The day opened directly under a severe rain with strong winds. From my tree house bedroom windows, I could see great gashes of lightening accompanied immediately by claps of thunder  The solar generator had to fill in for about 10 minutes until the compromised electrical grid returned to service.

The drama, particularly the lightening, made a fitting start to the 56th anniversary of Sallie Parker’s death by lightening. Since 1959 when Sallie was killed, this day more than any other commemorative event —  say my birthday, birthdays of my sisters, parents and children, wedding anniversaries, Victory over Japan Day (just kidding!) — has provided me with a moment to reckon. Though I can’t explain how, August 4th 1959 was life changing for me. Over the years, I have wondered how the events of that day have reinforced my hermetic nature, made me weary of close friendships, or otherwise contributed to my personality traits.

August 4th, because it ended her life, never became an important day in Sallie’s year. My calendar for this day now includes two other recurring but secondary events for me:  the birthdays of my step grand daughter and my brother-in-law. I’m grateful to them, though I doubt they know it, for the reminder not to sink into too much navel gazing on this day. Clearly, after 56 years, I no longer melt in misery. But the wound left by this loss is indelible — more profoundly permanent than the loss of husbands or even parents who lived long lives.

The day has cleared and calmed. Red-tailed hawks are calling instructions to their children as to how to catch the wind or circle the meadow for prey. Two pairs of Monarch butterflies who inhabit the meadow are likewise circling, but closer to the tops of the grasses and silently.

As the sun sets, I’ll go to the beach to join a memorial service for my friend, Cynthia. She got 63 more years out of life than Sallie, did but it would not be a mistake to say that she died too young as well.

Good Friday is the only Christian holiday that causes me to stop and think — about such disparate matters as dangerous ideas and the calendar. Sometime on this day between noon and 3:00pm, I try to remember that these are the hours during which Jesus may have hung on a cross and died.

Most of what I know of Christian theology comes from studying the history of western art which requires familiarity with the Bible as an iconographic source. Therefore, Tintoretto’s Christ before Pilate provides an image for me of Jesus’ trial although his judges may also have included Herod Antipas, the Roman authority in Galilee and a brother of the Herod of the Passover story, and possibly a Jewish Sanhedrin. Certainly both the Romans and the Jews had reasons to be concerned about the following this young Jew was attracting to his ideas that challenged existing beliefs.

Christ before Pilate, Tintoretto, Scuola de San Rocco, Venice, 1565-67

Christ before Pilate, Tintoretto, Scuola de San Rocco, Venice, 1565-67

And that’s the idea that I consider annually on Good Friday: we kill people for what they profess, even when or perhaps especially when, they challenge the status quo.

The religion that grew out of Jesus’ death is no exception. Galileo, for one, was declared a heretic by the Inquisition in the 1560s for his statement that the earth circulated the sun. Talk about a dangerous idea! While Galileo didn’t loose his life, he lost his intellectual and physical freedom, and was forced to recant his views. What do retributions like these for one’s ideas say about humankind?

Unsure how to answer that, I segue-way to another knotty issue: the unorthodox way in which the date for Easter is calculated. Passover and Easter were tied as holidays even before the gospels narrating the Easter story were written. They all (I think) say that the crucifixion takes place in the early days of Passover. But when is that? Jews use the lunisolar Hebrew calendar to determine the dates for Passover. Western Christians, who normally use a solar calendar and therefore follow fixed dates for holidays, make an exception for Easter that mimics a lunisolar calendar. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the paschal full moon, an ecclesiastical event, that occurs on or after the vernal equinox, an astronomical event.

Three of the four gospels — John of course being the exception —  describe a darkened sky while Jesus hung on the cross (see Veronese’s Calvary below) . This is highly likely to have been a dramatization of the mood by the evangelists — or maybe a rain storm as we had today, but certainly not a solar eclipse has some have argued. A solar eclipse is not possible when the moon is full. No matter what the date, Easter and Passover happen at the time of a full moon.

Calvary, Paolo Veronese, Louvre, 1580-88

Calvary, Paolo Veronese, Louvre, 1580-88

The events as told in the gospels that follow the crucifixion are the ones that give this holiday its meaning. But I’m finished with my observations after 3:00 pm on Good Friday. If I’m lucky, the sky will be bright with a post equinox sun in the coming days. I’ll put on my garden clothes and hunt for signs of plant regeneration, safe from most dangerous ideas.

Crucifixion, Dublin, National Museum, 8th century AD, bronze

Crucifixion, Dublin, National Museum, 8th century AD, bronze





Goodness! I barely had my bee keeper’s veil zipped on but I completely forget my art historian headdress.

Did you know that for $298.71, a very specific price I note, you can have a hand colored reproduction of Hans Memlings’ Adoration? A web search for images reminds me that the iconography of the Magi begins in earnest in the 15th century in the North and is everywhere in Europe from the Renaissance until the 18th century.

Here are a few images captured from the web. Botticelli, Perugino, Gentile da Fabriano, Corregio, and Murrilo are a few other artists that painted the Magi and whose paintings are reproduced on the web.

…considered to have shown folly in the builder. That’s the second definition originating in the 16th century according to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, That’s also exactly the sense in which I apply the term to the auxiliary structure very slowing taking form in the meadow.

The Oxford Companion to the Garden gets more tongue tied over a definition of the folly. The entry authored by the book’s editor Patrick Taylor calls folly “an unfortunate expression, with a pejorative ring to it.” Well, yes! The first definition in the etymological dictionary is “quality or state of being foolish.” The term has been used since the 13th century.

I have my birding friend Katherine to thank for this bit of investigation. Although I have known what I meant by folly (second definition in the etymological dictionary) since the first email I sent to the architect asking her to draw it up for me, Katherine said she was going to look up folly so I thought I’d check too. I did not know that someone named Barbara Jones wrote what Taylor calls a “wonderful” a book on follies. Ms. Jones says a folly can not be defined as a useless building erected for ornament on a gentleman’s estate because garden temples could be described the same way! (my emphasis and explanation mark) Instead, according to Taylor she writes that “the folly is only built by rich men, is replete with some sort of mood or emotion, is fragile, is often cheap and ephemeral and is personal is a way no great architecture ever is.” Really, can Ms. Jones’ book be wonderful?

After some dithering of his own, Taylor writes: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that any garden building described, often rather dismissively, as a ‘folly’ could be more precisely and usefully described in terms of its exact role or genre.”

My folly will be a meadow viewing platform with a roof to hold 5000 kWs worth of photovoltaic panels. From its roof supports. I’ll hang hammocks for extra sleeping places in good weather. The electricity generated by the panels will be stored in batteries in the basement for use when the grid is down ( a zero emissions generator). Extra electricity will be sold to the grid.

I hope my folly will not be fragile or ephemeral. It certainly is not cheap. It will be personal as all my architectural undertakings are; it will not be great architecture. Maybe it will have emotion. Here’s the platform under construction.

Building the platform or all hands on deck

Building the platform or all hands on deck

The sun at noon today was only 28.6 degrees above the horizon. Yet atop my bowl of cottage cheese at lunch sat the last of the tomatoes from the garden. In truth, I picked this tomato before I went to DC over 2 weeks ago.

Today was also the real start of the folly building. The town finally issued a permit. The building inspector approved the holes dug for the concrete footings. Thompson Lumber delivered the white oak beams. The builders showed up.

Also today I attended a lecture today on making a meadow. The lecturer said you should not attempt a meadow if you are a neat or control freak. I’d agree with the former but argue on the latter. A meadow is the direct result of a meadow maker intervening to prevent succession.

It would have been better to ask about the cloudy water before swimming for an hour.

“The chlorinator just kicked out on us last night. The water will be back to normal tomorrow.” This is America, so the Y official with this message must have considered the safety of the pool water when he allowed it to stay open. I had just finished swimming about a mile in the murky stuff, and I was wondering how I would know whether the sickness I was about to get was the result of the three black-legged deer tick bites I had recently received or swimming in what must be a polluted pool.

His comment splashed me back to Almaty, Kazakhstan, February, 2004. I was there working for three weeks so I needed to keep up an exercise routine. The Lonely Planet mentioned that the city had five 50-meter pools where, in Soviet days, Olympians had trained. Wouldn’t that be fun, I thought. I could swim in each of those pools. I knew without seeing it that my hotel’s pool would not be conducive to lap swimming.

Almaty seemed to be a swimming town. Even the hotel pool was almost lap swimmable.  Still, I asked the concierge where I’d find the pools listed by name but without addresses in the guide book. Her horror was palpable. “Oh, no, you will swim here,” she said that day and every day when I persisted in my quest. “Those pools are dirty,” she kept saying. “I have shower shoes,” I kept answering. She would not help me.

Thinking the problem was too many years on her part in a fancy international hotel, I asked the translators working with us for help. They knew the pools, but were no more eager to help me find them than the concierge. In desperation, I took a Swedish team mate who spoke some Russian to one of the pools I had found when exploring the city.

The building did not seem to be open, but we walked around to a side door that was not open but also not locked. Inside a woman was cooking rice in a steamer and washing the floor. How dirty can it be, I thought. No, the pool was not open; we could hear people inside. No, I could not just take a look. No, there was no other time when I could return to swim. NYET was the answer to all of Paula’s questions. Paula, too, gave up.

I went by myself to another, what appeared to be much smaller, pool. Surely this was not one of the 50-meter Olympic pools, but my time in Almaty was running out and by now I had a small vocabulary and some questions written in Russian with which to ask about swimming. The door was open. Women attendants wrapped in layers of black were in abundance as were young girls getting ready to swim. Encouraged, I started asking about swimming. I got the usual string of “nyets.” Finally, one attendant slapped a postage-stamp sized piece of paper printed with several lines of Russian — centered, I remember — into my hand.

“Dermatologist,” the attendant said in disgust at my thickheadedness. “Woman doctor,” a young swimmer said. Suddenly “dirty” meant not the locker room floors but the unchlorinated water.

Things may have changed since 2004. I went back to check the Lonely Planet — this time online — to see what it said about swimming in Almaty. Five pools mentioned previously have been reduced to one recommended one. Check out that last line “No medical certificate…”!

Lonely Planet review for Rakhat Fitness Swimming Pool

Rakhat Fitness Swimming Pool, near the Central Stadium, has the best public swimming pool in the city, 50m long and open year-round (it’s covered in winter). No medical certificate is required.

Read more:

And right here in the US of A, I was swimming in water with a broken chlorinator — whatever that is.

I did not get sick. But, the Y pool closed for six weeks to replace the old filters with a new system that does not depend as much on chlorine to keep the pool clean. The water is decidedly more appealing, smoother if that’s possible, but I still wear shower shoes in the locker room.

Archaeologists ranging in age from 2 to 12 returned to the nursery site this summer. Normal digs turn up Matchbox cars from the 1970s, Lego constructions from across the decades, and dolls with ageless or 1980s costumes. This year one of them uncovered a drawing of girls — all but one of whom has a name printed above her.

As you can surmise from the careful positioning between the lines of a wide-ruled sheet of paper, the girls are less than a centimeter with their arms spayed. Sandy is the shortest at under a centimeter. Julie and the one who is not named are the tallest at about .75 of a centimeter. Each has a unique outfit. Most of them have pig- or pony-tails. Quite a few of them have pupils in their eyes. They are a universally happy gaggle of girls.

Who made that drawing and when? Who are the girls it depicts?

Girl doll drawing first half of the 1980s

Girl doll drawing

While I can hazard a guess to the answer to those questions, I will learn soon after I post this blog because a regular reader is the likely artist and will remember the reason for the drawing or at least who the girls are.

When this drawing was unearthed in the nursery, I was reading The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Margalit Fox’s book on the challenge of deciphering the mysterious clay tablets excavated on Crete in 1900. The British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, named the unknown language Linear B. The palace at Knossos in which he found the tablets — and he found about 1,000 of them — was build by a literate, sophisticated Bronze Age civilization that predated Classical Athens by a millennium. But Evans did not know which civilization produced the tablets or what language they were written in. The pictograms resemble no other language ever seen. No one ever found a Rosetta-stone-equivalent to make the deciphering of Linear B easier.

A page from Fox's book on Linear B

A page from Fox’s book on Linear B

Fox turns her potentially arcane topic into a gripping detective story and Column B above is a big clue! How do a few people pick their way though a problem for which there is absolutely no context? She explains, step-by-step, how a couple of dedicated souls working mostly independently spent half a century coaxing (as she calls it) the meaning from the pictograms.

Now, dear reader, I don’t see my problem of learning more about the girl drawing as being remotely similar. But the general demeanor of the nursery drawing with its fine detail, orderly alignment and its sign/signal quality — to borrow from semiotics and Derrida — seemed a minor variant on the mind-bendingly complex process of deciphering a code. For example, suppose one were to ask: based on what the drawing shows, what is the name of the unnamed girl? Then you’d move a fraction of a centimeter closer to the riddle Fox describes.

Now instead of doing any painstaking work, I’ll wait for the artist to fill me in — a luxury Ms. Kober (classicist at Brooklyn College) and Mr. Ventris (English architect) mentioned in that Linear B snippet never knew.

“It ain’t gonna pass inspection with the rot,” said AAA’s Bill who towed the Saab story away this morning. She’s on her way to Saab heaven after a couple of terrifying rides a couple of months ago and just shy of her 30th birthday.

She did start this morning with the assist of a jump start. I backed her down the driveway my heart aching with memories of my parents. How could I let this relic go? The glove compartment had a box of matches from the Dunes Club, a tire pressure checker, a small magnifying glass. The Saab folder with manuals, registrations and insurance cards told of long family ownership. The ashtray held an open wrapper of tokens for the Newport bridge, a nail clipper, a dime, 2 nickels and 3 pennies. The map storage area on the passenger side had an appointment card for Mother at Guy’s and Gal’s Hair Salon along with street maps for Boston and Providence and 2 tape cassettes — one with Glenn Miller hits, the other called “Big Band Gold.” I’d be listening to them now except I can’t get the tape function to work on the tuner.

Rot is the least of the Saab story’s problems. If you look closely at the car in the side view photo, you’ll see rot in the body above the front tire. It’s been there through many state inspections — all due respects to Bill. I’m no authority on cars, but I can think of more important safety issues with the Saab story that would take precedence.

The little Princeton man, though his orange and black have faded, still leans on the “P” on the back window. He’s the messenger I send along with the Saab story as she goes to the dealer to see whether she has any useable parts.

Saab Princeton sticker

Now Bluey has the entire parking area to herself. She may not be as heartbroken as I am with this development.

Bluey by herself

Bluey by herself

It could be a parlor game, if people still played those: describe the person whose clothes are hanging on the line. Not to mention that hardly anyone hangs clothes on the line to dry anymore either. The clothes hanging on my line recently attest to a certain 20th century, East coast gentleman.

The clothes came from a trunk my father took to the Pacific in World War II. The trunk has been in a shed at my summer house for a long time, but not since Armistice Day. If the clothes now in the trunk crossed the Equator, they were under consignment to an American clothier.

The clothes he stored in the trunk were ones he would need when he came for a visit. Work clothes of course, because he was an unstoppable inventor of clever solutions to house and garden problems. Handles perfectly positioned on the guest house stairs where there is no hand rail or a section of an old 8 x 8 beam with 2 6″ galvanized nails hammered in its end to keep a hose at an ideal height and in position as it entered the vegetable garden, to name two.

He liked to travel light, so the trunk also contained various clothes he knew he might need but did not want to pack: summer pajamas, two polo shirts one with his Princeton class of ’41 reunion emblem, a mock turtleneck, a Brooks Brothers blue button-down dress shirt, uncharacteristically florid boxers, very characteristic shorts in khaki and navy, a couple of hats, Nike tennis shoes converted to work shoes.

I had not thought to check the pockets before putting the clothes in the washer. After all, my father is dead so his pockets must be empty. But no, a pocket in a pair of shorts had a cotton handkerchief. My father, who never used a Kleenex, could always produce a handkerchief from his pocket. A pocket in the work shorts had a small piece of sanding cloth, not sandpaper and not steel wool, but something in between. Like the handkerchief, it was something he was going to pull from his pocket to use.

A pair of cuff links also went through the wash. Cuff links? In a shirt of my father’s? Brooks Brothers, blue, button-down, each bespeaks my father. But I only remember cuff links in his tuxedo shirts and those were small and button-like linked by a chain not bold, chunky squares of enamel with a hinged post. He did not wear jewelry — not even a wedding band.

He did sometimes buy clothes at thrift stores. A tall, good-looking man, my father followed protocol in his dress and always was impeccably dressed, unless you take away points for thrift store pants that were not quite long enough. Maybe this dress shirt was in the trunk because it was “extra” — picked up at the Johnnycake Center not on Madison Avenue in NYC.

I’m going to keep a pair of long work pants because I can use them. I’ll keep the blue Brooks Brothers button-down collar dress shirt as well, but more as a memento than to wear. I hold that handle on the stairs and run the hose between the galvanized nails. It’s Father’s Day, and so my parlor game.

The letter from the attorney for my father’s estate and trust explained a number of matters in paragraph after paragraph. Then wham: “[your] life expectancy will be 18.6 years.”

Eighteen point 6 years! I better do everything I ever wanted to do. I can no longer overlook getting my affairs in order. I made an appointment with my haircutter. “Can you cut my hair short in the back but leave it long-ish on top?” As a result, I have SHORT hair.

First experiment in these final years of my life is with looking like a man (my father?) or a high powered woman (Christine Lagarde?).

My similarities with Christine Lagarde, besides the hair cut, might start and end with the fact that we both receive monies on a regular basis from a Bretton Woods institution. Christine Lagarde’s letter from her father’s attorney would offer her 31.3 years of life (as a French woman her life expectancy is 3.7 years longer than mine and she is almost exactly 9 years younger than I am). Likely I have more in common with my father, although we now know his life expectancy exceeded what the IRS expected by 24.65 years. If those are the tables my Bretton Woods institution uses, my genetic heritage may upset the pension fund calculations.

So how many more hair cuts do I have time for? Send in your suggestions for other models, but note that I’m over Lady Di. Also there is the matter of supply. So far I have enough hair to cut, but my life supply of hair is a further unknown.

Paul M. Douglas Christine Lagarde