Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Those Wacky Greeks

For no particular reason, I have taken a break from modern books and have dived into Homer. I've had these books sitting around for years and decided it was high time I improved my cultural literacy by actually reading this stuff. It's a rather old translation (1907) and I am sure that scholars have come up with something more accurate since then, but they read like a fast-paced adventure novel. Oh, the language is archaic, in the biblical sense, but I am really enjoying it.

First I read "The Odyssey," and now I am going through "The Iliad," which is bass ackwards in chronology. Ulysses' story is much more interesting, because it involves travel and all sorts of different characters, monsters and ordeals. He goes through so many trials and somehow, with the help of a god or two, eventually manages to get back to his faithful wife and son, who have a few adventures of their own. Poor Penelope is besieged by the Suitors and somehow can just tell them to take a hike (after all, Ulysses may be alive after twenty years, but then again, maybe he isn't), so when Ulysses gets back he has to deal with them, too. (I had a great-great-uncle whose middle name was the French version of Ulysses - John Ulysse Guenveur. He died young and didn't have any adventures that I know of.)

"The Iliad," on the other hand , is just one battle after another, with armor clanging about the losers. There are a zillion brave men who are always challenging one one another during the battle of Troy, on account of Paris took off with Helen, the wife of Menelaus. It's very bloody, with spears piercing armor and flesh and the odd beheading on every page. And there's a rather hilarious episode about this sea goddess pleading with Zeus to intervene for her son, Achilles, who has been dissed by Agamemnon over some babe that he (Achilles) had brought back as spoils from invasion he had led. Well, Hera, Zeus' wife, gets royally ticked off when she sees Thetis, the sea goddess, clasping the knees of Zeus and there's a very modern sounding spat between the god husband and his goddess wife in which he asserts male superiority. I guess it's a really old story and no wonder men have had such a hard time letting go of that archaic idea, if they ever have.

I like how chatty the gods are with mortals, rather like the Bible stories of God chatting it up with Moses and Noah. And I like how the people in power are always offering golden chairs, barrels of wine and chariot horses as rewards to strong, brave MEN (of course) who do them favors. And there is much wine drinking, ox roasting and chine eating being done. Story telling, a la the parables, is a favorite device for teaching the recalcitrant warrior why he should face the more heavily armed enemy. I am over half way through it and the armor clanging is ringing in my ears. Apparently it didn't do much good anyway.

When I was a kid I had read "The Aeneid" and loved it. I remember the illustrations included bare breasted Harpies, and in these books are some great illustrations similar to the sort of things you see on Greek vases, and many of the men are stark nekkid. I mean there will be a bunch of guys wearing robes, and the main hero will be absolutely nekkid. Why is that? I must admit that my knowledge of ancient Greek clothing or lack thereof is pretty much zero, but I have to assume that there was a reason for the nekkidness. I guess things could get pretty hot in those islands, temperature wise. Or maybe they were just a bunch of exhibitionists.

By the way, that illustration is of Ulysses offing the Suitors.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Green Hills I Love

This is Doughty Valley. It's down in Amish country, where Doughty Creek runs through a long valley in southern Homes County. I discovered it many years ago and it's a place I take people who think Ohio is a nowhere place. It's only one of many beautiful places I long to see in the winter when the roads are bad. This is a pretty isolated spot, difficult to find, along a lot of twisty, hilly roads. I have taken many photographs of it in all seasons, even in snow one year when the roads had been well cleared, but the hills still white-blanketed. I took this particular picture some years ago when Polly was home for a visit. Everyone I've ever taken to this place has loved it. They just stand and look at it and sigh. Peace.

It is almost completely quiet, except for the whirring of a windmill and the tinkle of cow bees. Once when I was there in late afternoon, in about the center of this picture, I saw a young Amish boy leading a long line of cows from the hills in back to the red barn you can see behind the white house. I've been there when a farmer in a horse drawn mower was cutting hay. There's a meadow close to the road, which you can't see in this picture, and there are usually a couple of horses which occasionally break into a gallop. There are no telephone poles or wries to obstruct the view. I'd love to be there on a night when there's a full moon.

I'm always worried that one day when I go down there, I'll discover a housing development right in the middle of those lovely hills, the road widened, and a strip mall in place of the horse meadow. Heaven forfend!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snow Days

Since I am retired, I don't get snow days, but I take them anyway by not going out unless I absolutely have to, e.g., I need bread, milk or chocolate. I have been reading a lot. For some reason I have been stuck in mid 19th century America and most books have been concerned with the Civil war or the lead-up to it.

This has not been by design. It began with "March,:" which I mentioned a few posts ago, followed by "The March,"also previously noted. Then I read "The Known World," about black slave owners before the war. It is such a good book that I did not want it to end. Since it won the Pulitzer Prize and a few other book awards, I figured it must be good, but it was simply splendid and so wonderfully written. I had read a number of short stories in the New Yorker over the years by the author (I think it's Edward P. Jones) and had always liked his writing. It ends before the Civil War and I want to know what happened to the people (the ones still alive, that is) and wonder if he's considered a sequel.

After I finished that one, I read Toni Morrison's "A Mercy," another stellar work by America's best writer. It takes place in the late 17th century and involves a young slave girl whose mother hopes to save her by urging a buyer to take her daughter, seeing that even though he is a slave owner, he appears to be kind (a relative term.) Morrison doesn't hit you over the head with the evils of slavery, but in her almost poetic prose, you absorb the lives of the people involved on all aspects of it. It's told in a number of voices and she demonstrates her understanding of what kinds of feelings and rationalizations were experienced by these early Americans. Since we know the effects on all of us and our history, this is an important story. Morrison is a genius.

Now I have Barbara Kingsolver's latest, "Lacunae," which I'm looking forward to. The magazines are piling up, though, and I have no idea when I'll get to them. If ever. I mean, spring is inevitable, innit? And I shall have to throw off the shackles of winter and snow and hit the road on one of my trips to someplace that isn't Kent. A person can get pretty tired of the same scenery all the time. Books can take you away, but I'm looking forward to seeing real live green hills and blue water.

Another snow day activity, which I haven't done too much of since the end of the pastel class I took last fall, is getting back to some painting. I had these pears last fall and was planning to paint them. but it was a beautiful fall and the road called, so I just made some sketches and then took a few photos, figuring I'd get around to them soon. But I had to eat them, so the photos came in handy. I'm still experimenting with acrylic and avoiding oil. I think oil would be easier because it stays workable longer than acrylic, even when I used a medium which is supposed to keep it wet. Damn stuff dries too fast no matter. Maybe if I worked faster? It's fun anyway and since I do it for my own amazement, I'll keep trying. Until spring.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It's a Sad, S.A.D. Month

February - hard to spell and hard to live through. Fortunately, I am not one to suffer from S.A.D., but I can empathize with those who do. Up here in the northern hemisphere, we suffer from sun deprivation, blue sky deprivation and warmth deprivation. It's gray and it's damp and everything is dead: the trees, the grass, people's faces. The traces of dirty snow make everything look desolate, trashy, forlorn.

Another depressing aspect of this month is that Lent starts, which brings back dreary memories of marching around the church to the Stations of the Cross while the priest droned on about how our terrible sins (like sassing our mother) drove the nails even deeper into the hands of Jesus, along with the mournful strains of "Stabat Mater," accompanied by the occasional bonk on the head of a disrespectful (i.e., yawning) student by one of the bead-rattling nuns. Even Easter candy couldn't make up for the dismal effects of those deadly six weeks. Even though I was living in Georgia at the time, it was still gray all the time in February during Lent.

On my computer desk top is a picture I took in August of a gleaming white farm house under a blue, blue sky beyond an elephant's eye high corn field. It was on the way home from the New Baltimore ice cream stand. It's great to look at and think about.

I know one should live in the moment, but it's hard not to look ahead. A local Catholic church has the best fish fries every Friday during Lent and you don't even have to sing "Stabat Mater" while you're waiting in line. Pretty soon the pancake breakfasts will start up in the maple syrup country north of here. And having been so deprived, we appreciate more the coming of springtime, when all the ugliness disappears and we can bask in all the beauty we have longed for during February.

And we don't live in Haiti and shouldn't be complaining anyway.