Monthly Archives: July 2019

Not the ship but the wreckage.

“God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And He is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. But He does not always save in a boat or in a convenient, well-equipped harbour. He promised to save the Holy Apostle Paul and all his fellow-travelers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-travelers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming, and others on boards and various bits of the ship’s wreckage.”

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov – The Arena

Two books from Ireland.

Recently I read two books by Irishmen, far removed from one another in time, but both with prose and dialect that are music to the ears and heart.

From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan consists of separate stories of three men whose lives intersect in the end. Lots of dialogue which reveals the fascinating characters, and I did love the Irish turns of phrase, and underlined many. I just realized I already gave the book away so I can’t quote even one here.  But I think all three men are trying unsuccessfully to deal with shame, and a couple of the stories are just too gritty and bleak for me. If there was relief from the cyclic and destructive effects of shame at the end, I was too worn down to see it.

Dubliners by James Joyce was published more than a hundred years before Ryan, in 1914. This one I listened to in my car (over the course of a couple of years), and the narrator Jim Norton added greatly to my enjoyment, I’m sure, with his Irish accent and intonations. On one road trip I was so engrossed in the drama of Dublin streets and homes that I missed a turn and prolonged the drive an extra half-hour.

It seems that the literary analysts debate about the symbols and meanings of these fifteen short stories. It took nine years and eighteen submissions to fifteen publishers before the book was finally published in 1914. There were obscenities; there were unflattering references to the king who had not been dead very long; it was anti-Irish. Joyce kept making changes to make the collection more acceptable, and finally, he was successful.

I don’t know the subtleties of Irish politics and history and probably I missed a lot of undercurrents and meaning, but I was more than satisfied by being able to watch the characters in the stories and to listen to their rich Irish thought and language. I would call them finely crafted character studies in which the characters reveal a great deal by their behavior and words. I admire writers who can create characters who live, and live their own stories, so it doesn’t bother me that “His characters’ personalities can only be observed because they are not explicitly told,” as one reviewer put it.

And yet a few of the lines that popped out at me are from the narrator’s telling, for example, about Mr. Duffy, in “A Painful Case,” who “lived at a little distance from his body.” And when he realizes a great disappointment in himself, “He felt his moral nature falling to pieces.” There were many other passages that I would have underlined had I been reading a hard copy. I would like to get one of those and read these tales all over again in the traditional way, the way Dubliners themselves would have read.

I had planned to include in this one post, a paragraph for several more titles — but I’m so far unable to be that concise for very many of the books I read. First, it takes a lot of effort to get to the pith and be able to express it, and second, if I like a book, why not tell you more about why? I still hope that more book reviews short or long are in my future.

The life force of words and wild things.

The Queen Anne’s Lace, or Daucus carota, one of the “wildflowers of the carrot family,” is in full glory this month along the creek near my house. It was a mild winter and a wet spring; though we are now well into the dry season, their plantation is lush.

Once before I posted a gallery of images of them, various angles and perspectives. This week my walk along the path was greatly extended and I explored the current neighborhood that has grown up, full of a unique assortment of plants and animals developing from this year’s natural and man-provoked conditions. That means a completely new gallery!

The picture just above shows a morning glory weed or bindweed (Convolvulus), which has twined around the stem of an opened flower, grown on through a bud, and is now reaching out into space. It has an opened flower just above the lower Queen Anne’s Lace bloom. And I just noticed a little seed of something, close to the bottom of the photo, and about to drop down, down… and make a contribution to next spring’s neighborhood.

Fennel in the background.

In my last gallery of Queen Anne’s Lace, I featured the red spots that are found in the center of many of the blooms. This year what were more eyecatching were insects and the other umbellifers.

I learned that word almost a year ago when Pippin and I were exploring wetlands together. As I walked along my nearby creek path I began to think about the flower form that Queen Anne’s Lace shares with the wild fennel nearby, and the word was struggling along my mind’s synapses for several minutes… and finally arrived where I could grab it. Today I researched its meaning again; it comes from the old name for the plant Family Apiaceae, which was Umbelliferae.

I found several helpful webpages besides the Wikipedia information. One has a timeline of North American invasive species: “We came on the Mayflower, too!“, where I learned that our wild fennel likely did come with those first pilgrims in 1620, and it spread all over the continent. That site also has lots of recipes for using wild plants, and I would be interested to try using the tender green fronds of fennel, or even the stems. But on the fennel page they were a little sloppy with their botany, telling me that fennel and anise are the same thing, which they are not.

Let’s start with fennel, which is my neighbor: its botanical name is  Foeniculum vulgare. Anise is Pimpinella anisum. They are both in the Apiaceae family but different genera. The fleshy bulb that is eaten as a vegetable is a fennel bulb. Anise looks very similar in the field, but I don’t ever see reference to eating the bulb.

On the Spiceography page I read a paragraph-long comparison of the seeds, which both contain the essential oil anethole. I found its guidelines confusing, and concluded that I will just try to use whichever seed a recipe calls for. By the way, two other plants with this flavor but completely unrelated and different in form are star anise and liquorice.

Anise is an ingredient in many alcoholic beverages traditional to the Mediterranean and Asia. At least one of them, absinthe, includes fennel as well. I was pleased to see a map showing the locales and the names of the drinks.

When I was in Turkey I did enjoy rakı. (Yes, that is an i without a dot. It designates a schwa or ə sound.) Usually it was served with water; you would pour a little rakı in your glass and then add water. It turned all milky then, as in this picture. No one ever tried to explain to me why this happened, and I doubt they could have if they knew, because when I read the explanation for it now it’s very complicated to my unscientific mind: The Ouzo Effect.

Fennel flower

I seem to have drifted from flowers to food and drink (passing quickly over insects). Truly this earth is full of enough animal, vegetable and mineral to keep us forever occupied examining, experimenting, cooking and brewing — and thanking our Father for putting us in a world so packed with beauty and life.

Aprons on the clothesline.

Space and light and order. Those are the things that people need
just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.
-Le Corbusier

A couple of images of civilized life, to cheer me up on a day when the feeling of living in a storage unit is growing like a heavy and darkening cloud. While waiting… and waiting… for the situation to change and the cloud to pass, I try to peek out from under the weight of disorientation and distraction to remember some little things I have the power to do, like laundry and cooking.

[Update already: Please not to worry – it’s only the feeling of being a storage unit, not actually living in one, that I am experiencing. It’s because my remodeling project that I expected to start in February has still not started!]

The aprons are my own, and now Elizabeth’s dishes are, too. Her son gave them to me after her funeral that was in the spring. I think they are pretty, though they don’t seem to fit with the tone of my house…? I will put them aside and think more about that when I am reorganizing my new rooms that I still have faith will come into existence before the end of the year, and my three other rooms that in the meantime are stuffed and unhappy.

Aprons and clotheslines — and sunshine! — go well together. 🙂