Our Nation’s Capital…

…instablogging from UD. It’s a reasonably pleasant summer day in DC, and UD’s walk will consist (maybe; she’s so wild and crazy and hip and bohemian that she could change her mind at any moment) of a metro trip to the United States Botanic Garden at the foot of the Capitol building.

Even at this late date UD remains surprised at her interest in gardens and gardening; her mother was a serious and accomplished gardener, yet UD showed zero interest in the matter during her mother’s life. She’s far from knowledgeable, having read enough books and skimmed enough magazines and clicked through enough sites to have at least gotten the measure of her own big wide shady deer-infested huge-tree-menaced landscape… I mean, she doesn’t plant anything rankly stupid, like lavender or tomato… She gets that she has a shade garden. She has even done some savvy japanese things with the front of her house, if the appreciative comments she’s gotten from passersby and neighbors are sincere. But she is aware that with her amazing amount of space (her lot is both wide and long, with forest on either side) she could do any number of showy eco water-retentive things…

*****************

A quick walk from Judiciary Square metro to the National Mall (National Gallery of Art to your immediate right) has brought me to this walk’s announced target: the US Botanic Garden. UD power walked through the outside plantings, letting massive grasses and meticulous mosaic fountains flash by as she remembered to pump her arms and plant each heel hard.

Morticia-like UD likes black plants and already has some black liriope; ebony streamers pouring out of large planters caught her eye here as she sped through the federal government’s exhaustive efforts to plant-up the foot of the Capitol.

Inside the conservatory, UD kept up her pace despite the turtle-like tourists. Signs melded in odd ways (World Deserts Restrooms) as she motored along. She heard a mother say to her daughter And how do you find nourishment for yourself?

She powered up the metallic steps to the insanely lush jungle garden with piped in crazy bird songs. Everywhere she went, soft mists exhaled from the walls, and these made her and everyone else very happy – unexpected sprays on a hot day in a hothouse.

Now, finally seated, in the long Alhambra-style fountain room, UD finds that the mist and the new age music have her thinking she’s due for a facial.

****************

Okay, UD has walked from the Botanic Garden to the Navy Memorial, behind which is Teaism, where she’s enjoying the air conditioning and a ridiculous cold jasmine tea. (Tastes like nothing.) She’s now going to jump up again (after three sips) and find the closest metro. Home again, home again.

****************

Now au metro, UD reflects that the stylish and sweltering streets of DC in August are perfect if you’re in the market for a long sweaty non-boring walk. Lean left a tad and all of Mary Cassatt’s output pops off the walls; to the right is the delightfully trashy Newseum (even its name is trashy). And speaking of trash, if you take a few extra steps along Pennsylvania Avenue, you can check out whether Donald Trump’s begun redecorating the Old Post Office.

In re humanoids, the wide hot avenues of the capital are packed with them – four generations of Australians stumble along reading their maps and mopping their brows; a sad young woman in sensible flats tries to flag a cab; a half dozen infinitely trim government lawyers (probably) chat about the sheaves of paper in their hands.

Snapshots from Home.

After today’s flash flood of a summer storm was over, UD pulled on her Nike walking shoes, hitched up her jeans, and took from La Kid‘s room a stylish backpack which she filled with lipstick, antihistamines, house keys, sunglasses, a small notebook, and a pen. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. UD had set herself the goal of reaching the Howard Avenue office of the gutter company that’s going to redo l’ensemble des gouttières chez Les UDs. Once there, UD would drop off the signed contract and a check.

If no one were there (she didn’t call beforehand), she would trudge back to Garrett Park and mail the paperwork instead. The point was not to succeed in hand delivering these things; the point was to designate a walking goal.

UD, as you know, lives in leafy utopian GP, where pretty much everything around you is at a minimum nice and at a maximum marvelous. But if you follow the Knowles Avenue hill in the direction of Wheaton, you’re at shabby small-industrial Howard Avenue, where the furniture and car paint and pipes that make our GP lives so pretty tuck themselves away.

Crossing over Rock Creek, UD was startled by the water’s big rise and its thick brown quickness around trees and stones. It churned and churned and UD got a bit dizzy staring at it while trying to power walk.

Both sides of Beach Drive were closed because of the flood. One car after another tried to turn onto Beach, discovered it was closed, and veered wildly back onto Knowles. Every one of the drivers made that face, that Driver’s Annoyance face, while performing the maneuver.

Sure enough, when UD – walking at a fast clip – got to Winston’s door, it was locked. She knocked. Nothing. She called the place on her cell phone. A recording.

Fine. She put the envelope back in La Kid‘s backpack and walked home to Garrett Park.

********************

Once back in town, she found herself thinking about what so many people are thinking about today. The fate of Robin Williams. The meaning of Robin Williams. She thought. She thought. Right here, on Oxford Street, she began talking out loud to herself.

She began by quoting from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through it:

[M]y father believed that man by nature was a mess …

“Yes,” said UD to the rabbit on the lawn in front of her. “Yes, start there. We are a mess. Give us an inch and we’ll merrily fuck up for a whole mile.” She paused and looked at another rabbit. “What does life offer?” she asked. “At its best?” Not at what it is for most people – life at its worst, or life set at quiet desperation. Life at its best, in a utopia like Garrett Park, or, yet more, life on the gleaming vast deck of the Robin Williams house in Tiburon, with a view of sky, clouds, hills, a bridge, a yachty bay, and San Francisco…

Answer: Beauty. Love. Material abundance. Adulation. Friendship. Creative expression. Bar Tartine.

But Point Two, after the one about being a mess. Point Two is that no pile of goodies is high enough to obscure the fact that we have little control over events. We know that things can go wrong… will go wrong… and this wrongness will often be incredibly wrong, almost intolerably excruciatingly wrong.

All existence makes me anxious, from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation; the whole thing is inexplicable, I most of all; to me all existence is infected, I most of all. My distress is enormous, boundless; no one knows it except God in heaven, and he will not console me….

You know. Like that. Being this way, being full of dread, is kind of hilarious, as another famous sad clown knows (read “My Philosophy,” in Getting Even). One way of talking about some forms of clinical depression is to say that this dread overtakes you and makes it impossible for you to negotiate a reasonably happy life.

“And maybe,” I said to no rabbit at all, just to the air, “maybe life as it gets good, then better, then unimaginably best, actually gets more dangerous, since it becomes that much more difficult for us to grasp and accept the truth of suffering, the facts of human fate, when the view from the deck feels so immutably glorious…”

A small blue car pulled up to UD (she was a block away from her house) and UD prepared to chat with whatever neighbor it turned out to be. But it was a stranger, a woman who looked somewhat full of dread.

“Excuse me. Are you pretty good on directions in this area?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I’m trying to get to Schuylkill Road, but Beach Drive is closed and I don’t know any other way of getting there. Can you help me?”

Right, thought UD, and if you’re here in all-roads-dead-ends-except-Strathmore Garrett Park, that means you’ve been drifting about for some time.

“Okay, well here’s what I’d do. I don’t know exactly how to get there without Beach Drive, but I know you’re not far from there when you get to the Connecticut Avenue/Knowles Avenue intersection. So I’d turn left at this light, stop at the strip mall at that intersection, go into Hardware City, and ask the guys there how to do it.”

“That’s a very good idea! Thank you!” She flashed a very big smile and drove off to the left.

For the rest of her walk UD didn’t think at all about what messes we are and how dread-full life can be. She thought about what Mr UD would say when she told him what she’d told the woman. Would he say oh no you should have told her just the opposite, drive to the right and turn onto the Rockville Pike

Or would he say – and this in fact is what he did say – well, it’s a bit non-standard but it’s actually a good idea. The woman was right. That was a very good idea.

UD Sees Her First Hemaris Thysbe…

… The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. Very wonderful. Thought it was the smallest hummingbird I’d ever seen; then thought it was some freakish humming bee… It was bzzzzing over my head as I left the house just now to do some gardening.

I’ve trained a butterfly bush into an arch at my front doorway (very clever of me, though I’m not really sure how I did it), so as you enter and exit there’s an aromatic canopy of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and, now, it turns out, hummingbird moths.

Margaret’s Nature Journal.

It’s mainly about dead and mangled stuff lately. A sick rabbit hunched under the daylilies while I gardened last week; its flattened remains now add a touch of gray (with skeleton) to the area it must have staggered to in front of the rhododendrons. While Les UDs dined outside last night (July/August has been shockingly low-humidity), three crazed deer came bombing out of the woods. They’d been fighting or playing or running hard. One had a loose antler hanging over its face.

Dead, mangled, and endangered: Caroline, UD‘s master-gardener neighbor, pointed out to UD that butterflies have been pretty scarce this season. UD is so thrilled by the hummingbird sightings that she hasn’t really registered the relative absence of butterflies; but yes, now that she thinks about it, there have been fewer this year. The Washington Post explains the natural and human-made reasons for the drop in number.

Les UDs usually go to their upstate New York house in August, but they seem to have decided to stay in Garrett Park, so while preparing to teach in a couple of weeks, UD can also do a lot of garden and yard work. She loves garden and yard work. She looks forward to raking leaves.

By the way: Faithful readers know UD is a serious tea drinker. She usually goes in for black fruit teas (Mariage Freres’ Marco Polo is an old favorite), but is lately giving green a try (healthier, blahblah). Predictably, they’re very weak to her dissolute palate. Plus someone who visited her at some point not long ago gave her a canister of Pu-erh tea, and she’s been sipping some of that while writing this post. It’s certainly stronger than the greens she’s been sampling… It’s black Pu-erh, after all… But there’s the same struggle with that grassy organic taste…

“Everything’s fine here! How are you?”

“Well,” replied La Kid, “everything’s fine but I’m running around getting ready to go to the Galway Races. Can you call back tomorrow?”

La Kid‘s outing gives UD an excuse to feature this poem about the event, by Yeats.

AT GALWAY RACES

Here where the course is,
Delight makes all of the one mind,
The riders upon the galloping horses,
The crowd that closes in behind:
We, too, had good attendance once,
Hearers and hearteners of the work;
Aye, horsemen for companions,
Before the merchant and the clerk
Breathed on the world with timid breath.
Sing on: somewhere at some new moon,
We’ll learn that sleeping is not death,
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
Its flesh being wild, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is,
And we find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.

So of course it’s really a complaint; and not too far off from what ol’ UD‘s always on about – it’s easier to excite people with sports events than with poetry (or, to go to the subject of universities, with the thrill of thought about poetry, or thought about anything else worth thinking about). Commercialism and bureaucracy rule now, and you can’t expect timid clerks and merchants to get a charge out of being confronted with challenging aesthetics and metaphysics… But take heart! Although we live in an unpoetic world now, sleeping isn’t death – it’s a kind of preparation, a hibernation… Because the basic truths about human beings never change – our earthy flesh is wild, and ultimately in search of the unfettered “delight” of art as much as the delight of the races.

***************

And here’s La Kid herself,

aniaedgalwayraces

with her man Ed Fitzgerald,
at the races. It looks sunny!

Beautiful No Humidity July Afternoon in ‘thesda Instablogging…

… starts here, on the second floor cafe of the Barnes and Noble. UD‘s outrageously high-functioning world whisked her here in a quiet elegant metro car, past Medical Center (the National Institutes of Health, where UD‘s father, an immunologist, spent his career) and then to Bethesda, in two minutes.

‘thesda’s churning with construction zones, most of which seem to be luxury condos. The twin buildings in progress directly facing her are The Darcy (named after Fitzwilliam?); the one she passed on her way to the bookstore is The Lauren (named after the designer?). Whether you choose Darcy or Lauren, you’ll get the same outrageous delights in exchange for your million dollars – servile waitstaff, excessively equipped gyms and pools with personal trainers available, spa beyond belief, etc. etc. It’s ‘thesda.

Now UDUD goes way back (to 1962, to be precise), when ‘thesda was the Baronet movie theater and the Hot Shoppes restaurant. Maybe a few doctors’ offices.

It’s a city now, a rich city, streets jammed with happy people and fragrant tearooms.

I wanna tell you it’s a mitzvah. I wanna tell you I’ll remember you from heaven if I go up there.

An old guy at the next table speaks.

UD drinks overpriced sparkling mineral water and thinks about the remarkable wealth of this country, and the smooth lovely technology all around her. Even the construction sites seem smooth, the teeth of their cranes silently, healthily, munching down on the old townhouses (probably built five years ago) they’re collapsing.

Now she sees the white Maplewood bus. Rita Kosofsky, mother of Eve Sedgwick and David Kosofsky, lives in one of Maplewood’s upscale retirement condos. I guess every day Maplewood residents can go to ‘thesda on the bus.

It’s a peaceful postmodern life replete with pleasures.

******************

UPDATE, Instablogging: After the cafe, UD walked the Capital Crescent Trail from downtown ‘thesda to McArthur Boulevard, and then she had Mr UD rescue her because she couldn’t make it all the way back to downtown ‘thesda. With her usual absurdity, she took the trail never having looked at a map of it, so when she saw a large building in the distance she figured it must be Friendship Heights, where she could hop on the Metro. She was nowhere near Friendship Heights, but she kept walking the trail in search of it…

Margaret’s Nature Journal

Summer in UD‘s Garrett Park woods features hummingbirds all over the butterfly bush – a bush UD cleverly placed in front of her office window, so that she can type this while watching hummingbirds (and of course butterflies).

Out back, a flicker slammed into my windows yesterday and died.

The barred owl is back in the evenings.

Goldfinches drink at my birdbaths. My neighbor claims he’s seen orioles. Maybe what I think is a finch is a yellow oriole.

Last week I encountered a box turtle alongside a path I was clearing.

I’m proud of the system of paths I’ve created through the woods around my house. The quiet, private green space (the quiet is occasionally interrupted by a train whistle) is very zen. I’ve begun experimenting a bit, this summer, with meditation, and UD‘s house, garden, and larger outdoor setting has an embarrassment of riches along those lines. All of Garrett Park is an arboretum; UD is surrounded in every direction by huge trees and overflowing gardens. Her vinca-lined paths allow her to walk in an endless loop around her own acre; for a sitting meditation, there are Adirondacks under arching honeysuckles.

*****************

Update: Forgot to mention: There’s at least one bear wandering around less than a mile from my house.

“We’re not really concerned about someone getting eaten by this bear,” [Paul Peditto from the Department of Natural Resources] said. “He’s probably traveled hundreds of miles past thousands of humans and hasn’t eaten any of them.”

Mauling, anyone?

UD discovers, in her basement, a trove of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick letters…

… addressed to Sedgwick’s brother, David, and running from the ‘seventies through the early ‘nineties. UD has sent them off to UD‘s friend Hal Sedgwick, who maintains a memorial blog about his wife.

Long-term readers know that Eve’s brother, David, was UD‘s first boyfriend. (Details here.)

Here’s David as I knew him when

daviddiscovered 001

we were young, a fine observing
presence in the swirl of the world.

Several years ago he left some boxes in my basement; he and his wife and son were on their way to a new life in Louisiana, but they hadn’t settled on a place to live. He wanted me to hold on to what I thought were books and clothes.

At David’s memorial service, his wife told me to keep the boxes. I told myself I’d donate the clothes somewhere. The books would stay boxed until our shelves cleared enough to hold them.

Two nights ago I was in the basement, checking for water damage after the storms, and, expecting to see a pile of sweaters, I idly opened one of the boxes. Two black trash bags, tightly tied at the top, enclosed what felt like neither books nor clothes.

Upstairs, on the kitchen table, I cut through the bags and found – in this and three other identically packed boxes – stacks of photographs and letters. Also cassettes he’d made of his thoughts from places like Calcutta and Malacca.

David traveled and lived all over Asia for decades; he had a multinational love life; and he was, like his sister, a gifted writer who corresponded with other gifted writers. The boxes burst with passionate love letters to him (UD‘s high school love notes to David were mere foothills on the way to a vast groaning recriminating range); and they included files filled with correspondence from David’s sister, to whom he was very close.

Those three boxes, and a fourth box of objects (a luopan; a tallis bag), engrossed me for hours yesterday. I couldn’t bear to read my own stuff, which, like his exchanges with Eve, ran through the pre-email years and then vanished into online; and it felt wrong to read the other stuff. So I emailed Hal and packed off all the Eve letters and postcards I could find. I made a separate file of the many letters (manual typewriter, single-spaced, onionskin paper) from David’s parents, who – I saw as I scanned a few of them – elegantly combined descriptions of their cultural outings in ‘thesda with anxious inquiries as to his health and whereabouts. These I will give to David’s mother.

UD is gratified by Hal’s enthusiasm at the prospect of these new letters; she is gratified to think that some of the letters might be of interest to scholars. It is strange for her to think of having harbored unknowingly for so long David’s almost over-rich record (certainly much too rich for her to handle) of his short life. A life lived to the hilt.

July Fourth Instablogging.

I do this every year.

I am instablogging the Garrett Park Maryland July Fourth parade, which goes right by my house, and how could it not, given the Lake Wobegone size of Garrett Park. It is now ten in the morning; the parade leaves the Garrett Park Elementary School grounds at 10:30. Wee UD graduated from the school, but back then GPES was a dull low-ceilinged brick dealie with cinderblock rooms… Two years ago they tore it down (the population in madly sought-after ‘thesda has grown insanely) and an actual architect vastly enlarged and rebuilt it, so now it’s all way-high skylights and winsome curving hallways and rainscaped gardens.

I have swept my storm-tossed front steps and driveway, I have swept even the street in front of my house (don’t want the floats wobbling on the branches that came down last night), and I have placed one of my deck chairs at the end of my driveway. From this very chair I will blog the event (assuming internet connection’s okay – after the storm we lost it for a few hours).

After a typically grim July morning, things have picked up out there sun-wise, and it’s not even stifling. There’s even a breeze.

UD is hoping her elderly Latvian neighbors will also be out watching the parade, because Les UDs recently got a rather elaborate letter from, er, Latgales Regionala Nodala (stick a bunch of diacritical marks on some of those letters) about their Latvian snail farm. (Longtime readers know that Les UDs own a Latvian snail farm. Another way of looking at it is that Mr UD inherited property, post-communism, from Latvia, because it had been owned by his family. And it isn’t an active snail farm; it is simply full of snails that someone imported onto the property long ago in the thought that the family might want to farm snails. Something like that.) Said letter includes photographs of their property plus official-looking language and stampings… Is the paltry tax they pay on the thing about to climb to fifty million dollars a year? UD is hoping her neighbors are willing to translate this document for her.

Okay, I’m moving my operations to my driveway.

*************************

Internet connection so far fantastic. Cannot believe this is July and I am not sweating my guts out. A cool, breezy, sunny, morning.

Distant patriotic music!

And now, to my left, my down the street neighbor Peggy (I’ve known her for fifty years) puts out white folding chairs; and to my right – a big crowd of neighbors comes barreling down Rokeby Avenue… Looking for a prime viewing spot? Plenty of those, plenty of those… Like Lake Wobegone, we’re so small most of the townspeople are in the parade.

Hi Jack, says UD to her neighbor Jack.

I like the way you’re… [Jack mimics typing]

Someone’s got to blog the parade, says UD.

**************************

Sounds of sirens!

Many dogs, mainly poodles.

Wind instrument: bugle?

Very loud siren – must be coming from the fire engine that heads the parade.

Bigger crowd than usual this year – good weather?

Flashing lights stage right. Here comes the fire engine.

Way loud sirens as the fire engine comes down Rokeby Avenue.

***************************

Hokay. Much later. I managed to miss a good deal of the parade because a bunch of neighbors gathered around my chair and we all got to talking. So no real instablogging possible as UD learned of her neighbors’ new jobs, visits to Mexico, etc. UD also learned that the song she wrote for Garrett Park’s spring concert (a fund-raiser for a music scholarship) was – or so the event’s organizer claims – “a hit.” The musicale’s theme was Recycling, and UD put Garrett Park-related lyrics to Second Hand Rose. But she was at the beach when the concert took place. She had wondered how the lyrics went over…

Anyway. A good year for my town’s parade. Lots of kids, lots of clever takes on the parade’s theme: Garrett Park Through the Ages. UD‘s favorite thing: A bright red VW beetle convertible full of hippies. On the sides of the car were big white flowing letters that read LOVE PEACE HAPPINESS LOVE PEACE etc.

*****************************

Here’s what it’s like at 9:30 on the evening of the Fourth.

UD is lying down on the grassy hill halfway up her half acre. She is gazing high into the branches of her high old trees at three thrushes who are all very loudly singing their eerie thrush song.

Imagine the sharp harsh sound of the first high notes; imagine the strange low-throttle trill after that; and, after that, the famous ee-oh-lay. You lie there listening to them cycle through the three parts again and again, with variations…

The air is thick with fireflies.

From every direction, little local fireworks displays are popping and booming in your ears.

Mr UD is somewhere in this…

… crowd.

He’s having a busy day. Picked up his renewed passport (which now says on its cover European Union/Poland), at the Polish embassy; is now wading through the soccer crowd; will in an hour or so meet an old friend for coffee on upper Connecticut Avenue…

Back from the Beach…

… where we – along with family and friends – floated along in the strange trance that close proximity to beach, water, wave, and firmament generates.

The silent-Prius trip back to ‘thesda, through Delaware’s immense, flat cornfields over which child’s-picture-book white clouds hovered, kept the trance going.

I’m beginning to shake out of it now; blogging resumes when I am fully functional.

‘[O]ne of my most favorite childhood books was and remains “The Story of Ferdinand” the bull.’

UD, as longtime readers know, lives in Munro Leaf’s house in Garrett Park, Maryland. She is honored to do so, and has two bull topiaries in the front yard, a little engraved sign near the front door that says FERDINAND HOUSE, and images of bulls inside her house.

A Jessye Norman fan, UD was delighted to read that she loves Ferdinand.

Les UDs load up their little Prius and leave in a couple of hours…

… for Rehoboth Beach, where they will spend the next two weeks in an apartment so close to the Atlantic that you can hear the waves.

This constant wave sound is very lulling, but UD can blog through it.

Which she will do with the same compulsive regularity as… the tides. Ne quittez pas.

Snapshots from Home

So here’s what it’s like right now, three twittering chicks with their necks outstretched and mouths hysterically open, gulping the worms galore their parents are finding all over UD‘s half acre. This nature story is taking place midway up a honeysuckle bush a few yards to my left as I sit in our office with one of the windows open. There’s also a hummingbird nest in the front azaleas, but I’m not observing that one. It’s so small – they’re so fragile – let them be.

Plus there’s a culture story taking place a few yards away and directly in front of me in our driveway: The installation of a new water heater for Les Soltans. Their old one stopped working after almost twenty years, a lifespan unheard of dans le monde chauffe-eau. (Les Soltans specialize in superannuated appliances – their washer/dryer was also Margaret and Munro Leaf’s washer/dryer, and Margaret died in 1988.)

Yikes. Even as I type this, one of the guys – Kevin? – is right behind me in my bathroom using the sink to make strange hissing sounds. I’m staying here! I don’t want to know! Just let me know when you want me to pull out the checkbook!

I’m truly looking forward to washing my hair.

Selfies from Home

La Kid and Ed Fitzgerald
(Irish boyfriend; La Kid
moves to Galway soon)

10363710_2959573988095_6644239954713546331_n

exhausted and sunburnt on the
New York City subway after a
long day showing Ed NYC.

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