Friday, September 24, 2010

For pete's sake...

This morning, I've found myself humming "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No." It's one of those inexplicable things that happen. I've tried singing the words instead of humming. I've tried humming the national anthem, a tune which usually dislodges viral humming, but it hasn't helped. Too bad I'm not at work today - I could make the hum worthwhile by infecting someone else with it.

You know, Oklahoma! simply bubbles with viral-humming candidates. The title tune has plagued me several times in the past, as has "The Farmer and the Cowman" (Should Be Friends) and "People Will Say We're In Love." Rogers and Hammerstein knew how to write solid, bouncy, singable songs. Although, regarding bouncy, I once caught myself humming "Pore Jud is Daid." You'd think that little number would be too slow and therefore unhummable. Nope, not for me.

Heh heh. It just occured to me that you may find yourself humming one of those tunes after reading this.

Overheard on Twitter: Trying to be sneaky with my pretzels but it's really quiet in here right now and the bag is not cooperating.

Next time: something far more interesting than this was, I hope. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Library Of Congress


It wasn't on my list of Things I Must Do. After all, I came to library employment later in life, after years of working with computer programming. But we were planning our trip to D.C. and there, on the map, was the Library of Congress. Aha!

We visited the LOC on Day 2, after a morning at the Capitol Building. A tunnel connected the Capitol to the LOC. We thought that meant we wouldn't have to go through security again. We were mistaken. Security gates are everywhere, even for something like the Air and Space Museum. Ah well.

Nearly every major building in town offers free tours and the LOC is no exception. Our Capitol tour guide was so personable and informative that we decided to join a formal tour group at the library. This turned out to be a mistake - the guide for our group announced that he was a little hoarse, a fact sadly demonstrated once we entered the Main (and very noisy) Hall. We couldn't hear him. We looked at each other and silently agreed that we needed to politely sneak away, an act accomplished as another group passed by. We simply moved to that group, amoeba-like, until we were far enough away from the original group to break off on our own.

There really are no words to describe the wonder that is the Library of Congress Main Hall. The exterior is imposing, certainly, with all its granite and marble, its statuary, the grand staircases and arches at the entrance...but the interior is breathtaking. The public area isn't as large as one would expect, as far as floor space goes, but the Main Hall soars.


Both of us decided it would be cool to get an LOC library card and inquired about it at the information desk. We could receive a card at the Madison Building across the street. However, (and we shouldn't have been surprised, really) only people conducting serious research are allowed into the Reading Room. It's not proper to obtain a card as a souvenir.

We left the information desk. Alrighty then, what interested us? What could we research? That was easy - Ken wanted to explore documents concerning the Civil War, I was interested in Charles Lamb. Off we went to the Madison Building.

It was a simple thing to apply for the card. I went first, showing my I.D. to the Keeper of the Cards. She asked for my research subject, I answered, and she handed me an application. Ken followed but she didn't asked him for his research subject. Perhaps she just tagged him with mine. We filled out the applications, had our photos taken, and were each handed our freshly-minted Library of Congress Reader's Card.

We didn't actually use our cards that day because we needed to get back to the Capitol in time to enter the House Gallery. I went back two days later, spending most of the day there while Ken enjoyed roaming the city and taking photos. (Apparently, researching the Civil War wasn't really an urgent project for him.)

Entering the building, I felt like the new kid at school. Armed with my Reader's Card, I asked the information desk staff for directions to the Reading Room. They pointed to a wall behind them, off in the distance, and said, "Follow that yellow hallway. There are signs to direct you from there."

The hallway wound around and around, with an occasional sign that boiled down to "Keep Going." Just as I was beginning to think I'd never find it, a "Cloakroom" sign appeared. Woohoo! This was where I would leave everything but my paper and pencil. I flashed my Card (feeling like a fraud), checked my stuff, and headed once again into the hallway.

I needed to order my materials first. I went into the room where this was supposed to happen. Now what? A lovely young woman helped me get logged in and I was free to request my Charles Lamb books, a task I accomplished after a bit of trial and error. It would take 30-45 minutes for them to be retrieved and delivered to the Reading Room for me, so I explored the LOC catalog for awhile.

And then, at last, I entered The Reading Room.

I spent nearly three hours there, reading Essays of Elia. I also had a book of Essay commentaries, written by Charles Lambs' contemporaries. Why Charles Lamb? Well. Have you ever read a book because it was mentioned in another book? I'm always curious: why did the author include that book? That's why I read Mansfield Park. In That Hideous Strength, it was the book that Jane Studdock wanted to read to settle her restlessness. Essays of Elia was the book involved in the opening chapters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'd never heard of Essays of Elia, so I was doubly intrigued.

I learned a lot about Charles Lamb through the commentaries. I learned that the essays were published in "The London Magazine" beginning in 1820, and that Elia was Lamb's pseudonym, chosen because it was the name of a close Italian friend from childhood. I finally learned how to pronounce Elia: ell-ee-uh, emphasis on the first syllable. The essays were written as if they were from a personal journal, with a huge dose of humor. Lamb's life contained more than a proper share of tragedy - his older sister, Mary, murdered their mother and seriously wounded their father. She had sanity issues and was in and out of hospitals all of her life. Charles took care of her. He never married, although not for want of trying. Charles dealt with depression (and no wonder), and was voluntarily hospitalized for it for several weeks. And yet, despite all of that, he wrote wonderful humorous essays, observations on society and culture. His writing reminds me of David Grayson. May I quote a couple of things?

From "Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading": Much depends upon when and where you read a book. In the five or six impatient minutes before the dinner is quite ready, who would think of taking up the Faery Queen for a stop-gap, or a volume of Bishop Andrewes' sermons?... Milton almost requires a solemn service of music to be played before you enter upon him...I should not care to be caught in the serious avenues of some cathedral alone, and reading Candide...

From "Grace Before Meat": C--- holds that a man cannot have a pure mind who refuses apple dumplings... (This essay's primary theme is that Grace should be said after the meal, when the diners are less distracted by the excellent scents arising from the food on the table and therefore able to more diligently focus on the One who provided it.)

Another essay, "Popular Fallacies", lists sixteen things that are not necessarily true, with a brief comment after each one explaining why it's a fallacy. I had to write them down. Two of my favorites from the list:

#10 - That handsome is as handsome does. ("Those who use this proverb have never seen Mrs Carmody.")

#13 - That you must love me, and you must love my dog.

By the way, the Reading Room is exactly what one would expect: shelves and shelves of books reaching to the domed ceiling, gentle ambient light, old wooden carrels shaped to fit the curve of the room (and numbered, in case you want books delivered directly to you), completely hushed. The hush, however, was broken mid-morning by an explosive sneeze that echoed for several seconds. I think I'm the only one who looked up. I know I'm the only one who smiled.

I hope to go back someday.

Overheard on Twitter: Just signed up for an event called Smashputt. Waiver said "*miniature golf may kill you." Sounds like my kind of golf.

Next time: more of our trip, possibly. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A'travelin'

We've been nomads recently, an aberration for us. We are usually such homebodies. But we went to Victoria (Ken joining me post-WLA) in August, and we've just returned from a week in D.C. Why D.C.? Ken was a spring-quarter intern with Senator Baucus' office (MT) way back in 1975 and was interested in revisiting the area. Friends in D.C. offered to put us up if we needed a place to stay. That's all it took.

We packed our bags with clothing appropriate for tropical temperatures and a good thing, too, because the weather was hot; not Pacific Northwest hot, but rather a muggy, fatiguing hot. Our friends call it "chewable air", a perfect description. There was dimension to it. We are both notoriously Nordic, drooping if it's over 80 degrees, so we became masters at scuttling quickly from one shady spot to the next, bracing ourselves for the long stretches of crisping sunshine. And you know, in the long run it wasn't that bad. If nothing else, travel expands one's adaptability.

We took as many guided tours as we could - the White House, the Capitol, the State Department, Lincoln's Cottage. We went on self-tours - Ford's Theater, the Old Post Office, Smithsonian Castle, Library of Congress, the Air and Space Museum. We became adept at using the Metro trains. Well, mostly adept. We had a mutual meltdown one afternoon. We hadn't eaten properly, we were out of water, we were in a Metro tunnel in the middle of rush hour, we were hot and sticky, we could not figure out which platform we needed to be on, and, as a result, we were having one of those conversations (ah, spousal bonding)...and I'm here to say that people in Washington D.C. are the most helpful people on earth. It must be due to the huge number of tourists that come to town. D.C.ers immediately recognize bewilderment (not to mention angst) and step right in to make it better. They got us on the proper platform and, bless them, suggested a couple of dining options that we could easily find at our destination.

It was a week of surprises. I wasn't prepared to be so affected by things. I've seen photographs of the city all my life. What American wouldn't recognize the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial? The Capitol Building's silhouette? So familiar. But, wow. Being inside the White House's east wing, walking through all those rooms (the Blue Room!), leaving the building through the door I see on the news, standing beneath the big cast iron lamp...there really aren't words for it. All of us lingered, not quite ready to leave the area, taking photos, trading tour stories. I looked up at the windows and saw that two of them were unique. The one on the left had a small stained-glass butterfly hanging in the center, the one on the right contained a small toy bird. I pointed them out to the kids on the tour. Could those be Malia and Sasha's rooms? It was never confirmed but we all decided that yes, they must belong to the First Daughters.

It isn't possible to blog about the whole trip. There is too much, even if I touched on highlights, because it's all highlights. We were able to get passes to both the House and the Senate galleries, courtesy of Norm Dicks' office, and were present at the first two votes in the House's opening session. That was an odd thing to watch and I confess to being mildly appalled. Granted, it was their first day back after summer break and people were reconnecting, there on the House floor. But some of them had brought their children and some of those children were not behaving as appropriately as one might hope. One boy was jumping on the chairs as his father looked on, twin girls were racing around the aisles, another boy was clearly on the near side of a tantrum. All this while an electronic vote was going on.

Compare that to the behavior expected of those of us watching from the Gallery: ten minutes before the session started, we'd unfolded our map to quietly help a foreign couple find their way to another building. A guard told us to put the map away. He pointed out that it was disrespectful to the House Floor to be paying attention to anything else but the House Floor. Mind you, there was only a stenographer on the House Floor at that moment. He was just sitting there, staring at the chair beside him. He looked about ready to nod off. We folded the map and gave it to the couple.

Good grief.

It was interesting, though, to watch all those Representatives once they came in. They were milling around, shaking hands, conversing, laughing. We played a version of Where's Waldo - who could find a Washington State Representative first? We saw Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, along with a few other well-knowns, and Ken finally won, pointing out Jim McDermott. We watched him for a few minutes. He sauntered around but nobody spoke with him. It was like watching a school playground where the less-popular kid goes unnoticed, and we felt a little sorry for him.

Overheard on Twitter: It's breakfast time! Unfortunately there is nothing resembling breakfast in this house. You know what that means. #catfoodforbreakfast

Next time: the Library of Congress. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Turn, turn, turn


Autumn has arrived well ahead of its assigned date. As often happens, it is heralded by cold and rainy weather. We've officially acknowledged this by installing extra layers of bedding and replacing summerwear with sweaters. We came close to firing up the woodstove on Monday. We've never used the woodstove before mid-October and we'd rather not break with that tradition if we can help it but, gosh, it was cold on Monday.

This is my favorite season: golden light slanting through the trees, leaves beginning to drift down, colors changing. The earth smells different. The gentle, alarming spiders craft their webs right where we'll walk through them. The sparrows and finches are more vocal as they visit the feeder. September is a mixed month, joyful with birthdays and a wedding anniversary, quiet with remembrance for a parent who had a difficult passing.

Autumn is my personal State Of The Union time, a season to reflect, to study, to take an honest look at my life since the previous September. That sounds pretty serious! It isn't all that deep, most of the time, but I've felt restless lately, aware of patterns that I've allowed myself to settle into, and so the deeper reflection begins. What needs to change? I do.

Looks like a challenging interlude ahead.

Overheard on Twitter: I should really start a photo blog called "Non-Recyclable Things Found In My Building's Recycle Bin."

Speaking of Twitter, are you curious what people are saying about practically any topic you can name? Topsy is a good place to start. It's a search engine for tweets.

Next time: annual seasonal ponderings, continued. Stay tuned if you dare.