Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Women in my Life. Part 3: Simone Weil

Simone Weil (1909-1943) Philosopher
Astounding woman!

When I was in the monastery, I was having trouble concentrating on my graduate studies. My spiritual director, sweet, dear man, pulled out an essay by Simone Weil titled: Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of Prayer.

I was hooked. Have been ever since.
She has the most insightful answers to life's questions.

Talk about a strange cookie, Simone Weil certainly is one. Maybe that's why I like her so much.

She died of self-starvation at the age of 34 while exiled in England. She had recently been diagnosed with tuberculosis but refused to eat more than her French compatriots were being rationed during the occupation.

Whenever I ponder life's ultimate question (Why do bad things happen to good people?), I think Simone Weil comes up with the most satisfying and unique insights to these questions.


"The beauty in Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use of it." Simone Weil.

Check her out on Wikipedia. It says it all better than I can.

I think this ends my little excursion regarding the Women in My Life. Hits to this site have dropped off quite a bit and my self-esteem just can't handle that. If things don't pick up, I'm going to be forced to talk about Britney Spears panties. Again.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Women in my Life. Part Two: Helen Keller

Helen Keller (1880-1968)

(By the way, I thought it would be appropriate to display a photo of Helen Keller with her Oscar, since it is Oscar night).

Sure, we've all seen "The Miracle Worker" both Patty Duked and Melissa Gilmored. It's sweet, but hardly touches the depth of what this woman accomplished. Yes, she finally uttered "wa-wa" by the water pump at the age of six. But did you know that by the age of ten she was already studying advanced Latin, Greek, German and French? My god, I still cringe when remembering my baby-Latin lessons in the seminary.

In college at Radcliffe, she excelled in algebra and geometry. Geometry is challenging enough when you can see an isosceles triangle and hear a teacher explain a theorem.

Her life wasn't all a bed of roses either. She fell in love with a young man soon after college. Deeply in love, yet the romance was thwarted by her mother and beloved teacher. Ouch.

While abroad on one occasion, a fire leveled their house, obliterating her all her manuscripts and braille texts which were so rare in those days. The woman knew about loss and affliction.

Helen Keller was also a staunch Communist, campaigning for the rights of the working-class poor and disenfranchised. As early as the 1920's, she brought to the forefront an awareness of syphilis, its treatment and for women's reproductive rights.

I note these facts, not to shock anyone, but simply do get away from the fluffy, Victorian sentimentality that seems to follow her.

Here was a woman ahead of her time. A woman of principle!
And, a woman with an incredible insight toward the challenges of life:
"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been open for us."
-- Helen Keller

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Women in my Life. Part One - Wanda Landowska

I'm going to begin a new little series of posts titled "The Women in my Life" and feature several female historical figures that have had a great deal of influence and inspiration in my life. Some you may have heard of, others probably not.

Of course, my mom and grandmother have had more influence than any other women, that goes without saying. They were strong, funny, indomitable women who raised me since the age of ten and to whom I owe a lot of my character development. Or the need for medication, take your pick.

But I'm going to feature historical women who I've studied and who continue to amaze me with their insight with regard to music, politics, spirituality and philosophy. These are in no particular order of favorites, so here we go.

Wanda Landowska (1880-1959) Born in Poland, Landowska was responsible for singlehandedly reviving the harpsichord as an instrument of performance. She was first and foremost a musicologist of the highest order, primarily studying the keyboard works of Bach and other composers of that era. She also was an incredible performer and, thankfully, an avid enthusiast when in came to recording her interpretations of Bach's keyboard works on her custom built harpsichord.

Landowska married early but was widowed early as well. She and her lifelong companion, Denise Restout, escaped France during the German occupation and settled in the U.S. where Landowska continued to teach, lecture, perform and record until her death in 1959.

Landowska is known for taking liberties with Bach and her interpretations can certainly be unique. However, since she was such a thorough musicologist, she could always substantiate the liberties she took while playing the works of the great master.

Following one of her performances, she and a colleague were having a spirited discussion regarding interpretation of a Bach piece she had just played. At one point, Landowska was overheard saying, "Very well, dear. You continue to play Bach the way you want. I, on the other hand, shall continue to play Bach the way he wants!"

I love that.

Landowska was so incredibly precise and detailed when studying a keyboard work to be performed. I've seen a copy of one her scores of a Bach fugue and almost every note has a penciled-in mark as to how it should be played.

When you listen to a Landowska recording, it's amazing to hear how she can bring out so many melodic lines just due to subtle phrasing or registrations she uses on her harpsichord. When I hear Landowska, I know I'm hearing something almost, well, supernatural.

I love that.

So, I've a little treat for you. Just so you can hear how incredible she plays, I'm including two different recordings of the same piece. First is a recording of moi playing Bach's Fugue in G-sharp minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier on my harpsichord-like digital keyboard and then I'm following it with a recording of Landowska's, circa 1949. This is a pretty difficult piece due to the fact that it's got four melodic lines going on. But, hopefully, after you hear the comparison you can truly appreciate what the great woman can do at the keyboard. Click on the links below:

1. Me playing Bach the way Landowska wants

2. Landowska playing Bach the way he wants

Isn't she incredible? Let us bow in reverence to the great woman.


Friday, February 23, 2007

More of Lao Sze Chuan

Here are some pics of our recent feast at Lao Sze Chuan.

See that big bowl in front of Miss Healthypants? That is one serving of "Sole fillet in spicy szechuan sauce". Major oink! (Six of us shared it, mind you).

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Beef Maw Mystery Solved

A group of us went to our favorite restaurant in Chinatown last night for one of their glorious banquets. If any of you come to Chicago, you absolutely MUST eat at Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown. If you like the hot and spicy Chinese cuisine, then this place is ground zero for it.

Anyway, they have a huge menu and there's a section on it called "Very Chinese Special" which features delectable items such as "pork stomach in sour pickle" and "spicy beef maw."


What is this maw of which they speak?

It had been a burning question every time we went. So, last night I took the plunge and ordered it. It's an appetizer for only $4.50 so it wasn't like I was taking a huge risk.

When I requested it, the shocked look on the server's face was priceless and worth the $4.50 right there. She was so surprised and said, "Do you know what it is???"

"No, that's why I want it."

She motioned to her abdomen and said, "It is this part of the cow."

So, out it came. From what I could tell, it was either stomach, tripe, or intestine. Maybe it was the colon. Who knows?

It was sliced very thin. Having grown up in South Texas, I've had my share of menudo which is a vile soup made with hominy and hunks of tripe that are the consistency of discarded rubber tires. My grandfather, a rancher in Texas, used to make a stew from various cow innards that he called "mare-gut stew."

So, maw was not nearly as strange as I was prepared for. It was, indeed, very spicy, sort of pickled and served cold. The taste and texture actually reminded me of tofu skins. (When tofu is made, a skin forms on the top kind of like pudding skins. They're removed, dried and sold in packages as a meat substitute).

Three of us tried it right away and and all proclaimed, "Hey. It's not that bad!" while two of the servers were huddled in the corner, pointing at us to see our reaction. They were probably snickering in Mandarin, "Look! They're actually eating that stuff!"

Miss Healthypants held out for a while but finally succumbed, nibbling on a little piece.

Two of my friends absolutely wouldn't touch it.

So, there is the story of beef maw.

Oops. It was the first day of Lent. I don't think you can get anymore un-vegetarian than maw. I am, therefore, a naughty, wicked Catholic. I should go to confession and tell the priest, "And on Ash Wednesday, I consumed maw . . . ."


Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007



I think my big feet have grown some more. You'd think that by one's mid-forties, most people would avoid any more growth spurts but, obviously, I haven't

Actually, my feet aren't that big for someone my height. I wear a size 10.5 extra-wide which is pretty small for some who's six-foot-three. I've worn Rockport shoes for the past 20 years because they make a nice, durable wide shoe for my platypus-like feet. Besides, they last forever and are super-comfy.

The last pair that I got from them were just a smidge too narrow, but they were cute so I kept them.

This last pair were just waayyyy wrong. They pinched my feet all the way up to my neck and were actually a bit too long. I'm about to head to the post office to send them back.

I've had to do the Peggy Hill thing and scour the internet for super-wide shoes. I found a place online that makes size quadruple-E and quintuple-E shoes. Can you imagine that?
Size 10.5 EEEEE

I bet they won't be cute.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Favorite Art

I'm a musician at heart. I've been a pianist and have studied music since the age of nine but that's not to say that other forms of art don't make me weep as well.

Hmm. Monet and Renoir? Nope. Just a little too blatant. Earlier stuff? Hmmm.

One work that made me cry, that absolutely stunned me was:

Munch: "Madonna"
Not his painting, but his lithograph that I saw exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York in 1997. Not the usual one, but the one with the fetus and the sperm.

To me, this is the epitome of Mary the mother of God.

The skeletal fetus in the corner accentuates the existence of humanity in the image of God, but in a horrific sense. The spermatozoa that frame the entire work conceptualize in blatant detail the humanity of the Creator.

Again, I see the Madonna, not in ecstasy, but rather terrorized and hopeless, knowing that she will bear the crucified god.

It's an incredibly powerful work, so I'll display both pieces here. Needless to say, the first is my favorite.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The most beautiful song I've ever heard

Boy, I've backed myself into a corner on that one.

But I came across this movement of an oboe concerto by the Italian composer, Albinoni, and thought it was just about the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. If not the most beautiful, then certainly the most poignant.

It sounds like it should be playing as the ending credits roll on a Merchant Ivory film starring Juliet Binoche.

Take a listen, sigh pensively while gazing out of a window while thinking of your first love, and let me know what you think. Click here

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This is cute

Here's a great gift idea. You buy a poultry feeder and get a mason jar.

I get the poultry feeders for two bucks at the local feed store in my little bitty home town in Texas. Or you can order them here.

Normally, you'd put the chicken feed in the jar and it would dispense the food to the awaiting poultrys.


It works even better for peanut M&M's!
Isn't that cute?

It also keeps greedy office mates from grabbing handfuls of them.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My Life on Tivo

You know, there are times in my life where I could just "Tivo" ahead to the good stuff. Like right now while unemployed, just fast-forward, "b'doop, b'doop, b'doop!" to the part where I have a nice salary and can buy Stilton cheese at Whole Foods Market whenever I want.

Or where I could "b'doop!" to View Recording History and erase most segments of my last job:

Nasty clients - "cleared"
Incompetent management - "cleared"
Using my cell phone for work - "cleared"

Clear, clear, clear until you hear that tympani go "bawm!" and everything's wiped out.

I could also add really fun keywords to my Wish List like "self employed" and "bestseller" and "lose 20 pounds".

Yes, I love my Tivo. What a great metaphor for life.

"b'doop, b'doop, b'doop!"


Monday, February 05, 2007

Ice Skating Anyone?

Today, we had a high temperature of 2 F. There are two whole degrees outside!

I took this pic of the Chicago River below. I don't recall ever seeing it frozen over before.

Super Bowl

As a Chicagoan, I have mixed feelings about the outcome of the Super Bowl.

First of all, I didn't watch it because I think football is stupid. You have a bunch of big guys smashing into each other. Then for the next five minutes, they plan on how they're going to smash into each other again.

One one hand, I'm glad the Bears didn't win because then you'd have millions of Chicagoans screaming "We won! We won!" and I'd be screaming, "No, You had absolutely nothing to do with it!" (As a matter of fact, Chicago has nothing to do with it either).

And then they'd beat me up.

On the other hand, I don't like the fact that the Colts won because of Peyton Manning. He's blond, tall, athletic, and a great-looking guy.

Blond, tall, athletic, great-looking guys get idolized way too much in this society. Now that he's got a Super Bowl ring, there'll be no stopping it.

All because he tells other guys to smash into each other.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Yay! Pea-Pod Trucks!

Todays high temperature here in Chicago is supposed to be zero.

There are no degrees outside. None.

Actually, the wind-chill this morning was a minus 31. The Chicago River down below me has frozen over.

I really don't want to go to the grocery store or get out at all. I just made a big pot of potato-corn chowder, got some snuggly blankets, and will NOT be watching the Super-Bowl.

I'm going to have food delivered instead. We have this really cool food-delivery service where you can go to an online grocery store called , click on everything you want and this really cute Pea Pod truck brings your order to you. The delivery fees are really cheap, too.

When it's really, really cold like this here in Chicago, just about the only traffic you see are dozens of cute little Pea Pod trucks bringing food to lazy people like me.