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Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

Botticelli's "Spring"*

Anyone who has read the canterbury tales (and who hasn’t read the canterbury tales!) knows that spring is the time for pilgrimages. After the April rains have washed away the droughts of March, “Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,” as Chaucer says in his infamous prologue. (“Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages” for those who care).

It’s been true at least since the middle ages and I think, to some degree, it’s true today. In the spring and into the summer, Rome and Florence (where I am now) come alive with modern pilgrims – folks who have traveled half-way across the world to pay their respect to  their own sacred places. Some come to see the Vatican: walking through the long halls of the museum was like being pushed along by a tsunami of tourists. Some come to see the churches, from St. Peter’s and the Duomo in Florence to the hundreds of less well known, but similarly stunning buildings across Italy. But today, I think, most people come to see the art.

It really is amazing how full of art these cities are. Michelangelo and Rafael, Brunelleschi and Botticelli, Titian and Giotto and so many more than I can name. There is something holy about seeing these objects that I have read about and dreamed of and heard described in literature and film. And there is something about spring – about the unfolding beauty outside – that gives these beautiful works of art particular force.  Chaucer describes it as the world and the spirit coming alive together in spring and I do feel like everything has been coming alive this week, both inside and out.

At the Uffizi Gallery on Saturday we spent a lot of time looking at the painting Primavera (spring) by Botticelli. (See above.) It depicts a version of spring that is full of romance and adventure: a blindfolded cupid, a seductive zephyrus, and the goddess Flora with vines literally pouring out of her mouth. Venus, standing in the middle, looks just like the Virgin Mary and it’s tempting to worship at the foot of this painting like you might say a prayer in a church. Some people go on pilgrimage to honor a particular saint or god. I like the idea of going on a springtime pilgrimage merely in order to honor the spring.

Of course, soon I’ll be starting a pilgrimage of an entirely different sort –  but more on that next week.

Weather: well it’s just about midnight here, but today was hot and sunny: close to 90s at its height.

Mood: 6 out of 10. Exhausted.

Anna – 7 out of 10.

*photo from wikicommons.

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Basilica Julia

Really Old Stuff in Rome

I’ve been thinking a lot about time these past few days.

I’ve had good reason. In the past week I have walked on stones that have been in place for thousands of years. I entered temples dedicated to pagan gods and I wandered through the ruins of palaces intended for emperors. I’ve even participated in rituals from another time or place. A few days ago I threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, build in the 1700s but inspired by Greek mythology. According to the story, it depicts Pegasus striking the rock that brought forth the fountain of the muses, from which water all poetic inspiration springs. And then yesterday, at the church of St. Peter, I was blessed with the holy water of the pope.

My brother, who spent the semester in Rome studying art history and classics, knows all of these stories. He has an intimate relationship with all of the Roman emperors (his favorite is Aurelius). He has a Roman god of preference (Sol Invictus) and he knows how to distinguish between Paul III and Pius XI, between Mark Antony and Marcus Aurelius. When he walks around the city, every single spot tells a story.

Because Rome is all new to me, I have a very different experience of time and space.  I don’t know this city’s stories yet, and so for the most part I am forced to make my own. My stories tend to be more based in the present: this is the giant column near where we got great pannacotta. This is the amazing church with the water fountain that sprayed me in the face. This is a giant head. (that’s all I’ve got for the giant head).

I love it when my brother tells me the “real” stories about popes and emperors. But for me, it’s the stories I create that bring the city to life.

Weather:
Warm and sunny. They say it will be in the 70’s today.

Mood:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Still a little sleepy today.
Anna: Wrong side of the Atlantic.  Still sleeping! [EDIT: Anna is now awake and working. Mood=5 because it won’t stop raining!]

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My decision making process: as represented by an engraving by Giovanni Battista Scultori, Italian, 1538.*

“You know, Hannah,” my friend David said to me once, “this may just be part of who you are.” David was referring to my tendency to fall into complete turmoil every time I am confronted with a major decision. I had just moved to my Somerville apartment after weeks of agonizing (Concord or Somerville? Central Square or Porter?) and I was disappointed that the decision had been so hard to make. I wanted my decisions to fall into numerical place, as if it really was just a matter of weighing pros and cons. Some people are capable of that. But, as David pointed out, it’s just not how my mind works.

My flight to Italy departs tomorrow night and this past week has been a plague of decision-making. There are tickets to buy, rooms to reserve, itineraries to arrange and re-arrange. Since I haven’t been working (I left Idea Platforms a week ago!), I have been faced with plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements. For better or worse. The truth is, I’ve been feeling a little bit crazy.

I’ve tried to keep David’s words in mind as I prepare to leave. My decision making process is ugly, but torturing myself over it just makes it worse. I’ve been trying, instead, to accept the chaos as part of the process. And to remember that as difficult as it seems now, it’s going to be worth it just as soon as I step on the plane. After all, the next time I post, I will be in Rome!

Weather: Chilly. Fifties and cloudy with a chance of rain.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 1o on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Actually I’m feeling a little too overwhelmed to quantify.
Anna: 6.5.

*art from the met!

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it's summertime!

This is the time of year when things start to change.

One day, there’s frost on the ground, ice in the streams, and dirty piles of snow melting at the edge of the parking lots. The next day, it’s seventy degrees and the sun is shining and, more miraculously, the dead trees that line the streets suddenly start to look like something out of the lorax.

This is the time of year when things start to change. Remember being in school? This is what the air smelled like in the afternoons in the weeks before summer vacation started. It is the smell of Fun Day, and final exams, and those neon ice pops that squirted out of their plastic casings.

When we become adults, the world tells us to suppress the instinct for change as best we can and soldier on as if the year were not dynamic, and cyclical. Fortunately, Anna and I are doing no such thing. Anna is moving with the IPI office to a new, shinier and substantially hipper space. There will be no more racing to catch the train, and no more reverse-commute into the suburbs. It’s an exciting time.

As for me, I’m about to embark on a more long-distance venture. In two weeks I will be departing Somerville for a week in Rome – and if all goes as planned, I don’t expect to return until August. But never fear! I’ll be tracking my emotional calendar from abroad, and filling you in whenever I find myself within internet access.

How are you embracing your desire for change this year?

Weather: Sunny and warm.

Moods:
Hannah: 8 out of 10 on the ‘can’t get out of bed’ to ‘jumping to joy’ scale. I just ate a really great ice cream cone. With sprinkles.
Anna: 8 out of 10.

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Green soup? It must be spring!**

Today is the fourth full day of Passover and I am happy to say that I am not weak with hunger yet. At the wonderful Tuesday-night seder that I went to this year, my former roommate reminisced about how last year I was totally grouchy and impossible to get along with for an entire week. I think she’s forgiven me by now.

This year I’ve protected myself from such severe moodiness mostly by bending the rules of passover considerably. Once you cut out leavened bread (pasta, rice, cookies) and legumes (peanuts, beans, soy) from my vegetarian diet, there’s hardly anything substantial left. After years of starvation I’ve decided that, given that the ancient Egyptians were able to supplement their diet with lamb, I feel comfortable eating the occasional lentil. And I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the bible about peanut butter.

My current interpretation of the laws of passover is simple: no bread, and no corn. I like this definition because in practical terms, it means I have to cut out all the processed and pre-made foods from my diet. Bread is my most common pre-packaged indulgence, and corn (corn oil and corn syrup) is basically ubiquitous. Keeping kosher means I have to go back to basics, and prepare my meals myself.

I don’t fast for passover because I want to be hungry. (I save that for Yom Kippur). I fast for Passover because it’s a way of bringing a new kind of awareness to my life. The Emotional Calendar says that awareness is one of the keys to maintaining emotional stability, but it’s easy to forget about when you’re caught up in major life changes or a heavy work load. I like passover because it imposes awareness and brings me back in touch with myself. That’s a lesson I try to hold on to all year.

I also like Passover because it makes me get creative about my meals. Last Wednesday I took the evening off to try out a new soup that I found in my Moosewood cookbook. It’s super easy, it’s delicious, it’s healthy, and it’s kosher for passover. Doesn’t get much better than that.

My slightly modified version is below. I’m writing it from memory, so you’ll have to forgive me if I miss a vital ingredient or essential step. One thing to keep in mind: it’s better if you let it rest at least an hour before serving. Even better if you make it a day in advance.

Curried Zucchini Soup

olive oil
2 cups diced onions (1.5 onions)
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
3 tsp curry powder
2.5 cups water
5 cups zucchini (5 small supermarket zucchini)
2 cups potatoes (2-3 medium sized)
1 cup plain yogurt
1.5 tsp salt + pepper to taste
fresh cilantro to taste, chopped.
1. Dice the onions and saute them in olive oil over medium-low heat in the bottom of a soup pot until translucent. About 10 minutes.
2. While the onions are cooking, slice the zucchini in half and then chop into semi-circles. Also chop the potatoes. Set aside.
3. If necessary, peel and chop the garlic (or you can put it through a garlic press).
4. When the onions are done,  add the ginger, garlic, and curry powder. Cook for another minute.
5. Add the water, zucchini, and potatoes. Cover and let simmer until soft. I forget how long this takes – 20 minutes? Add salt and pepper.
6.  Remove from heat and add the yogurt and cilantro. Allow to cool until it won’t hurt you anymore.
7. Blend in batches in the blender until it’s a consistency that you like.
8. Refrigerate. This soup gets better after sitting for at least an hour. I made it a day in advance. You can eat it cold or hot, with a dollop of yogurt in the middle, and matzah on the side.

Weather:
57 degrees and sunny now, but ridiculously cold last night.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I’m happy for the weekend.
Anna: 7 out of 10.

**I don’t know who to give photo credit to but I got it on a diabetes website. I should really get my own camera.

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Me as a teenager

Me as a teenager, probably attempting a physics problem.

When I was a teenager I was completely obsessed with the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was published by MTV press and featured its own early ’90s mix-tape. As a matter of fact, I was so obsessed that in the early days of Napster, before it occurred to me that what I was doing might be illegal, I went ahead and made my own version of Charlie’s mix-cd.

All of the songs on that mix-cd hold a special place in my heart, a place they share with angst-ridden poems about open windows and dustbins and heartbreak, things I understood much better then than I do now. One song in particular has always been able to lift my spirits. It’s U2’s MLK, and it goes:

Sleep, sleep tonight, and let your dreams be realized
If the thundercloud passes rain, so let it rain, rain on him.

Of course, in my teenage mind I changed that line to “rain on me,” and during The Summer of the Perks of being a Wallflower Mix CD I would listen to that song every time it rained. To this day, warm, rainy weather like the kind we’re having right now reminds me of lazy teenage summers in my hometown, listening to U2 on my discman and walking in the rain. And it reminds me of the vague hopes that accompanied being in high school, when my dreams were far too ephemeral to ever be realized.

Or if U2’s not for you, you can always listen to Bob Dylan instead.

[we’ve come  a long way since Napster. you’ll have to follow the link to hear the song.]

Weather:
60 degrees and misty.

Moods:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Excited to go running in the rain later.
Anna: In Utah! Where it’s 45 degrees with a chance of snow later in the day. [Edit: Anna says she’s a 7 – beautiful mountain views.]

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New England's Ambrosia**

Every year Maine celebrates a holiday known as Maple Syrup Sunday. In 2008, this holiday happened to fall just one week after I moved to Wiscassett. I celebrated by visiting a local farm, where we toured a syrup barn filled with the heady aroma of maple syrup steam. Then we poured outside to enjoy maple syrup ice cream sundaes and soak up the late March sun.

To clarify: maple syrup is nothing like Aunt Jemimah’s. If you have the misfortune of living anywhere other than New England, you may not be aware of the difference between this sacred syrup and its $2 substitute. As someone who grew up tapping maple trees (my parents have been tapping a red maple for the past fifteen years) I can tell you that there is no comparison.

Maple syrup is made from the sweet sap of a maple tree, which runs only six weeks out of the year, from mid-February to late March. (The season is that weird transition period when the days are above freezing and the nights are below.) You tap the tree by drilling a hole and inserting a metal “tap”: the sap drips out into a bucket or, in my parents’ case, a rube-goldberg contraption involving long pieces of rubber tubing and empty milk jugs. If you’re tapping a sugar maple tree, it may take 30 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup – in my family’s case, my dad estimates that the ratio is more like 40:1.

To make the syrup you put the sap in a giant pot over heat and boil the heck out of it. As the water boils off, the sugar becomes increasingly concentrated. The more concentrated the sugar, the higher the boiling point and the hotter the syrup gets. When it reaches 219 degrees fahrenheit, its ready. If it goes above that, it burns and you ruin the whole batch.

That’s one reason why maple syrup is sacred. But the real reason is the taste. That’s why this year I invited some friends out of the city to celebrate our own version of Maple Syrup Day. The subtle flavor of my family’s syrup is like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else. Poured over waffles, with fresh fruit on the side, it’s divine.

For me, tree tapping is one of the only reasons to tolerate February. And that first taste of maple syrup straight off the spoon is an early sign of spring.

Weather: 47 degrees and sunny.

Moods:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Still defrosting.
Anna: A stoic 6.5

**Photo take from the gluten free for good blog, which is actually a lovely blog, although my personal leanings are towards gluten. Lots of it.

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You wouldn’t know it was spring by peering out the window today. After warm temperatures and sweater weather, it feels like February yet again. But despite the snow, today marks the first day of spring. I’ll take it!

A few posts ago, Hannah mentioned my recent blogging block. Sometime around the beginning of March, I just couldn’t get excited about self-analysis. I tried. I really did. For example:

What about March personally resonates with me?
Nothing, other than vague (tame) memories of spring break.

Are there weather events or cultural milestones that impact my emotional calendar this month?
Huh? Ummm. No.

Who likes self-reflection when winter refuses to gracefully exit?
Is that rhetorical?

With that attitude, I have a feeling the crocuses bloomed several days before I looked around long enough to notice them this Saturday. Hannah, at least, says she first saw them last week.

For today, they’ll be buried under a thin layer of slushy snow. I’m hopeful that I’ll spot them again soon, and this time as soon as they emerge—not five days after. And then I’ll marvel (again) at how quickly things change.

Weather: Snow.

Moods:

Anna –5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. No sun, no fun.

Hannah – 6 out of 10. She had a nice weekend.

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Something to look forward to.**

“It’s not spring yet.”

That’s what I wrote in response to an e-mail from an overenthusiastic mycologist acquaintance, whose message included photographs of young mushrooms that, he insisted, were signs of better weather to come.

That’s also why, despite numerous efforts to write here last week, I just couldn’t seem to produce a post. “I have nothing else to say about the seasons,” Anna told me last Monday and I knew just what she meant. It feels like it’s been winter forever and I’m burnt out on seasonal embrace. We should all just stay inside.

This past week, however, I did experience two important personal milestones on my emotional calendar. Despite the above statement, I’ve actually been running outside (giant piles of snow permitting) on and off all winter. Usually I wear a carefully constructed synthetic outfit that keeps me dry, warm, and aerodynamic. But one day last week, I realized with something like bemusement that it was actually warm enough to run in shorts.

I’m so good at layering that it’s possible I hadn’t felt fresh air on my skin since last October. Running down the Somerville streets last week with my knees exposed was, quite possibly, the most liberating experience I’ve had in months. There’s a song that’s been on the radio lately which goes, “Your winter is a prison.” Last week, I felt at least temporarily as if I had broken free.

And then on Saturday, walking outside my grandma’s apartment, I saw my first crocuses! It’s true that flowers come earlier to New York than they do to Boston. But, my flower discovery led to a revelation: it turns out that the spring equinox is only a week away.

Maybe there is something to write about after all.

Weather: a balmy 38 degrees and sunny.

Moods:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping  for joy” scale. Not happy about daylight saving.

Anna: last time I checked, 7 out of ten. Now she’s in minnesota, where it’s probably about 10 degrees outside and snowing.

**Image Credit to Patty Hankins **

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