Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Day with the Mummers

Every New Year’s Day, thousands of Philadelphians, mostly men, don elaborate costumes of sequins, spangles, and feathers. They carry banjos, saxophones, and double-basses to march in one of the most unusual events in the world - Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Armchair Traveling: Japan at the Met

When I enter the Asian wing of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum, I am transported to a realm like no other.  I turn one way and arrive in a land of bamboo and cranes, or another and travel with philosophers on their long, slow journeys to sit and draw and write and talk.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Search of Lost Cookies

And suddenly the memory appeared.  That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray . . . my aunt Léonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea . . .

'Tis the season of the cookie.  With visions of Mom and Grandma baking Christmas cookies dancing in my head, I put out a call for family reminiscences and got this reply:  “No doubt you will make mention of Mrs. Schweer's cookies.”

Mrs. Schweer?  Who the devil is Mrs. Schweer?  I turned in desperation to the internet.  Lo, there she was!  She’d been written up in Life Magazine, and she’d died at age 105 in the very hospital where I was born.  I wrote Mom to confirm.

“Not our Mrs. Schweer.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

Invictus - My Memory of the Game


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

William Ernest Henly

It is said that Nelson Mandela drew inspiration from this poem which he kept on a scrap of paper in his prison cell for 27 years.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Things As They Are

"Things as they are/Are changed upon the blue guitar."
-Wallace Stevens

I’ve been troubled by computer problems and an inconstant internet these past few days.  I had to remind myself there was a time when such things were not only unnecessary, but not even available.  I had to think:  what, then, were the things I used to use?

I no longer own a typewriter, so I looked around for a notebook and a pen.  I found them foreign objects, and inefficient.  I looked for a dictionary, but had only a small paperback that didn’t contain what I required.  I wanted confirmation of something I’d been told:  that the etymological root of the word “poet” was “maker.”  Without my usual tools to search, I was thrown back on my own experience for proof.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Anne Carson's Red Monster

Now and then, as a vestige of my egghead education, I’m compelled to attempt a hard book.  So when I was shown The Power of the Center:  A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts, I thought, why not?  At page 44, I set it down by Finnegans Wake, vowing, MacArthur-like, to return to each.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rising from the Ashes

As the shortest, darkest day of the year approaches, the town of Phoenixville PA will light up the night with the 6th annual Firebird Festival on Saturday, December 12th. The highlight of the Festival is the lighting of the Firebird, a 29 foot tall wooden replica of the mythical Phoenix bird. Area artists spent several weekends constructing the bird sculpture that now sits on Bridge Street, a block away from the town’s retail center. When lit, the firebird will become a huge bonfire to illuminate the darkness of December.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

There are close to 200 versions of “White Christmas” available on iTunes. And I think I have inadvertently heard most of them on the radio already this year. For the past several years, come mid-November, two radio stations on my car’s preset list change over to “All Christmas Music! All the Time!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Mother, the Queen, and Susan Boyle

I will confess that I once got sucked into a season of American Idol:  the clash of the titans, Ruben and Clay.  So when a friend sent a YouTube clip of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, I knew Simon Cowell was the judge to watch.  And, as a result of that heads-up, I wasn’t caught entirely flat-footed when my mother said she hoped Susan Boyle would get a chance to sing for the Queen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I have it on good authority that the snowflake has long been up at the crossroads of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York City.  Shop windows are already dressed for the coming holidays, and December 2nd is the date for lighting the Rockefeller Center tree.