Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Critical Mom Does the Acropolis

We’re on the favorite ship of all German vacationers: “Mein Schiff 3,” or “My Ship 3.” We've already done “Mein Schiff 1,” on a trip to Norway, and we never met “Mein Schiff 2,” but we’d love to make its acquaintance sometime. 
I’ve just returned from dinner overlooking the Aegean Sea, very green at the moment, but rather turquoise at other times, and an amazingly rapid sunset, Helios dropping like a great orange lollipop behind some hills that may, if I understood our guide correctly, have been dedicated to Poseidon.We came into the port of Piraeus around four-thirty in the morning: I heard the familiar grinding of gears as the ship turns around, and then as it backed out to make room for some lesser cruise line.First, we enjoyed a detour involving the Greek Parliamentary Palace (the first king of Greece being, apparently, Bavarian) and the changing of the guard, which involves soldiers in the Greek version of Tracht doing stuff that looks like a cross between trucking and goose-stepping. They come out in these red clogs with hobnails on the bottom and black pom-poms on the top. Oh, but that is only the beginning of their fashion statement. There’s the hats: red, with long horsetails of black tassel. The beige tunics and the beige tights. And the rifles, complete with bayonets, design c. 1914. I had my picture taken with one of them, folks. Their job is to stare straight ahead, whether goose-stepping (and then executing a movement reminiscent of a passé in ballet, followed by a shuffle from tap). Then one hand stick the rifle way up in the air, accent on the bayonet, while the other extends beyond the soldier. The effect is very Walk Like an Egyptian and I rather liked it. I can do those steps for you anytime.
Then we hit fifth century Athens, complete with Acropolis, on a sunny day, temperatures in the neighborhood of 100ºF., no humidity. It was breezy, if you’d count the exhalations of Hephaestus (which were, I presume, the source of our weather).  The Parthenon, offset by skies bluer than anywhere in the world, except perhaps Vermont in the summer months, dazzled us, and sculpted columns of graceful women holding up one of the outbuildings did indeed, as our guide suggested, turn ones thoughts to Angelina Jolie. The gritty dust blew off hats, but it was worth it to me to stand where the goddess of wisdom got worshiped, through three re-buildings of her temple after earthquakes and Persians destroyed it.On our way to lunch, through neighborhoods graced with olive, lime, and lemon trees, we passed a number of restaurants and shops, whose owners, clearly more than eager to sell after the exit of Grexit, called to us. One young woman trying to lure us into her restaurant called “Where are you from?” and when one among us finally answered, “Deutschland,” she replied, “Oh, no need to be afraid!”But we didn’t stop there . . . after our 280 steps in the direction of the Acropolis, we climbed quite a few more, landing in an ivy-covered enclosure where, finally, we ate--and drank.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Moving the Unmoving Mom

Who is ninety-four. She was scheduled to move into assisted living around the beginning of July. Then July 16--the anniversary of the successful testing of the atom bomb in 1945. Attempts to move her, however, remain unsuccessful. Her boxes are in her hallway and she says everything is "Fine!"
My stepsister and her friends are wondering What To Do. Gee, I'd love to help, but we're going on a cruise. But I've read my Atul Gawande and I think I'll leave her to her own devices. Yes, I'd be relieved if I knew she were in her own room at the assisted living facility where, should she ever actually descend upon them, they will require assistance to keep up with her. Yes, I'd prefer that she not continue in her increasingly dusty, dirty apartment, more prone with each passing moment to fall again and break her hip, or not hear the cars on the busy avenue nearby. But if she just hates the idea of doing what she regards as going gently into that good night, who am I to argue with her? She's as sane as she always was--not very, but she retains every last marble. I knew an old woman whose niece forced her into a nursing home for all the same reasons that I'd like to scoop up my mother the way I can still scoop up my daughter and just carry her, kicking and screaming (unfair comparison: my golden child does neither) and deposit her on her brand-new bed in her brand-new gilded cage. If she hated her life from that moment on--as did my elderly friend with the well-meaning niece--wouldn't it be better to let her do things her own way, including half starving, living in what's becoming a slum, and getting run over? Here's my favorite song at the moment: 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Critical Mom Critiques

Or she tries. I write something approaching a pep talk on the papers I grade, while spotlighting errors. Today, a student settled combatively in my visitor's chair--lower lip extended--and insisted, "Yes, I did!" when I pointed out that she had not, in fact, stated that Teyve's thinking was in line with "the American dream." She might instead have remarked, I said, that when he asks God for more money and cows, he is hoping to get these things, and that this hope bears some relationship to what nineteenth-century Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms experienced when they ended up on American shores, pursuing American dreams.
Hmmmf, my student said. 
I advised her to read. Did she read a newspaper? How about Die Zeit? 
No, she read WAZ, (Westdeutsch Allgemeine Zeitung or West German General Newspaper), the local rag (the American equivalent would be the New York Daily News sprinkled with a little National Enquirer.) I told her to keep the WAZ to line her cat box but not to read it. She probably told the dean on me.
I am holding in my hands a term paper in which Ayesha, AKA "She Who Must Be Obeyed," the drop-dead (literally: basilisk-eyed) beauty of Rider Haggard's novel is described as adorable. The student who wrote it mentions Haggard's inner struggle to form a firm view on womanhood.
I wish I were making this stuff up. This person is going to be a teacher some day.  So is the graduate student who--during the exam I was giving this morning--suddenly lifted her book up off the table.
"Hey!" I said.
"Oh, I just forgot the title," said she.
"You can't look at the book!" I yelled.
The barn door was open, the horses galloping away, but she did not look at the book again.
Meanwhile, another student has produced a last-minute essay on education in a famous American novel. Here's a sample:

In contrast to [name redacted] and [name redacted's] idea of education, [name redacted] teaches his children to be observant of their environment by telling his children about the world outside which are mentioned in songs he sings and encourages them to explore their surroundings. We will see this later. Both teaching methods, if you want to call them that, create an interaction between acquiring and learning. 


My dream is to teach a year-long course in which students learn to enjoy writing. In my course, students will write from the heart. They will know what it is to have an opinion, and they will have opinions by the dozens. They will never write "all in all." They will read essays and I will teach in such a way that they look forward to reading them. By the end of the term, they will toss their cell phones over their shoulders and head to the library to get dusty among the tomes. Aw, heck, they can go to Barnes & Noble, too. 


Friday, July 10, 2015

The Neighborhood Mom& Pop

I am a big fan of hole in the wall restaurants--anything that's the opposite of McDonald's. What we have in our neighborhood, a place that roasts chickens on rotating spits and provides hunks of ground meat on rolls to kids, takes me back to my childhood, which was so long ago that there weren't any chains except for Howard Johnsons. You didn't have to ask for a key to the bathroom at the gas station back then, and you didn't have to pay, or go through a turnstile, or collect little tickets that saved you fifty cents on your purchase. Each little roadside restaurant--there were such things-- had its own style, and if you never ate at a place called Mother's you did okay. 

Zum ______________ reminds me of those places. The clock says Kein Bier Vor Vier (No Beer Before Four) and all the numerals on the clock face are 4. Hee-hee. Delightful. The harried woman behind the counter wants to get everything right, and if you ask for a frickadelle she makes sure it's warm or cold, just as you wish. Do you have your drink? Is everything all right? Chicken? The chicken is tender--moreso than any chicken I have ever cooked or tasted. The fries--if you like fries, and I don't--are crisp, and offered with mayonnaise, ketchup, or tarter sauce. The patrons gaze off into the distance--or off into the year 1967--and remain happy. Especially when they are looking at that clock. The one that tells the time, German style. 
I'd pay a considerable amount for that clock. The only clock I ever enjoyed more, my husband's earthquake clock, in which all numerals have fallen, or are in the process of gracefully doing so, to the bottom of the clock face, sits dustily in our cellar, having not quite made it through the last California earthquake. But as long as there's beer, there's life . . . and one that Germans love.  That's what keeps folks going to this, our favorite little place.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Fourth of July and the Independent Piggie: How to Bring Home Your Guinea Pigs When They Have Escaped From Their Outdoor Cage

Here's what not to do:  Run around the garden with the whining desperation of Clytemnestra moaning their names. Then, when you've calmed down, crouch in the bushes and make guinea-pig noises, like your husband is doing two bushes over. Don't bother getting out the flashlight and flicking it around under the clubhouse, beneath which you hope they've tucked themselves: this probably makes them feel like the character in a detective drama with the light trained in his eyes and the question, "Where were you on the night of July 4th?" ringing in his ears.

Don't go to bed desperate assuming they've been consumed by foxes, dogs, cats, or squirrels. Assume they can deal with the moles who have taken over the garden, including parts of their acreage in their little outdoor cage, by themselves.

How did they get out of their cage? Or were they dragged? There's a cat who sniffs around occasionally--I throw empty shampoo bottles at him from the upstairs bathroom and he glares, but runs. 

Oh, the cage isn't on level ground. There's one corner with just enough space for an enterprising young guinea pig to squeeze out, and that's what she did, taking the older, more sedate one, with her.  And now where are they?

Go to bed. Have bad dreams.

Wake at 1:00.  It is raining.  Go down to the garden again and look under the slide, where you've looked ten other times.

At 5:00, wake and Google escaped guinea pigs.

Since you don't have a hav-a-hart cage, take all their little houses, the ones from the indoor cage, the ones from the outdoor cage, the ones sitting on the woodpile.  Place them around the bushes under which you hope the girls crawled.  Place carrots or alfalfa hay  at the entrances or inside.  Look around.  Go back to bed.

At 10:00 a.m., wake from stupified nightmares to the sound of driving rain and thunder.  Go downstairs with umbrella, decide to check the houses.  Nothing in the first, the one you put under the slide, the place they loved to hide the other time they got away.  But that time you were right there.

Check box two.  Astonished to see two perfectly dry guinea pigs huddled together, scream.  When you scream, the fast one shoots out into the bushes. She's now drenched.  Put house back down on other, slower, startled piggie and talk to them:  "Oh, thank goodness you're here.  Oh, Ginny.  Oh, Lily, please come back, Lily, please do come back. Lily gives you a look.  Sorry, Lily, my bad. The rain, the cage, whatever you say. Come back, little Lily.  So she races into the house. This time, you don't scream.  You put down your umbrella, you lift the box and scoop them both up, you bring them inside and wrap them in a dry towel.  They have declared their independence and now they are back home, eating carrots and cuddling.