Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Zorro Morning

Dear Zorro,

When you come for breakfast it is more a treat for me than for you.
I love it when you greet me as I stumble to the kitchen, looking in from one corner of my massive sliding glass doors. The doors are thick glass and the slide is slow and heavy, lumbering like a freight train along it's aluminum track.

The cats, lined without you like porcelain felines on the step before the door, must sometimes wait until the coffee is brewed. But you, Zorro, gain my first attention, for you aren't always there

Your subtle reach into the kitchen with that leathery paw of yours seems to be .requesting entrance. I know that I have yet to invite in, and I would, except I fear the moment when I'd have to invite you out and wouldn't quite know how to do it. Meanwhile, the cats lack your inhibition and leap over your nose while I tramp out to you, hovering about my legs like a dog.

I'm glad that you don't mind having me sit with you for a while as you eat and I like it when you pat my foot or hand as I extend the breakfast Meow Mix.

See you soon.


(Poor Video--Not worth watching)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Uncle Bobby and Billy Collins' Forgetfulness

Dear Uncle Bobby,

Will you be coming to Mom and Dad's 60th Anniversary party? I hope so. You and I always got along so well. A medical doctor, you were always smart and in charge. You were gruff and straight. I liked gruff and straight. I was straight too and I think you liked that. You and Aunt Lillian were so different from Mom and Dad. I wish she had lived, for you surely would have enjoyed 60 years together, loving and fighting all the way.

When the lawyer called to ask me to be your financial guardian she said, "He's such a sweetie." Had she ever met you? You are a lot of things, but sweetie? I don't think so, even now, when what you had for breakfast is hidden under cloud cover. No, not a sweetie but you loved well and you surely loved Aunt Lillian, whose face, I imagine, is still very clear and young in your mind.

The last time you visited our house you enjoyed spending time with our old dog Annie. Now she was a sweetie. You loved dogs. Your medical hands would examine her over and over again. And they would stop in fresh surprise each time you felt the cyst above her right eye. Annie is gone now.

I hope you'll be at the celebration. Sixty years is worth celebrating. But I understand if you can't come because 93 (is that how old you are, I forget) means lots of travel fears, and other fears, like stumbling, and wondering what the name of your wife's sister's daughter is.

With my love,

This poem entitled Forgetfulness was written and read by Billy Collins. The Animation was created by Julian Grey of Headgear.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Goatwalker Coffee House

Dear Stevie

Thanks for inviting me to your favorite coffee house in Louisville., It was an amazing experience. Of course I loved hearing you sing. I was impressed by your vocal ability and as always, your ability to work a crowd, but I was even more impressed by your ability to write songs. The lyrics were very, very good. This clip really doesn't do justice to it.

I did, you must know, frown upon the "cussing". That is reserved for the dinner table only. But the words, as you said, were in quotes, so I guess it's ok.

The thing I loved about the Goatwalker was the presence of folks from all walks of life. Children, homeless men and women, ministers, students, and old folks like me. The spirit of sharing and caring for one another was very beautiful. I loved the homeless man who sat in front of me ordering lemonade from time to time by raising his hands and snapping his fingers for service. Where else but that special sanctuary of hospitality would a homeless man gain the attention of a young waitress and quick service at the wave of his hand. For once in his life, Blessed are the poor seemed to mean something tangible.
I'd say Blessed is the Goatwalker. And Blessed are you too, my dear son.


For more about the Goatwalker and the Jeff Street Church visit their blog.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Free Dr. Haleh Esfandiari

Dear Dr. Esfandiari,

Please come home to us. But, oh. . oh. . they won't let you. I have signed the petition asking them to free you, but still they won't let you come home.

Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a dual Iranian-American national, was arrested in Tehran on May 8 and incarcerated in the Evin Prison.
I worry about you and other Middle Eastern artists and scholars who stand for free speech and well, reason, in general. See post by Laila Lalami, May 15, 2007, On Interpretations.

Our prayers are with you.

Betsy DeGeorge

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Il Trittico by Puccini (with special thanks to the Met in Hi Def)

Dear Amy,

(Author Note: I wrote this a while ago, and forgot to post it. Who knows why.)

Wow! It was so nice to be with you at the Metropolitan Opera's high definition movie screening of Il Trittico. Our only disappointment in the entire afternoon is summed up with the question, "Why didn't they list the singers at the beginning of each of the three operas?" And you had to rush home to the twins and Cloe or you might have said, "Why did they run the credits so fast." It was like a race. Of course, as with most operas, everyone was streaming for the doors anyway (or the rest rooms--the thing did last 4 hours), so I guess it makes some sense.

At any rate, here, to assuage your curiosity is a listing of the primary cast members. Go here, if you want some criticism by Martin Bernheimer.


Giorgetta: Maria Guleghina

Luigi: Salvatore Licitra

Michele: Juan Pons

Suor Angelica: Barbara Frittoli

Sister Genovieffa: Heidi Grant Murphy

Frugola in Il Tabarro, La Principessa in Suor Angelica, and Zita
in Gianni Schicchi : Stephanie Blythe

Lauretta: Olga Mykytenko

Rinuccio: Massimo Giordano

Gianni Schicchi: Alessandro Corbelli

Conductor: James Levine

They say that it takes quite a soprano to sing all three of the main roles in the three one act operas that make up this triptych. Supposedly Beverly Sills tried it and broke down during the performance. In 1981, Renata Scotto sang in all three operas, a feat repeated in 1989 by Teresa Stratas. This time there were three sopranos, but I thought the high point of the production was the singing and acting of Stephanie Blythe who sang Frugola in Il Tabarro, La Principessa in Suor Angelica, and Zita in Gianni Schicchi. She made us laugh, cry, and then laugh again. I have never genuinely laughed so hard at an opera as during this particular performance of Gianni Schicchi. (And I think our tears were quite real during Suor Angelica.) And it was Stephanie Blythe who got us hating her and set us up for Suor Angelica's demise.

Blythe is a great actress with a wonderful voice. I am going to keep my ears open for her.

I'm so glad we ran into each other. Hope to see you for next season's eight operas at the movies.

Betsy DeGeorge

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Call of the Wild: Burping Zorro

Dear Marty Stouffer, (and all you other Jack Hannaesque lovers of the wild and wonderful behaviors of undomesticated animals)

This is a behavior that I never saw on Wild America, watching as a child growing up in the 50's, 60's, amazed before the 13 inch screen of a TV on a special rolling cart in the living room. You did, I must admit, specialize in more esoterically interesting materials, mating rituals?, or dramatic episodes, lion eats wilderbeast? I find this rather charming though. The solitary burp of a raccoon.

Betsy DeGeorge

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Women in Black Knoxville Year 5

Dear Women in Black,

Thank you!

Women in Black members have stood silently (or almost silently) in front of the Duncan Federal Building in Knoxville, TN, every Tuesday since April 8, 2002, to mourn the deaths caused by violence between Palestinians and Israelis. The group calls for an end to what it considers Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Composed of Christian, Muslim and Jewish women, as well as women from other faiths, the group is part of an international movement started in 1988 by Israeli women.

A poem with hope for peace and understanding.

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal

by Naomi Shihab Nye

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, Please come to the gate immediately Well -- one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress, Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her.
What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew -- however poorly used - She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the Following day. I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and Would ride next to her -- southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering Questions.

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies -- little powdered Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts -- out of her bag -- And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, The lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered with the same Powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers -- Non-alcoholic -- and the two little girls for our flight, one African

American, one Mexican American -- ran around serving us all apple juice And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend -- by now we were holding hands --

Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some

medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of confusion stopped
-- has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Explosions in the Sky

Dear Kay and Conversely,

I would like to introduce you. You are both my friends and you both like Explosions in the Sky. This post is for you with special thanks to Kay for the media elements. Little did you know that you both were at the same concert together. Had I been there, I would have introduced you and said, Conversely, this is Kay. She is wonderful. And then I would have said Kay, this is Conversely, he is wonderful. And Avery and T. Azimuth.

People are like explosions to me. I love how they explode into my life and light up my skies. I hate it when they go away and drizzle into the obscurity of the night. One late July 4 night I stood on the boardwalk in Cape May, New Jersey, with one of my oldest friends. Usually, when we watch fireworks together, we do it from a distance. That year we decided to get up close and personal with the explosions. The guns themselves were stationed on a barge that was anchored 100 yards or so out in the Cape May waters. Normally, the swell of the ocean there is so tempered by the rush of the Delaware Bay, that waves don't "make no nevermind." But it was stormy that night and the barge rocked both with the push of the elements and the recoil of the discharges. Explosions lit the sky as usual, but sparks and the litter of packing showered around us. Together we dodged the attack, but without any hint of retreat. Unforgettable.

I wish you all had met.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

What is Southern Literature?: A Survey

The question for this month's survey is: What is Southern Literature?

You may have an answer and I would like to hear it. Meanwhile, I have collected some thoughts on this topic which I will add at various intervals. I have some thoughts of my own, which I may add here, or later. If I have a quote from someone that you feel doesn't fully express that person's usual opinion on the matter, feel free to post a correction.

The question stems from my thinking about the characteristics of certain writing classified as "Southern" with a capital S, that establishes it as a category. It is my opinion that this category does exist, but that it has boundaries based on certain characteristics. I'm just not yet quite sure what all of those characteristics are. I'd like to know what you think. What, do you think those characteristics are that contribute to the body of literature we recognize as Southern?