can't wait to see him in Dawn Treader.

- The conflict between Peter and Caspian, while not in the book, made sense.

- I didn't even mind the whole added bit with storming Miraz's castle. It gave us an opportunity to see Caspian's relationship with Miraz and to find out that Queen Prunaprismia wasn't in on the bad stuff Miraz was doing. And I loved it that Edmund got to use his torch. The birds/aircraft were wonderful. And I liked that they got it wrong, and then had a chance to make things right.

- Others have said that Aslan hardly shows up, but that's kind of the point. They feel abandoned by him, and yet he's there, all over. He's there in the reminders of the past - the Stone Table, the carvings and pictures on the wall, the books Cornelius guards so carefully. He's there in the belief of those who remain loyal to him, especially Lucy and the wonderful Trufflehunter. Isn't this exactly what we go through? Aslan isn't a vending machine and he doesn't do things the way anybody expects - just like God.

- Is Peter great, or what? There were so many scenes when you could see despair and disbelief in his eyes - he was just trying to do the right thing and it kept on turning out wrong. I can relate, Peter.

- The scene with the river at the end is brilliant.

- I loved it that the girls had more action than in the book, though I know Lewis probably wouldn't agree with me. ("Battles are ugly when women fight," says Aslan in one of the books. Then again, the girls did ride to the wars in The Horse and his Boy.) (Oops, my daughter says it was Father Christmas that said it, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

What we didn't like:

- My daughter thought the scene where the children get pulled into Narnia was a bit overdone, with the collapsing walls, etc.

- I agree with those who thought Caspian was too old. And his accent was weird - kind of off and on.

- We didn't like it that the scene where Lucy sees Aslan in the woods at night was turned into a dream sequence. Then again, if Aslan isn't going to show up until the end... I guess I was ambivalent about this part.

- We were also ambivalent about the scene where the White Witch is called back. This was just an expansion of the scene in the book, but what's with the blood she needs to return? Just a little too weird. And this was the one part my daughter found too scary.

- I couldn't understand what Lucy and Susan were sent into the woods to do. While I liked the drama of them riding off alone, and I loved it when Lucy met Aslan, I'm not sure what the plan was if Aslan hadn't shown up - and clearly he wasn't at their beck and call.

- My daughter didn't like the Caspian/Susan kiss. In fact, it made her gag a little bit, I think. But I didn't mind it.

In all, as I said at the beginning, we loved the movie. We felt it was true to the spirit of the original even though some of the details were different. We can't understand why some felt it was "slow" and "boring." And it was fun to find surprises in a story we know so well. Trumpkin tells the children (after the encounter with the bear) that they may find Narnia more savage than they remember it. The movie Narnia is more savage, and less clearcut, than the book Narnia, but I liked that. I still love the book, but the movie added to my appreciation for the story.

So what do you think?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Different Kind of Saturday

We spent this Saturday on the road. It feels good to have a change from our usual life, to see new scenery and talk to different people about different things. It's easy to get so wrapped up in what's happening in our little corner of the world that we forget there's more out there. Someone asked if I'm experiencing culture shock and I answered that I handle it by compartmentalizing - I reason that this place and that place are on two different planets. I find I have to give myself a break from pondering the reasons for poverty and the connections between the crazy abundance I see here and the lack of basic necessities most people experience there. I'll think about all that another day.

Here's today's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poetry Friday - where we are

By the time this posts (automatically, I hope), I will be in the United States (if all goes according to plan as, so often, it doesn't). I was thinking about this poem today (I'm writing this on Tuesday). I thought about it so much that I actually had to go over to school and get Good Poems, the anthology where I knew I had read it. Once I found the title and poet, I realized it was available online, but I couldn't remember enough of the details of it to find it without the book.

I do live in two places (I posted some more about that here) and I like the perspective of this poem on that phenomenon. As Locklin says, "i have always loved both the freshness of arriving and the relief of leaving."

Here's the beginning of the poem:

where we are

Gerald Locklin

(for edward field)

i envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london;
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris;
hawaii and switzerland.

there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what
is wrong is the result of where you are.

You can read the rest of this poem here.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Education Carnival

I thought maybe by now I'd be ready to think about school and teaching again, Just in case you, gentle reader, want to think about such topics, here's this week's Education Carnival. I bet there's some interesting stuff there!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Reading Update

Book #21 - The Broker, by John Grisham
Book #22 - The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
Book #23 - Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Rediscovering Passion and Wonder, by Richard Winter
Book #24 - The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

Monday, June 09, 2008

First Monday of the Summer

There's a special kind of pleasure on the first Monday of the summer vacation. The pleasure starts Sunday night, when, instead of the usual rush to get everybody to bed because it's a school night, you can be a little more relaxed. No school tomorrow!

Yesterday we partied with graduates for most of the day. Graduation was Saturday evening, as usual, and Sunday was the traditional round of parties and open-houses. We got to bed later than usual - and that was OK!

Today, to celebrate the beginning of our first full week of freedom, my children and I went with a friend to visit a blogging buddy who lives out in the country. We shared lunch together and our children played and we talked and talked; it was a wonderful, restful day.

A big part of the pleasure of this day is that it's the beginning - summer stretches out ahead of us and we don't know what it holds. Sure, we know it will go fast, and that it won't seem any time at all before school looms ahead, but for today, anything seems possible around the next bend.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

J.K. Rowling at Harvard

My daughter and I just watched J.K. Rowling's commencement address at Harvard. You can go here to read the text, watch the video, and/or download the MP3. She did a great job.

The Inheritance of Loss

The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai, is a fantastic book, about living as a foreigner and what it means to be home. The sense of place in this book is so vivid that it was strange to stop reading it and realize I wasn't in Nepal or New York City. The writing is beautiful, with a style bordering on magic realism; the characters are poignant and believable. I loved this book and recommend it highly.

Some excerpts:

"Looking at a dead insect in the sack of basmati that had come all the way from Dehra Dun, he almost wept in sorrow and marvel at its journey, which was tenderness for his own journey. In India almost nobody would be able to afford this rice, and you had to travel around the world to be able to eat such things where they were cheap enough that you could gobble them down without being rich; and when you got home to the place where they grew, you couldn't afford them anymore."

"'Good night. Good-bye. So long' - not Indian sentences, English sentences. Perhaps that's why they had been so happy to learn a new tongue in the first place: the self-consciousness of it, the effort of it, the grammar of it, pulled you up; a new language provided distance and kept the heart intact."

This passage describes a phone call between Biju in New York City and his father in Nepal. "The atmosphere of Kalimpong reached Biju all the way in New York; it smelled densely on the line and he could feel the pulse of the forest, smell the humid air, the green black lushness; he could imagine all its different textures, the plumage of banana, the stark spear of the cactus, the delicate gestures of ferns; he could hear the croak trrrr whonk, wee wee butt ock butt ock of frogs in the spinach, the rising note welding imperceptibly with the evening....Suddenly, after this there was nothing more to say, for while the emotion was there, the conversation was not; one had bloomed, not the other, and they fell abruptly into emptiness."

Saturday Review of Books

Here it is.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Poetry Friday - A Quiet Life

Since I live in a place where some of the "necessities" you take for granted in the developed world may just not be there when you need them, I found this poem, "A Quiet Life," by Baron Wormser, irresistible. It begins

What a person desires in life
is a properly boiled egg.
This isn't as easy as it seems.
There must be gas and a stove,
the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills,
banks that dispense the lozenge of capital.

Later in the poem Wormser adds:

Political peace too. It should be quiet
when one eats an egg. No political hoodlums
knocking down doors, no lieutenants who are
ticked off at their scheming girlfriends and
take it out on you, no dictators
posing as tribunes.

You can read the rest of this poem here; it was Monday's selection on The Writer's Almanac. I listen to the podcast of this every day. Well, when internet access and electricity permit. "This isn't as easy as it seems."

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

And There Was Much Rejoicing

I just had the walk-through of my classroom - it is all put away for the summer and the shelves are covered against dust. My checkout sheet is completed and summer has really truly begun!

Here's this week's Education Carnival, and maybe I'll read it when I regain an interest in education again. It'll probably only take a few days.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

And...We Did It!

The kids are gone; the halls are quiet; the debris is still to be dealt with.

I spent the morning corralling kids, signing off on cleaned-out lockers, getting textbooks returned and checking them against my list, preventing mayhem, attending a promotion ceremony, helping serve at a reception, hugging kids, signing yearbooks, getting workers to remove locks from lockers (this was pretty exciting and involved sparks, so of course everyone wanted to crowd into the hall to watch), getting probably fifty books back for my classroom library (found in bedrooms and lockers and at the bottom of backpacks), and generally ending the year.

It's over.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Almost There...

One more day with kids!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Missing K.

As school ends, we have been having a lot of chances to think about the year: slide shows, the yearbook, speeches for 8th grade Promotion, class conversations on what we will remember from the 2007-2008 school year.

Several times I have been blindsided by grief, by memories of our friend and colleague whom we lost in October (I posted lots of times about her in October and November of last year, especially). Every time I see a picture of her, looking so healthy and beautiful and so young - I am overcome again. How can it be true? How can she be gone? Just a few months ago she was here with us, such an important part of our lives, and now we have moved on as much as we can, but she has left us sad, missing her, wanting her back.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Happiest Country in the World

Vanuatu is once again voted the world's happiest country, according to this article. (I wrote about this before here.)

Sunday Morning

My grades have been in since Friday. I'm still not entirely de-stressed, because next week is still full of things to be done, but I feel extremely relieved anyway.

I slept in this morning, until 6:30. Hooray! I then spent some time reading this masterpiece aloud:

And I took this picture behind my house this morning, just to show you what a perfect day it is:

Off to church in a few minutes. I hope you have a good day too.

June DP Theme Day - My Corner Store

It's the first of the month again, and you know what that means! It's theme day for the DP bloggers. Today's theme is "My Corner Store." Here's the corner store from Sharon, CT, and here's one in Paris. Both of these posts contain links to the other blogs participating. Enjoy your trip round the corner stores of the world!