Friday, January 30, 2009

Can Someone Translate This Poem For Me?

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is "Regrets".

A long while ago, in preparation for a summer to be spent in Trieste, I audited a class in Italian. Actually I audited two semesters of it and felt that I was becoming at least slightly fluent in that language which resembled the Portuguese with which I was familiar. My teacher (a grad student) came to class one day looking downhearted. Each of her fellow Italian instructors (all grad students) had bragged to her that at least one student in each of their classes had brought to them an original poem in Italian. But no one had ever written one for her. As she let us know.

A short time before that, I had entered a local competition to design a mural for the front of The Nature Company. My design of frolicking forest animals won first prize. It wasn't the honor of winning that had encouraged me to enter. Rather, it was that the first prize was a fantastic kite with a revolutionary design. It was worth $125 (probably double that in today's dollars). When I went to collect it and the prize awarders saw my gray hair (not quite white yet), they offered to give me, instead, a pair of binoculars. I refused indignantly. I had won that kite, and that kite was the only thing I would accept as prize.

I wrote a poem in Italian and took to my instructor. It is based on our experiences with the above-cited kite. Here it is - the only poem I ever wrote in Italian:
Noi due fuori con il nostro cane
Nel sole e venti della primavera,
Farfalladi carta nelle nostra mani
Cielo pui chiano di quel che non mai era.

Venti vivaci tiravano il filo.
Ci sentivano giovni e belli.
Ridente, corremos miglio dopd miglio:
Spaventammo conigli ed uccelli.

Con ansia le persone hanno visto
Le nostre rughe, i grigi capelli,
Con le piroette uno strano misto.
Come potrebbero belli?

Non importava a noi poverini,
Non avavamo con noi nullo specchio.
Il cane ci percepiva bambini
Anche il nostro cane era vecchio.
My instructor was not only pleased, she bragged to everyone in sight the one of HER students had written a poem for her.

I had learned enough Italian to not only survive that summer in Trieste, but to carry on reasonably complex conversations with the other attendees at the conference in which Otto was taking part.

What, then, are my regrets? The more important one is that I let my knowledge of Italian lapse until all of it has trickled out. I can excuse it, since at that time I was translating Jorge de Sena's Portuguese poems, and concentration on one language seemed to drive the other out. But my Italian is gone! My title is NOT rhetorical. What does my poem say? I know it's about flying a kite. But what do the individual words mean?

The second regret is that I have lost that beautiful kite. Where could it be hiding among the multitude of objects in this large house?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

B is for Brazilian Black Beans

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday round 4
was launched last week.
To B or not to B. That is the question this week.

Granddaughter Myrtle has been with us this last week before returning to to Brazil to further her archeological research for her PhD. dissertation. She will receive her degree in June from the University of California Santa Barbara. Above you see a delicious Brazilian dish featuring Black Beans (called feijoada) that Myrtle prepared for us yesterday.

After soaking the Brazilian Black Beans overnight, she stewed them with a generous quantity of onions and garlic...

in a Blue pot over a Blue flame...

then Browned pork...

and added the pork, Browned steak
and plenty of spicy sausage to the Black Beans...

so that her grandfather and I could enjoy it spooned over rice with traditional orange slices and green salad. Yum! It reminded us of happy years we have spent in Brazil. Myrtle also shot these photos of the steps of preparation because she knew I wanted a B entry for ABC Wednesday. What a thoughtful granddaughter!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Phantom Friends

The Sunday Scribblings prompt for today is Phantoms and Shades.

I am a phantom. You are a phantom. I have a host of phantom friends hovering in cyberspace, conjured from words and pictures that can, at most, depict a tiny, possibly flawed, picture of the living person.

I love my phantom friends. Most of you are honest, shaping into words your joys and sorrows, small traumas of daily life, fleeting emotions, everyday activities and exceptional events.

Your photos let me see the world through your eyes. A detail of wind-blown blades of grass, the majesty of a mountain reflected in a mountain lake, the smile of your shy granddaughter as she half-buries her face in her mother’s skirt, your just finished piece of intricate knitting, beloved dogs, collections - all these resonate with what I imagine your personality to be.

Many times, my friends, you cast into cyberspace thoughts that you would not express were we face-to-face: emotions, mental struggles, heartbreak. You make me laugh, you make me cry, and often we find common cause against the world’s injustices and rejoice together when the right man is elected president. In cyberspace we whisper our fears to one another.

But as well as I think I know you, unless you are someone I actually have known in the flesh, I have incomplete and flawed images of your person. Maybe you (as I do} post only flattering portraits of yourself. And some of you might be lovable frauds. I know of at least one whose posts are delightful and wholly fictional.

No, it isn’t me! I am truly Granny Smith, happily married to Otto, visited at the moment by two grown grandchildren who are still asleep downstairs after a late night of dancing. But do you know me? Only in bits and pieces, my warts hidden, my most becoming side exposed.

I love my phantom friends. I want to know you better. If you plan to come to Berkeley sometime, let me know, and we might share a cup of coffee (Peet’s) or a cup of tea (Mint or Lapsang Oolong). We’ll get together and no longer be phantom friends.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A is for Amaryllis

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday round 4 starts a new trip along the alphabet! See also ABC Wednesday Anthology.

This is my only entry for A because I don't want to miss a moment of the inauguration today, and I am going away from my computer tomorrow and will be unable then to post. This is a happy day for America!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pilgrimages to the Source of Power

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is Pilgrimage.

I met Otto, my future husband, in 1939, when we were at Stanford University, he as a graduate student of electrical engineering, I as an undergraduate majoring in art. It didn't take long for me to learn that one of his great interests was the generation of electricity from what we would now call "green" technology. No one at that time was thinking of global warming or climate change but rather of new sources to meet the burgeoning need for electricity to provide power to industry and also to homes with their increasing use of electricity not only for lighting but for electric appliances such as washing machines, irons, toasters and vacuum cleaners. Students in electrical engineering classes took frequent field trips into the Sierras to visit the hydro-electric dams and generating plants of Pacific Gas and Electric company, and I accompanied Otto.

High Sierras, fragrant evergreens, granite outcroppings, dramatic canyons in which the dams held back shimmering lakes and accompanying Otto (properly chaperoned by a faculty wife): these are memories I cherish.

Me on penstock of P.G. and E hydroelectric power plant. The penstock is the pipe through which water from the dam is dropped from the dam to the generators in the buildings you see down behind me.

On September 3, 1941, Otto and I were married and we moved east to Boston where he started as an instructor at Tufts College (now Tufts University). We moved into a tiny one-room fifth-floor walk-up apartment that looked out on the tops of the trees of Brooks Park from the living (and sleeping, studying, entertaining and dining) room.

We were soon taken under the wings of the parents of M.E. Smith, a girl who had been one of our fellow students at Stanford. M.E.'s father, C.G. Smith was also an electrical engineer and an inventor, one of the pioneers of Raytheon corporation. The Smiths invited us to Thanksgiving dinner, and when I suffered a bout of flu Mrs. Smith brought chicken soup, sympathy, aspirin, and also washed the dirty dishes piling up in the sink. C.G., like Otto, was an enthusiastic advocate of new sources of electric energy, especially from generation that didn't, as coal-fired plants did, spew dirty plumes that darkened the sky and dropped as sticky black residue.

The local papers
ran stories of the world's first large-scale electricity-producing windmill built on Grandpa's knob, a 2000 foot peak near W. Rutland Vermont. It was a 1.5 megawatt turbine atop 110 foot tower, and moving the 240 ton structure up the winding turns of the road to the summit had been a difficult process with many setbacks, as when a 43-ton girder rolled off its trailer at a hairpin turn and wedged in a rock crevasse. The wind-turbine had been put into service on October 1 of that year.

And, of course, Otto and C.G. determined that they should make a pilgrimage to the site. They obtained the proper permission papers to visit the installation, and, even though it was early December with snow on the ground, the two Smith couples packed a picnic lunch of sandwiches and deviled eggs and thermoses of soup and hot chocolate and set out in the car of the elder Smiths. (Otto and I had no car.) We wrapped ourselves in blankets, since cars did not yet have heaters in 1941. The date was December 7.

The trip took longer than we had anticipated. We had stopped for
our picnic lunch at a scenic spot, happy to be clad in heavy coats and scarves and mittens. By the time our car had climbed the winding road to the wire-fenced wind-turbine installation, the sky was darkening and of course the wind was blowing. We could see the ponderous blades turning. But when we approached the gates with our permission papers in hand we were met by soldiers waving us away with guns. When we tried to get closer to show them our papers, the guns were turned toward us. Otto and C. G. shouted, trying to make it clear to the dumb clucks that we had permission. Otto and C.G. shouted their qualifications as engineers, as educator (Otto), as company executive (C.G.). The only response of the impassive guards was to order us to leave.

We argued no more with the gun-pointing soldiers, but drove back down the winding road, fuming about the idiocy of the guards. Now it was growing not only dark but colder, and we shivered in the unheated car in spite of our blankets. Mrs. Smith, moreover, was suffering from the beginning of a migraine headache. She had no aspirin with her, so we stopped at a roadside restaurant for bowls of hot soup, and Otto went to request from the manager - successfully - aspirin for Mrs. Smith. A group of patrons were huddled excitedly over a radio on the other side of the room.

"What's the excitement about?" C.G. asked.

"I think that there was another freighter sunk by a U-boat," Otto said, not a bad guess considering that it had been happening with increasing frequency.

Mrs. Smith took her aspirin, we continued the cold journey and rejoiced to finally reach home and our own beds. Otto left for the college as usual the next morning, and I was preparing lunch when he burst through the door and yelled, "Quick! Turn on the radio! The president is about to declare war!"

Were we the last people in America to learn about Pearl Harbor?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Z is for Zebra

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday round 3 has reached the end of that round. Round 4 will start next week. See ABC Wednesday Anthology for a sampling of Z wares.

and the zebra-loving boy, Jon, my great-grandson who is perhaps dreaming at left of one of the zebras who have poked their striped noses into the family car on zebra-watching expeditions (in Texas parks). Note his toy zebra and his zebra-striped pajamas, seen below as he helps his mother, Josie Andersen (the photographer who is responsible for these pictures) decorate cookies.

Zebras at Dinosaur Valley Park.

Jon's father Charlie painted the new family camping trailer in zebra stripes.

Jon in zebra-striped trailer.

Even zebra trailers have tails!

Jon poses in front of a zebra-striped van
at the Art Car parade.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Inorganic Food

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is organic.

When thinking of the most frequent use of the word "organic" these days and it's reference to food, I can't help wondering what an inorganic food would be. Nails and tacks?

I would live on words.
I would chew grainy words like pumpernickel, lick
slick words that slip against the tongue
and melt like lilikoi
luscious Hawaian ice-upon-a-stick.
Nor would I live on food-words only
but feast on all the savory
flavored dictionary words
the meaty ones like buxom and contemplate
seasoned with peppery sprinkles
of quip and tipple
and I would nibble the edges
of flat round cookies of extrapolate, reforestation
and tickle my palate with perfumed words:
Aldebaran, oriental, satin.

I would open my Webster’s unabridged
and grow fat on specious, unadulerated, irresolution.
Never never would I go hungry.

I would give thanks to the great god Gutenberg
and lay me down to sleep
after I sip a soothing drink brewed from
soporific, subliminal and seraphim
and I will dream of books and libraries.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Y is for Yellow

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday round 3 is nearing the finish line. It's down to the letter Y. Or go to ABC Wednesday Anthology for a sampling of entries (without comments).
Yellow is sunlight
slanting through south-east window:
early wake-up call.

ellow is sunlight caught in flowers.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Hour-glass Almost Empty

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is "Poverty". Perhaps the saddest poverty is poverty of hope.

THIS YEAR... (villanelle)
as spring comes tenderly
sun beads the silver threads of rain
too frail for weight of memory.

The scent of loam and hum of bee
drift faintly to her once again
this year as spring comes tenderly.

This is the year she will not see
the blossoms bud and bloom and wane
too frail for weight of memory.

She thinks she once was young and free
not bound to bed in which she’s lain
this year as spring comes tenderly.

New grasses’ slim fragility
mirrors her failing pulse and vein
too frail for weight of memory.

Ban hope, ban song, ban flowering tree!
Remembering brings too much pain
this year as spring comes tenderly
too frail for weight of memory.