Our first memories

childhood memories


Our first memories are often fractured and obscure. I myself have a dim (but vivid) memory of lying over my mother’s shoulder and being rocked. I was looking toward the kitchen, in which one yellowish light was burning. She was rocking too fast, and it bothered me.

Is it a real memory? I think so. I can’t imagine how I would have made it up.

Here’s a little story about Jean Piaget.

Piaget was one of the first and best developmental psychologists. He had a vivid memory of having been kidnapped when very young:

“I was sitting in my pram, which my nurse was pushing in the Champs Élysées, when a man tried to kidnap me. I was held in by the strap fastened round me while my nurse bravely tried to stand between me and the thief. She received various scratches, and I can still see vaguely those on her face. Then a crowd gathered, a policeman with a short cloak and a white baton came up and the man took to his heels. I can still see the whole scene, and can even place it near the tube station. When I was about fifteen my parents received a letter from my former nurse saying that she had been converted to the Salvation Army. She wanted to confess past faults, and in particular to return the watch she had been given on this occasion. She had made up the whole story, faking the scratches. I, therefore, must have heard, as a child, the account of the story, which my parents believed, and projected it into the past in the form of a visual memory.”

 

 

Does this make you wonder about your early memories?

It makes me wonder about mine.

And maybe it makes me wonder about how accurate our memories are in general.


Green thumb

green thumb


All kinds of weird talents run in my family. My aunt Louise channels entities who tell her about life on other planets and who have shown her the history of Atlantis. Mom could tell when I was sick, without even seeing me: I’d come home from school feeling ill, and she’d already have the bed turned down for me.

But I never had the green thumb.

Mom and my sister Darlene had the green thumb. They could take a leaf – one leaf! – from a plant (usually stolen, from a doctor’s office or a restaurant) – and put it in a pot of unpromising soil, and it would grow. And in no time they’d have a whole garden full of – whatever.

I had the black thumb – the opposite of the green thumb – for many years. I’d buy a potted plant, and it would keel over within days. I’d plant seeds, and nothing would happen. If I repotted something, it died within weeks.

Except that, over the past few years, something has happened. Evidently the stars have realigned. Now I can make things grow!

Example: I put a potted Pereskia aculeata (“Barbados gooseberry”) in my office window a few years ago. Within months it was climbing up the Venetian blinds. It has now made its way all the way to the ceiling (well over ten feet), and is thriving. Regardez:

pereskia fullsize

Example: I took a few Sansevieria leaves out of the garbage-can at work, and a few stems of Epiphyllium that someone threw away, and potted them. The Sansevieria grew at approximately sixty m.p.h., and is huge now. The Epiphyllium is thriving, and I even gave some to Partner’s sister. This is the Sansevieria:

sansevieria fullsize

Final example: a departing staff member gave me his dying Dracaena. It looked moribund when I took it in. I repotted it, and gave it some nourishing plant-food and a little water. It returned from the dead within days. It’s thriving now.

Finally: I’m making amends for all of the plants I’ve killed over the years.


MUFAs

mufas


Do you not recognize the title of this blog? Well, I’ll tell you what it means: MonoUnsaturated Fatty Acids.

 

 

These are found in olives, and olive oil, and avocadoes, and nuts, and a few other places.

 

 

MUFAs are good for you. They defeat heart disease, and (some say) even cancer. They are very good for your cholesterol. They even help you control your weight.

 

 

MUFAs are the latest recruits in the nutrition wars. Remember “superfoods”? The list keeps growing. Recently, in the Providence Journal, they featured something called “seaberries” (also called “sea buckthorn,” Hippophae). They are said to have a “citrus-like” flavor that’s “somewhat unpleasant.”

 

But they’re good for you!

 

 

Remember goji berries? And acai? Also very unpleasant-tasting. I also find pomegranate juice unpleasant, unless it’s mixed with raspberry or something more palatable. All three of the above – goji, and acai, and unadulterated pomegranate – taste (to me) like dirt laced with motor oil.

 

 

But they’re good for you!

 

 

My student employee Joshua recently brought in a whole papaya, which he tried to eat. Papayas are a superfood, right? But his papaya (he told me later) was a little unripe: hard and sour. He ended up throwing much of it away.

 

 

But they’re good for you!

 

 

Here’s the thing about foods with MUFAs: we know them already, and they taste good. I like olives, and olive oil, and avocadoes, and cashews, and walnuts, and peanuts, and dark chocolate.

 

 

It’s like the old canard about American moms and French moms: “American moms tell their kids: ‘Eat it! It’s good for you!’ But French moms say: ‘Eat it! It’s good!’”

 

 

I’m with the French moms on this one.

 

 

Eat more MUFAs. They’re not just good for you; they’re good.


 

Eat more goat

eat more goat


I have eaten goat three times in my life (so far as I know).

The first time was in Morocco in 1984. I was visiting my friend Dave in Asilah, a lovely town on the northern Atlantic coast, and we decided impulsively to buy some goat meat and cook it.

We had no idea what we were up against. Goats (in Morocco at least) are tough. We cooked it for quite a while, but we still couldn’t eat it; the meat was wrapped around the bones like thick rubber bands. We gnawed on it for a while, but it was too tough for us. I think we threw it out and ate in a restaurant that evening.

The second time was here in Providence, maybe ten years ago. A work friend and I had heard about a good (and authentic) Mexican place on the West Side. Okay. Well, what do you order: something you could make at home, or something interesting?

They had goat on the menu. So I ordered the goat.

It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t wonderful, but it wasn’t bad.

The third time was just a few weeks ago. My student employee Joshua invited me to lunch at the Jamaican place across the street. They had “curry goat” on the menu. Well, once again: why not order something interesting?

“Curry goat” was delicious, and very tender. There were bits of gristle in it, and odd pieces of bone, but I think (when you’re eating goat) those are the rules of the game. Also, it came with fried plantains, and rice-and-beans, Caribbean style.

I’d order it again.

But oh my God: think of the poor little goat who died for this!


George Steiner

george steiner


I like pictorial books: graphic novels, et cetera. I agree with Alice Pleasance Liddell: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?”

Recently I picked up a little book called “Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics,” by a Dutchwoman named Margreet de Heer. It’s a nice mini-summary of Western philosophy, done mostly through illustrated biographies of major philosophers like Socrates and Plato and Aristotle up through Erasmus and Spinoza.

She does a nice little summary of George Steiner which makes me want to learn more about him. He’s a deeply intelligent man, a polyglot who knows everything and has memorized everything, and who has made some very intelligent pronouncements about the modern world.

Steiner says that all of us should have a suitcase packed at all times. We need to be ready for the worst; we need to be ready to move along. We need to acknowledge to ourselves that nothing lasts forever, and that sometimes terrible things happen, and when they do, we have to get away, the quicker the better.

He also speaks (very eloquently) about the need to memorize things. Once you’ve memorized something, it can never be taken away from you. Who cares if they burn the books? You have the books in your head.

Here’s Steiner himself talking about the importance of memorization:

The world is a wonderful and perilous place. So it’s probably a good idea to have a suitcase packed.

Because you never know.


Bird’s nest

birds nest a


There is a bird’s nest in the dogwood tree just outside our courtyard door.

I first noticed it not long ago, because all of a sudden there was a big puddle of birdsplat on our walkway, in front of our door. I looked up, and –

There it was!

Stupid mama bird. She built her nest no more than seven or eight feet off the ground, in the branches of that silly tree. Did she think her kids would be safe there? Some scheming badger or cat or raccoon will surely see it and pull it down sooner or later.

Then I looked up the other morning and saw this:

birds nest

I hope these children live to see adulthood.

I hope they don’t die of the heat.

I hope their mamma brings them something.

I hope they learn to fly.

(Postscript: a few days after I took the above photo, the kids weren’t there anymore. Either they’ve been eaten by a predator, or they’ve flown away.

(I hope it’s the latter.)


For Sunday: Cat Stevens sings “Peace Train” (1976)

cat-stevens--peace-train-is-coming-lee-brown


Cat Stevens has always been one of my favorite singer/composers. His first five albums were bliss. He became a little more hit-and-miss after that, but I still find something to listen to on every album.

Cat, born of Greek parentage in England, has been on a long journey: he was a Buddhist for a long time, then Baha’i, and now Muslim. He even changed his name to Yusuf Islam (though Cat Stevens wasn’t his real name either; he was born Steven Demetre Georgiou).

He has always been unapologetic about voicing his beliefs. He got into trouble some years ago for mixing himself up with the whole Salman Rushdie / fatwa thing.

But there has always been a freshness and purity in his music. And he is often strangely profound, and he is also often powerfully spiritual.

This song (in live performance in 1976) is all of the above: fresh, pure, profound, and spiritual. And I still find it powerfully moving.

Ev’rybody jump upon the peace train.


Mister Ed

mister ed


There is a current TV series called “Wilfrid,” in which a man (played by Elijah Wood) owns a dog whom he sees as a person. The dog, Wilfrid (played by the Australian Jason Gann) is willful, and angry, and tricky. Wilfrid pretends to be Elijah’s friend, but he’s not. Wilfrid tricks Elijah repeatedly, and plots against him.

It makes me long for Mister Ed.

Mister Ed was the title character of a TV show back in the 1960s. He was a very charming horse who lived in a stable belonging to Wilbur Post (played by Alan Young), who’d bought the house / stable / horse from a previous owner. Wilbur was shocked when Mister Ed spoke to him. But Mister Ed said: “I only speak when I’m with someone I feel like speaking to.”

Mister Ed could dial an old rotary telephone (with a pencil in his mouth). When he read, he wore giant glasses! (Where did he get them, do you suppose? The Secret Talking Horse Optometrist?)

Mister Ed wasn’t stupid. He knew about most things. He did (in one episode) fall in love with another horse he’d seen in the park, but who hasn’t had that experience?

Mister Ed was a very entertaining horse.

Of course, of course.


Tired of summer

tired of summer


It’s right around now, in late August, when I become tired of summer.

 

 

I am tired of humidity, and heat, and perspiration, and intermittent hot rainstorms. I am tired of this blurry blue / gray sky that doesn’t mean anything – not sun, nor cloud, nor rain. I am tired of feeling filthy and sweaty every day.

 

 

It was the same (but different) back in North Africa in the 1980s. There, it was dry from April to October. The temperature (in Kenitra, and Casablanca, and Tunis) wasn’t extreme – not like the Sahara, thank god – but the heat just went on and on. And the dust kept blowing in from the desert. By mid-August, everything was dull and dusty and filthy and too warm.

 

 

(Question: why do I keep ending up in warm climates? Why am I not living in Greenland, where I’d be deliriously happy?)

 

 

Here in New England, I start hearing crickets and grasshoppers in August, and it gives me some hope. I hear them first thing in the morning when Partner and I leave for work, and although it’s too warm, I take heart. It’s late August, I think. Not much longer until September, and cooler weather.

 

 

Autumn is the loveliest season here. It’s long and temperate and pleasant. The trees lose their leaves, slowly, north to south; Vermont and New Hampshire have their foliage season in September, but we don’t see it until early October. And apple season comes in September. (Partner and I passed a pear tree on a nearby street recently with pears that looked pretty much ripe. In August!)

 

 

It’s still summer, but autumn is right around the corner.

 

 

I can hardly wait.


 

My memorandum book

little black memorandum book


I’ve tried all kinds of memory aides. But now I’m just writing things down.

I have a nice little memorandum book in my pocket, in which I write everything down: things I have to do at work, random thoughts, ideas for a blog, things to send to people, Christmas gifts.

I used to rely on my memory. Such a nice big powerful six-cylinder memory it was!

But now it’s gone. Between age and alcohol and blows to the head, it’s gone.

So I’ve come to rely on surrogates, like my little memorandum book.

My little memorandum book is great, so long as I remember to carry it with me. And a pen. (I still have to remind myself to keep those two things with me.)

The system’s not perfect yet, but it’s working. I’m remembering things.

But I ask myself: what happens on the days when I forget my memorandum book?

Apocalypse. Disaster. The universe itself may cease to exist.

Pray for me, children.


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