Friday, January 31, 2014

The Gundestrup Caldron

I leaned back in my recliner listening to the television.  That’s what I do every evening.  Usually I tune the set to whatever is being broadcast on PBS.  With eyes half-closed I heard a man talking about bodies buried in the peat bogs in Ireland and Denmark.  No one knows who they were; the evidence shows that they were murdered around 300 B.C.  A dismal subject to listen to on a night when I was already half-sick and feeling depressed.  Yet I am always interested in programs about history, even ancient times, and art.

The narration changed to the artifacts buried with the bodies.  Hearing the words “Gundestruup Caldron” I opened my eyes.  The television screen showed a closeup strange figures incised on a huge silver bowl. . 

I sat up in my chair.  I had read about the Gundestrup Caldron before Wally and I made our trip to Denmark in 1975.  It is considered the finest piece of Iron Age art ever found.  It is certainly the largest and most elaborate.  I remembered the thrill I felt when I walked into a gallery in the National Museum of Denmark and saw the caldron, as big as a bathtub, right in front of me. 

The caldron is decorated with strange figures of humans, animals, and mythological beasts. The representations of people were as distorted and weird as the figures of dragons and griffins.  I  admired the workmanship of the craftsmen who hammered out these strange figures, but I had no idea what they represented.  

On television a man tried to show a link between the figures on the caldron and the murdered men.  One of the panels on the caldron shows a man dumping a smaller man into a caldron.  Were the men killed as part of some pagan religious ritual?  Why were they buried in the bog when at that time common people were cremated?

I looked up the Gundestrup caldron on Wikipedia.  No one knows who made it or where.  Were they Celts or Norsemen or Thracians?  It is made of silver which may have come from France or Germany.  It is made of plates soldered together with lead from England.  The experts disagree on the meaning of the large human figures.  Were they gods and goddesses?  Some seem to be Celtic deities; others may be Greek.  On television a pair of small animals were identified as “pigs”; an expert on Wikipedia described them as “boars.”         

The Gundestrup Caldron is comes from a time which is totally beyond anything which I have experienced.  How difficult it is to know what really happened 200 years ago, much less 2,000 years ago!

The old ladies who live in the retirement home where I live do not watch PBS.  None of them have heard of the Gundestrup Caldron.  They could not care less about the prehistoric Celts.  They are totally ignorant of history before 1776, yet they are absolutely certain what it was like when Jesus was preaching on the shores of Galilee. .

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Politics and Religion

I like to talk to men. My favorite companions at lunch are Everett and John.  I do not flirt with them – I am too old, and I never was good at that. We talk about politics. 

Many women here at the retirement home where I live refuse to talk about politics or religion. 
We talk about our grandchildren or what we had for lunch.  Today we had a choice of fried shrimp or beef tacos.  Isn’t that fascinating? 

For endless hours we discuss the weather.  That also does not make for sparkling conversation.  After a balmy 70-degrees yesterday, a cold north wind dropped the temperature 40 degrees over night, and we needed to put on jackets to leave our apartments to go out for breakfast this morning.  That’s not something reported on the national news.  Now if it had been a blizzard such as the one that hit the East Coast last week . . . .  

Some of my neighbors talk about religion.  They are self-righteous, fundamentalist Christians who take it for granted that everyone should agree with them.   They pray for me.  They want to save my soul so that I can go to Heaven with them.  I appreciate their prayers; it shows they have concern for me.  But I don’t want to be saved.  Their Heaven sounds like an excruciatingly dull place to spend eternity.  

So at lunchtime I try to sit with either Everett or John and we talk about politics.  We have some lively discussions.  The men usually agree with me as we comment on events of the day.  Everett says he does not understand how workingmen can vote for Republicans, “the party of the rich folks.”  John jokes with me about “your friend Ted” because he knows I despise Ted Cruz. 

Perhaps Everett and John are more liberal in their ideas because neither grew up in Texas.  Everett is from Wichita, Kansas, and spent most of his adult career in Seattle, Washington.  John is from Chicago, Illinois.  They learned to think for themselves.

Texans are brain-washed from infancy in the “old time religion.”   They are conservative.  “If it was good enough for Grandpa it is good enough for me.”  They vote straight Republican. 

Just as they want to convert everyone to their religion, they want the government to reflect their narrow view of rights: no gun control but a ban on gay marriage.  As for abortion, they oppose it, and any other opinion is wrong.  They ignore the fact that desperate women do whatever must be done.  Before the Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to make decisions for herself, Texas was a place where women died from botched, illegal abortions.

The attitude of people here is: We know what is right, there is no need for discussion, so don’t talk about it.

No one questions that all their opinions might be wrong.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

In a Fog

I am old. It happened again this week.  I see something on television.  This reminds me of something I experienced years ago.  Then my thoughts take off.  One memory leads to another.  I sit in the recliner and let my mind drift though memories.  Suddenly I realize an hour has passed.  Dirty mugs are waiting in the sink and I have not looked at Facebook for three weeks.  

CNN showed Chicago and Philadelphia buried under snow.  I’ve lived in both places.  I was in the Chicago area during the big blizzard of . . . can’t remember the year . . . Streets in Chicago were not cleared until spring, while Mayor Blilandic honeymooned in the Bahamas.  That ended his political career. 

As for Philadelphia, storms brought snow which melted after a few days.  People who live in those East Coast cities are as ignorant of what Midwest winters are like as Texas Baptists are ignorant of the beauty and meaning of a Catholic mass. 

Meanwhile, Texans shivered when the temperature fell to 45 degrees.  The television screen went gray; the weatherman said that pictured the skyscrapers of downtown Dallas hidden by fog.  

That brought a whole series of different memories.

It happened more than 60 years ago.  Dr. Audrey Wiley, head of the English department of the college we attended, brought Marjorie and me to Dallas to attend a writers’ conference.  That night as we headed back to Denton, the World was wrapped in the same kind of fog that hit Dallas last week.  Dr. Wiley gripped the wheel of her little car as she strained to see the roadway.  She drove slowly around curves on the two-lane highway.  Her headlights reflected back from a wall of gray fog which completely enclosed us. 

Marjorie and I huddled in the backseat in terror, yet I kept my eyes open, looking over Dr. Wiley’s shoulder for the danger which might suddenly crash through the thick gray curtain in front of us.  It seemed impossible that we met no speeding car coming from the opposite direction.  Yet we saw no lights, not from other cars, not from the few houses along that road.  We were as alone as if the Rapture had carried off everyone else in the World.  After midnight the professor finally let us out at our dormitory, where a sleepy attendant let us into the brightly lighted hallway. 

How times have changed!  Today we drive from Dallas to Denton on a six-lane highway, I-35E, lined on either side with auto dealers and franchise restaurants which serve the communities which have obliterated the farms which used to provide bucolic vistas along the old highway.  Denton is now a suburb of Dallas. 

I-35E is a north-south highway which runs from Canada to Mexico.  It was not I-35E which had problems in last week’s fog.  Fort Worth connects to Dallas with three west-east expressways   A local six-lane highway runs through the northern suburbs.  I-20 is on the south, and I-30 goes from downtown to downtown and on across the state.  I live just a half mile north of I-30; that’s the highway I take to go to the Dallas Museum of Art.  Last week it was on I-30, just east of me, that fourteen big trucks and some cars jack knifed and piled up in the fog.  The highway was closed for two days while cranes and bulldozers cleared away the mess. .      

My thought was “Typical Texans!”    They elected Governor Ric Perry and Senator Ted Cruz.  How could anyone expect them to have enough sense to drive through heavy fog?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Joy of Living Alone

During dialysis I read the New Yorker.  This weekly magazine has lots of long articles which help to pass the three and a half hours that I am connected to the machine which pulls the blood out of my body and through a “dialyser” which cleans my blood before pumping it back into my arm. 

As I turn the pages – hard to do with my right hand while my left arm is strapped down – I pause to look at the cartoons.  In the midst of reading some serious stuff about Syria or politics, it is great to have something to laugh about.  

The January 5 issue has a cartoon titled “Living Alone.”   It pictures a man standing before the open door of a refrigerator and drinking milk straight out of the carton.  Below is the caption which reads “It’s just plain fun!”

I was reminded of this last week when I was alone after having visitors during the holidays.  It was wonderful having Richard and Karl here for Christmas.  My grandson Richard brought his cello (occupying its own seat beside him on the plane from Chicago).   He played a concert of Bach and Elgar for the old ladies who live in this retirement home.   It was a treat to spend Christmas with a grandchild for only the second time in 26 years.

It was also great to be with my son Karl for the first time in ten years.  He proved pleasantly cooperative about bedtime and meals, which he never did when he lived with me in my tiny house in Albuquerque.  He has a brusk, authoritative manner which annoys everyone.  This time he managed to spend a week without insulting any of my friends.  

Both bought stuff which I did not need or want.  Richard bought paper towels without looking under the sink, where I had five additional rolls.  With Karl it was cheesecake, when my cupboards already stored enough cookies to last me for two months.   After they left it took a week to distribute other unwanted food, wash sheets and towels, and get the apartment back in order. 

I realized how much I like living alone.  The joy of getting up in the middle of the night without worrying about disturbing someone else.  I do not drink milk out of cartons, but I do enjoy a nice cup of peppermint tea and watching reruns of Charlie Rose.  The walls are soundproof.  Also, my neighbors on either side, Everett and Herb, are both deaf and turn off their hearing aids when they go to bed. . They never hear my television blasting at 2 a.m. 

My husband John Durkalski was an easy man to live with.  He never did anything without asking me.  “I thought we might go to Europe in October.  Would you like to do that?”  He took wonderful care of me when I had breast cancer and was sick from chemo and radiation for most of 1990.  It seemed a little thing to sit beside him every afternoon watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball.  But I don’t think I have watched a single game since he died. 

Last week I went down the hall to visit my 92-year-old neighbor Vista.  She was watching television and turned it off when I sat down for a chat.  Vista was married to C. G. for 72 years (I cannot imagine being married to one man for that long.)  He took care of everything, paying all the bills and providing for someone to take care of her after he was gone.  When he died, Vista did not even know how to turn on the television. 

I said, “When my husband died, I got control of the remote.” 

Vista nodded agreement and laughed out loud..