Sunday, July 31, 2011

Matt gets sick; finds his own poem about sickness

We learned in Distant Cousin (volume 1) that Ana Darcy Méndez was born on the planet Thomo with an enhanced immune system. On Earth she has stayed remarkably healthy, with a few minor exceptions. Her family has generally been healthy as well, with only occasional colds, headaches, or upset digestive systems occurring from time to time.

Once, however, Matt had the flu, which he thought unfair, since he and his children always got flu shots. He spent a number of very uncomfortable days, as anyone who has had the flu will understand. His family tended him compassionately, though he found it difficult to appreciate their solicitude at the time. The sick, Leo Tolstoy once wrote, are not interested in the illnesses (or much else) of others.

Later, he came across a poem by George Bilgere that wonderfully encapsulated the experience of recovering from such a miserable experience. All in all, it brought back the glorious feeling of once again being fully alive and well, something we all too often tend to take for granted--that welcome sensation of eagerness for food, for company, and for all the sensual experiences we had been unable to appreciate when we are miserably sick.

As far as we know, he kept the poem to himself rather than sharing it with his wife. We are not sure why, but it may be the sensual conclusion of the poem. It surely could not be because of "the baker's store," where "everything smells like warm baguettes."

Right click to open in another window the poem Joy, by George Bilgere.

Note (2017): The link above has been closed. There is a workaround to find it elsewhere, however, along with many of Ana's other favorite poems. Please see this link.

See other poems the Méndez family loves in the right column, under the photo of the LOVE sculpture, including "The World Begins at the Kitchen Table."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Spaceport City, Las Cruces, New Mexico, Virgin Galactic, and their one Extraterrestrial Neighbor

This news from the "final frontier" just in! The New Mexico Spaceport Authority expects to have, in a little more than a year, a spaceport built between Las Cruces and the missile test center at White Sands. If all goes according to plan, you, too, will be soon be able to purchase a ticket on Virgin Galactic and ride a space vehicle to the edge of space. Reportedly, it may cost in the vicinity of $200,000, so many of us will have to start planning and saving now.... (Details here.)

It seems fitting that that location is within commuting distance of the first extraterrestrial to come to Earth from another planet: Ana Darcy Mendez, who lives near Mesilla, a suburb of Las Cruces. Ana already has, in fact, a vehicle which has taken several of her family and acquaintances to the edge of space, and for free. (See DC3 and DC4.)

See the maps below (and right click to enlarge in another window). The first shows the junction of Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico where much of the action in the Distant Cousin series takes place. The blue dot is the approximate location of the new spaceport. South of Las Cruces you can see the city of Juarez, Mexico, featured in DC4. Across the river to the east, but unmarked, is the city of El Paso. To the west down IH10, there is Deming, and south of that the border crossing at Las Palomas, which features in DC5. Mata Ortiz (photos here), in DC5, is just out of the picture to the south.

[Note: the maps will not appear to some visitors. It's not personal! Click on each empty frame, and the map should appear.]

The second map shows the spaceport and Las Cruces, with White Sands national monument above. There are ski areas in the mountains just east of there, and Highway 70 descends to Las Cruces from Alamogordo, featured in DC4. There is a lovely aerial photo of this entire area here, with White Sands visible in the far distance. (You may click to enlarge it.) The spaceport is apparently being built between there and the city of Las Cruces, on the west side of the mountains.

The third map highlights Las Cruces itself, with the University of New Mexico campus area highlighted. It will do doubt offer technical support to the spaceport. Also of interest is the suburb of Mesilla and Highway 28. The Mendez family lives south of Mesilla along this highway. Visible too are the extensive, irrigated pecan groves, and skirting the western side, the Rio Grande river. West of that, at this point, is New Mexico. Mexico itself is to the west further south, off this map.

It seems likely that Ana will keep a very low profile with respect to the spaceport. She has her own, hidden in those pecan groves!


See more maps and area photo in the column at right,
under the photo of the blue-eyed kitty-->

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ana discovers Nora, the piano cat

Nora, the piano playing cat, is famous, but Ana only learned about her recently. She was enchanted, even touched, by her performance in...but we'll get to that shortly.

From Wikipedia, Ana learned that Nora enjoys the attention she receives when she plays, but that she also plays alone, as well as when there are piano students present. Nora joins in especially when they are playing Bach. Ana likes that!

Nora prefers the D-E-F range of the piano but also plays on the black keys. She has been studied by musicians, musicologists, and other scholarly types for some time. The Times of London has said that her playing is "something halfway between Philip Glass and free jazz."

Ana was thrilled to learn that a Lithuanian conductor, composer, and artist, Mindaugas Piečaitis, has written a concerto for orchestra and Nora (appearing by video) which we all can see and hear. She particularly likes the idea of two species of creatures making music together, and the utterly respectful way the composer and musicians treat the performance of the cat. Their dignity and seriousness, she thinks, ennobles all involved. See if you agree.

This is Nora's five minute concerto:

There is more at this site devoted to Nora and her "catcerto."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Location Photos from Barbados

Ana Darcy visited the island nation of Barbados in Distant Cousin and Distant Cousin: Reincarnation (DC1 & DC3). The first two photos below are from the Caribbean side (the west side) of Barbados. The third is from the Atlantic side (the east side). In volume 3, Ana had lunch at a beachside restaurant with a friend, shown in the fourth photo. The last photo shows the approximate view from that restaurant. A party boat is at top center, and the port of Barbados is out of view to the right. Ana watched children play in the surf, which is slightly behind the camera.

See more photos from venues in the books in the column on the right, under the photo of the blue-eyed Siamese, and especially these, also from Barbados:

Other photos from the West Indies, including Barbados: part 1  part 2

Friday, July 8, 2011

A note about the Distant Cousin theme song

The Distant Cousin theme song is probably not the sort of music readers of the series might expect. What can we say? Ana Darcy likes it.

It's not new music, not that that matters to a woman who's only recently come to Earth--all our music was new to her when she arrived. The composer is Johann Kapsburger (1580-1651), from the early baroque period. Ana likes it because it's polyphonic (with several voices) and because it's calm, sweet, and beautiful. Though less than two minutes long, it amounts to a theme and variations, another form Ana loves.

This performance was just for Ana. A professional musician, Scott Pauley, was honored to play it for her alone, but she gladly permitted us to share it with you, with her best wishes. You will hear it nowhere else. She hopes you enjoy it.

The instrument is a theorbo, a bass lute, in effect. With 18 strings, and over six feet long, it has a huge tonal range, low to high, and is wonderfully resonant and stringy (and difficult to master). Ana says the people of Thomo have several similar, large stringed instruments, but they don't have the same richness as the theorbo. (There's more information about it at Wikepedia.)

Here is the recording of the performance of the Distant Cousin theme song for Ana.  (If you right click it and open it in another window, you won't lose your place.)

YouTube does have other versions. Here are three examples:

With an ensemble and two dancers:

For solo lute in an intimate setting:

And here's a gorgeous, elaborated duet for theorbo and baroque guitar by the Lute Duo:

A "canario" is a lively dance form popular in Europe during the 16th century, the baroque period. It came from the Canary Islands, not unlike the "chaconne," which came from northern Latin America about the same time. Here's a different canario, given wild treatment, by Gaspar Sanz and played by a Basque quartet. Crazy!

More musical items related to Ana Darcy:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Science, delight, or both? Ana loves baking bread.

Ana can barely remember her childhood on the planet Thomo, so long ago, but she keenly remembers the smell of baking bread. Psychologists say the sense of smell is our most powerful sense, after all. Thomans don't have wheat, but they have other grains, from which they make an assortment of dishes as we do from the grains of Earth. Ana has loved wheat in all its variations ever since her first experience with tortillas and pizza (in Distant Cousin).

She has employed her scientific side in exploring the possibilities in baking. She has made small, yeast rising rolls some of which she has allowed to rise and bake, others to rise half way, freeze, and bake later, and some to rise fully, to be frozen and baked days after, in order to compare the results. She has similarly compared the use of butter, oil, lard, Crisco, and other variables in the baking process, and she has experimented with varieties of baked items across cultures: Czech, German, French, Mexican, Italian, and many more. The baking process is a miracle of nature to her.

She treasures a poem about baking, which touches on the mystery of making and baking bread. Its imagery is so vivid that it often prompts her to make bread herself, just as Pablo Neruda's poem about tomatoes makes her mouth water, and the recipe poem about orange/cranberry relish brings the lavish Thanksgiving table to her mind.

Oddly enough, the poem is titled "Graduation Speech," by Charles F. Pratt. If you right click it and open it in another window, you can easily sample more of Ana's favorite food poems in the column to the right, under the photo of cranberry/apple pie. With only baking in mind, for example, there are these: