Friday, March 25, 2011

Aging Gracefully

We spent last weekend at the Fairmont on Nob Hill in San Francisco.  The hotel was built from 1902 to 1906 and was days away from opening when the major earthquake (estimated to be a 7.9 on the  moment magnitude scale) struck San Francisco on April 18, 1906.  It survived the earthquake but was substantially damaged by the subsequent fires.  The hotel eventually opened in 1907 , which incidentally is the year my Dad was born.   It changed owners over the years, fell into ruin and was reborn after WW2, and suffered the slings and arrows of various decorators.  The famous Tonga Room was the site of the first performance by Tony Bennett of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco".

Fairmont Hotel San Francisco © 2008 Pargon  Creative Commons License 
Parts of the hotel as it exists today fascinated me-- the grand lobby, the beautiful Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar with its chandelier and central circular staircase heading downstairs,  the gorgeous wood doors on the rooms.  Our room was on the 6th floor of the main hotel,which has 7 floors above ground and 2 below.  It was next to the Singapore Suite, which announced its name in an elaborate gold sign on the door.  I like to think we were Singapore Suite adjacent given that our room was very small, but had a wonderful view of the Transamerica Building, the Bay and Chinatown.  The room had a great face lift but the walls were thin, like the skin of an older person.  I had the pleasure to listen to someone talk and chant in Arabic for a half hour on Sunday morning as if he were in my room.
Fairmont Hotel Lobby © 2008 Pargon  Creative Commons License
I was lucky to meet an old college friend on Friday afternoon.  We sat in the Laurel Court bar area in big winged arm chairs and talked for hours while drinking tea and coffee.   At some point an older couple came into the bar area.  The man was easily in his 80s but the woman was a striking slender redhead with an ingenue bob haircut.  The red hair fell across one of her eyes and covered part of her face in what would have been an alluring manner, if she had not been herself in her 80s and the object of numerous face lifts.  She wore fashionable and colorful clothes which fit her well.  I was so dumbfounded that I stared.  My friend also stared.  We agreed that her efforts to look like she was in her 20s were sad and misplaced.  The 20-somethings who were with me at the hotel saw her later and declared her "scary". 

How does one age gracefully as a woman?  I am grappling with that issue now.  I feel bad for judging the woman who felt the need to recreate herself as someone 60 years younger than she is.  I am struggling with how I look relative to others my age and a bit older.  I have two friends in particular that I have seen in the past week that look surprisingly like they did 30 years ago-- their hair and faces and bodies do not betray their age like mine do.  I have gray hair, a dumpy middle age body and a wrinkled face.   I want to look younger again and have people tell me like they did when I was in my 40s that I looked ten years younger than I was.

For a while I thought the gray hair made me look more serious and gave me gravitas.  But I no longer feel that as I realize that I am still treated with minimal respect at my job-- where there are clearly the grownups--senior management-- and the rest of us, the kids.  I also have been told that telling people that I am old and decrepit (as I look and feel) is not a great way to brand myself.   But of course, I worry, what is the threshold for looking okay while appearing younger than you are and what the woman in the hotel unfortunately was--a caricature.  In Japan, we saw 40 year old women dressed like their teenage daughters in short frilly shirts and fishnet stockings.  I found that effort to look young also a caricature.  So if I show up at work on Monday with blonde hair again, am I a caricature?

Like old buildings with thin walls that practically cannot be replaced, the older person can only do so much  of a makeover to appear young and vital again.  Our minds may be that of a much younger person (God willing) but our bodies have their limitations.  I suspect I can still squeeze a few more years of looking younger out of my body before I get the response that I am scary.  At least I hope so.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Luck o' the Irish

Today is St. Patrick's Day, a day of wearing of the green and drinking oneself into oblivion.  I have written elsewhere how I do not care for holidays that celebrate inebriation, such as the 4th of July and Cinco de Mayo.  Today is another of those holidays which is heartily embraced by 21st century America.  And why not?  Who doesn't want to be a Riley or O'Malley today?  'Tis a great thing to be Irish. Erin go Bragh!
photo © 2008 Eustaquio Santimano  Creative Commons License

Part of my heritage is Irish.  My maternal grandmother was of Irish descent and as my sister continues her search into that side of the family I will learn more about when my Irish ancestors came to the United States.  I suspect the potato famine of the late 1840s since that is the typical immigration pattern.

Unfortunately I have little affinity for this part of my background.  I read Angela's Ashes and experienced all too much familiarity with the tough Irish mother with high expectations for her children.  I do not mean to imply that I experienced the issues that Frank McCourt experienced, e.g. alcoholism and poverty.  I just know the type-- the mother who loves you fiercely while being critical and expecting you to exceed your own capabilities.  My children might recognize the type too.

But more importantly, on this great and celebrated holiday, we should not forget that the Irish were the object of great discrimination in this country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  "No Irish Need Apply" is something my Irish relatives recalled, even if some dispute its pervasiveness.  (My father told me once that the real prejudice, even as late at the 1930s, was against Catholics, not just the Irish).  The Irish did pull out of this discrimination, by establishing, among other things, themselves in politics (e.g. Boston and Albany NY, my home town)  and eventually seeing one of their own elected President in 1960.

And today, everyone wants to be Irish.  As a friend said, the Irish have contributed to the culture and thus are valuable, not withstanding earlier prejudice.  Given that the stereotype for Irish men is one of alcoholism, having this particular holiday be a major drinking excuse does not bode well for what the culture has acquired from the Irish.

Written in a drunken stupor while wearing a green t-shirt.  I salute you my forebears.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Real 200th Post

I was mistaken about yesterday's post being the 200th of this blog.  My counter in Blogger showed it was the 200th but unfortunately, the counter included one draft I started a few weeks ago.  So today is the genuine article.

I will be somewhat terse today with only one short observation.  Last night I saw on television news the before and after satellite photos of the areas in northern Japan hit by earthquake and tsunami. The images showed stark changes and the commentator remarked that the before photos showed brightly colored roofs and distinct shorelines whereas the after photos showed only indistinct mud.

What occurred to me in terms of property loss (leaving aside the loss of life that is implied by such physical devastation) is that beneath or near those colorful roofs were small treasures that have also be wiped out.  Our friend and guide in Japan when we were there recently explained that most Japanese homes and businesses try to add something esthetic to their property to show balance and harmony in life.  So, for example, even though the spaces are small, you might see a small rock garden or some asymmetrically sculpted bushes on someone's property.  These small spaces are beautiful and a testament to a life seeking beauty and peace in nature. And these spaces require a lot of work to maintain the esthetic quality.  Here is an example of one such space I saw in an ordinary property in Kyoto.  Multiply this space by all the roofs that were obliterated as shown in the satellite pictures and you get another layer of loss that main stream news overlooks.

garden space outside a home in Japan

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Blog About Nothing

You may recall that the Seinfeld show was described as the "show about nothing" and even spoofed itself with a series of episodes where the characters pitched and developed "Jerry", also a "show about nothing."   George Costanza describes the concept: "Nothing happens on the show. You see, it's just like life. You know, you eat, you go shopping, you read.. You eat, you read, You go shopping." (Seinfeld Blog).

This entry marks my 200th entry to the blog.  If I were a TV show I would be in syndication twice over. So to mark this momentous occasion, I will write a whole lot about nothing today.

Today, I did my ritual grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. As I was shopping,  I started to sing (to myself, mind you) a song by John Rutter called "Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep", in which he took a  children's hymn from 1842 by  Jane E. Leeson for his own musical composition.  Apparently, Leeson was a member of a sect called the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church (CAC) in England.  Some argue that CAC was a precursor of the Rapture movement, which I find ironic given that yesterday an old friend wrote me jokingly about looking into pet care for the impending Rapture (witness the earthquakes, tsunamis, dead fish and, as of today, volcanos).

In any event,  as I was driving home from TJs, I turned on the Cambridge Singers' performance of the Rutter song I had been singing and for completely unexplained reasons started to cry. This was odd because I find that I do not cry much anymore, and certainly much less than I once did.  Of course, I cried when Ann died last month but even then did not cry as much as I felt sad and broken hearted.  But the tears were there this morning-- perhaps for Ann, perhaps for Japan, perhaps for nothing at all.

While I am talking about nothing, our cat continues to pick at her new "organic" food.  As I have written elsewhere, I have changed the cat food at least six times in the past year and the kitty ate whatever we put in front of her, until now.  I did not buy this latest brand but I have added a few other brands to the food to get her back to the bowl.  Still she snubs the new food after eating a few bites.

The other day I was eating breakfast when I heard some odd sounds outside, like kids were riding skateboards on our driveway.  I looked out and a bevy of large crows were chowing down on Kitty's food.  Kitty, of course, was nowhere to be found.  I opened the door and scared the crows away. Kitty came sauntering out of her hiding place.  What an embarrassment!  I have to protect her from birds!  I reminded Kitty that it was her job to bring me birds as tokens of affection and respect, like our other cats did.  She sneered at me in her cat voice and went back to lying in the sun, oblivious to her true role as a predator.  The crows have continued to come back every day and I dutifully scare them away each time. However, it has gotten so bad that they send out a call to all crows each morning after I put out the Kitty's food--a "dinner is served" crowing that can be quite loud.  I am thinking about creating a scarecrow for near her food bowl, but given what a wuss she is, it would probably keep her from eating too.

Here are a picture of our lazy, nonaggressive kitty and a video of Rutter's "Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep" performed, fittingly, by children (with some augmentation for the men's parts).  The performance in the video is a bit different from what is scored in that all the youth sopranos sing what is written as a solo soprano part for the first and last verses.
Syd about to snooze

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Disaster du Jour

This morning I woke up at 4 a.m. and unfortunately checked my Facebook page and emails.  Today's disaster is the explosion at a nuclear plant in Japan that released an unknown quantity of radiation. One of my FB friends, who is in the PR biz, said that he heard the fallout would reach Los Angeles in 10 days.  There is a map circulating on the internet showing such a dispersion but others are calling it BS because the amount of radiation released is not known yet (so such a projection cannot be done), the logo on the map appears to have been taken from a business that has nothing to do with fallout projection and the measurement unit on the map is apparently wrong.  At 4 a.m., however, I did not know that it was heavily disputed so my anxiety level skyrocketed.  I started to think about packing up the family, getting in the car and driving east to the other side of the Rockies to see if we could avoid the fallout.  "Dear school,  Please excuse my grandson from kindergarten for the next 2 weeks. He needs to get away from  the nuclear fallout. "

Map of disputed reliability projecting fallout from Fukushima Daiichi

On the good news front, just about everyone I know in Japan has checked in and is safe, although one friend's relative is stuck on a train with no estimate of when they will be able to move again.  Colleagues at my company are trapped in their office building.[Postscript --This made the main stream news] Reportedly there is a rush on markets to stock up on food and drink.  That happens here on Super Bowl Sunday which reminds me of the competing "disaster" du jour which qualified as breaking news- the real possibility of no NFL football in 2011.  I told you this paragraph was the good news front!

As for the dead fish nearby, the tsunami slowed down cleanup efforts but not the ongoing CSI type investigation (as the LA Times describes it) of the cause of the fishicide.  One of my favorite theories is the wrong turn theory that the fish made a wrong turn and bunched up on each other.  A new theory today suggests that a toxin caused brain damage that led to the wrong turn.  Hopefully the people dealing with the dead fish that planned to use them for fertilizer are not themselves brain damaged so that they take this theory and the presence of the neurotoxin into account before recycling the dead fish into our food system. Then again, it might be better than some of the processed foods we already eat!  After all, it is fish and a source of healthy omega 3s!

On the tsunami front, not much ever happened here.  The news hyped that Santa Cruz was hit hard, but I understand that was an overstatement.  However, I do have a new appreciation for the signs in Culver City about it being a tsunami evacuation zone.  I understand that the tsunami in Japan went as far as six miles inland which, if here, could reach Culver City.  I guess I should stop making fun of the signs.

And this just in, the nuclear "accident" at Fukushima Daiichi  is not as serious as thought or as other recent major accidents.  The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that on a seven point scale, this accident is a 4 while Three Mile Island was a 5 and Chernobyl a 7.   Of course, there are two plants that are having problems cooling off so we will keep our fingers crossed that nothing worse happens.  Somehow you have to think that the iodine they are distributing to those in the area of the plant is not much of an offset for radiation poisoning.  Images of Hiroshima return to my head.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fishicide and Tsunamis

I love living near the beach in southern California.  But this week, I must say, life is not a beach.  It's that other word that sounds like beach.

Earlier in the week, a huge number of sardines swarmed into the Redondo Beach Harbor and suffocated due to lack of oxygen in the swarm.  The Harbor is not too far from where I live so I can smell the dead fish from my home and definitely at the beach when I walk there.  Some reports opine that a large storm forced the sardines toward the harbor for shelter.  Another report claims that a large school of mackerels chased the sardines into the harbor.  Cleanup of the 95 tons of dead fish is ongoing and urgent to avoid pollution of the Harbor.
© Daily Breeze 2011

However, I cannot go to the beach for a while because as of last night we are under tsunami warning.  Not just a watch, a warning.  First, there was a devastating earthquake (8.9 on Richter scale) in Japan last night, fifth largest in the world thus far.  I understand Tokyo shook for five minutes.  Then a tsunami 23 feet high in northeastern Japan near the epicenter washed away roads, cars, boats and possibly a train.  I think about my dear friends and colleagues who live in Japan and friends from here that were on their way to Japan and worry about their safety.  (Luckily I have since learned that my friends who were traveling to Japan had not yet left so they were not there when the earthquake hit.  All flights out of LAX to Japan are now cancelled)

At midnight last night, I checked Facebook and one of my friends had posted something from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration--who knew there was such a thing?!) giving a series of times that the tsunami waves are expected to hit the West Coast.  First, I checked for Santa Cruz and saw that they were predicting the hit at 8:15 am.  Here in Los Angeles area, the predicted time is closer to 8:30 a.m.  So I texted my daughter in Santa Cruz last night and this morning. She finally called at 7:20  a.m. frantic that something is really wrong, other than her neurotic mother wanting to warn her not to go to the beach this morning.  But my neurosis was not too far off given that she was unaware of the Japan earthquake and tsunami and regularly does go to the nearby beach to walk the dog.  Score one for Mama Bear. (or TSU-MOMMY)

I woke up at 5:00 a.m thinking about my daughter in law's family in Micronesia.  Some of them are in Guam rather than Pohnpei and luckily it is easy to get info about Guam because it is an American territory. The first waves have largely missed Guam.  But I cannot get any information about Pohnpei other than it is under tsunami warning, just like we are here in the beach cities of southern California.
© Paul Hoffman 2010

Since I started writing this entry the waves have started to hit and television images show not as much activity so far as feared.  It is low tide here.  I am watching a harbor in Santa Cruz on television and boats appear to be moving out of control in the harbor hitting other boats so despite what it appears to the eyewitness (my daughter just told me it was calm there) we are experiencing some effects of the tsunami.  The surge could be later than we thought and now the word is that the warning and advisory may be extended for another ten hours.   Guess I will be hearing the helicopters overhead for a while longer.  And good news from Micronesia--everyone is safe for now.  That is a relief.  Still waiting to hear from my friends in Japan, although it is the middle of the night there.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Miyajima Moments

Our last full day in Japan we took a trip to Miyajima, aka Itsukushima which is an island off Hiroshima.  Thanks to JR Rail passes, we were able to take the train and a ferry for no additional cost.  From the ferry, we walked along the water toward the famous torii gate in the water.  The torii stands in front of the Itsukushima Shrine where we were lucky to see a service in process as the Shinto priests moved from shrine to shrine.  You are not permitted to photograph the actual service but I was able to catch the priests on the move.

Here are my pictures.  One of the wonderful things is how the torii in the water changes color from red to almost a yellow as you see it from different angles with different light.

From the ferry boat

On the walk toward the Shrine

Love this poster!

Restaurant on the walk toward Itsukushima Shrine (love the spoon)

The Torii viewed from the walk

View from the front

Entry to Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine Pagoda

The Torii from the Itsukushima Shrine

another view of Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

Shinto Priests on the move

At the Itsukushima Shrine

View of Torii from other side of Itsukushima Shrine