Thursday, July 13, 2017

Anticipating stuff

Me, embracing the chaotic
I don’t like to expect things. If you don’t go about anticipating wonderful things, you don’t get disappointed when they don’t actually happen.  If you accept that the world is inherently chaotic and slipshod, you can just shrug and say something fatalistic in the face of disaster and get on with the work of trying to fix stuff, which is one’s purpose in the world, or at least mine.

But today I am foolishly anticipating and hoping air conditioning will come to my little house in the hills next Tuesday. My fingers are crossed. Inside, I am wriggling like a happy puppy.

If we take "happy puppy" in a metaphoric sense.

Right now, in Real Life  — (the whole Real Life thing is much over-rated,) — it is still early morning, but the temperature in the house is edging up toward 90°. The relative humidity is that of two feet under the surface of the swimming pool at the Y.

Me, being warm

privileged cat
My cat is as unhappy as it is possible for a well-fed, well-brushed, pampered cat to be, which is to say pretty durned sullenly displeased, like Queen Victoria when some battle in the Sudan is not going well.

My dog (I gotta say my dog  is very similar to me in temperament, except she is unfailingly brave and honest and also regularly tries to disembowel the UPS man, none of which three character traits I share) — endures, looking more and more unhappy as the summer progresses.

My computer simply refuses to work at 90°. Wise computer.

The nice people at the plumbing company have promised me air conditioning — (Why, you will ask is the plumbing company involved in this. I can only reply, “Small town.” This is a comment of wide applicability.) — for the last six weeks or so. 

In roughly 117 hours and six minutes the nice men from plumbing will show up in their white truck; the cat will vanish to some alternate Scandinavian dimension under the IKEA couch; the dog will abase herself adoring before the workmen as is her custom; and I will drink tea and try to make intelligent comments; the workmen save the stupidest of these to delight one another in the truck going home.

At some point, Tuesday? Wednesday? Thursday? one of these nice men will flip a switch and I will be cool. And dehumidified. My cat, dog, self and computer will be sooo happy.

Anyhow, that’s what I’m anticipating.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Bread pic 1WLA_lacma_Clara_Peeters_still_lifeThey call bread the staff of life, using staff in the sense of “a long stick used as a support when walking or climbing or as a weapon”, which is to say, metaphorically, since even the most warlike among us seldom take up baguettes and plunge into battle. What we mean when we talk about bread this way is that it supports us and keeps us alive.
This was true all through the historical period in which I interest myself – the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Bread provided most of the calories of the average person’s diet. Maybe 60%. (This was in the days when most folks were trying to scrape together enough calories to keep themselves alive, not trying to avoid them.) Beer – bread’s funtime cousin – contributed another 20% of calories. That’s 80 % of what folks lived on. Bread and beer were fueling the European working man.
Table bread
click on this for a closer look

They didn’t necessarily know they were getting their protein from bread, because getting protein in the diet does not seem to have been a high priority, as per this handy table which may be taken as more or less representative.
From this you will see that your average bloke in 1750 Strasbourg (this was a table easy to find if not totally relevant to 1800 London, but I’m talking Big Picture here) was spending 20% of his income on beer and getting only a teensy bit of his yearly protein. Put another way, the fellow was spending as much on beer as on soap, linen, candles, lamp oil, and fuel combined. He doubtless found this worthwhile.
Bread pic 2 czanneBread was almost sacred. The custom I’ve seen of making a cross on a loaf of bread before slicing it would have been widespread a century or two back. In church, bread was the body of Christ and a sacrament. You didn’t mess around with bread.
Beer didn’t have quite that cachet, but it was still pretty cool.
Bread 2
click on this for a closer look

Bread was cheap protein too. Lookit this nifty comparison of the cost of protein in silver. Bread and beans were king. Half the price of meat when it came to providing protein.

I admit I’m surprised to see the relative expense of eggs as a source of protein. We think of eggs as cheap protein nowadays.
Cheese which is so expensive on that chart I keep thinking it must be some kinda typo. When we think of a farm wife as in charge of the eggs and cheese economy of the house, this certainly implies she was running a profitable little business of her own.

More hot rolls
typical bread chez jo

But there it is, laid out in very general terms. Up to modern times European folks were bread and bean eaters. We’ve left this behind in a lot of ways. Bread is no longer the center of people’s diets. (Though I remember my father always wanted to have bread on the table, even if it was cornbread, often as not.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Small Town Fourths

I am surrounded by small town Fourths of July ... (Fourth of Julys?) By parades, fireworks, heat and holiday America.

In my closest little town, along with the taco trucks and BBQ, we got jello-mold-and-potato-chip family picnics. We got gatherings of convivial folding canvas chairs with drink holders, the drink holders being occupied by beer cans or red plastic cups of Mountain Dew.

The police force is out, crisscrossing the crowd in an earnest way. Midsized kids run around yelling. Every once in a while, in the middle distance, somebody sets off a firecracker.

There are flags. Flags on street poles of the parade route. People carrying flags. People wearing them. Flags on cars.

The other nearby town, next town over, used to be a whistle stop on the railway. It is become somewhat a suburb for the closest tiny city. Here, twenties and thirties folks sit in the same canvas chairs. There are fewer kids in the crowd, all of them dressed in natural fibers. Dogs wearing red kerchiefs round the neck, meet and greet friends from the dog park and are decorous.

Folks take out fresh peaches and sandwiches made with whole meal bread and thermoses of kombucha. Some of the men doff their shirts to bask in the sun. 

I don’t watch the fireworks in either town. At dark I go out to my back porch and sit on one of my Adirondack chairs – made of the finest plastic – and look down the valley where folks are putting on their own fireworks displays.

In the past these have been small affairs. I can see – oh – a dozen of them. Little, bright shows that must be set off in some farmer’s field.  They’ll let off twenty or so, and then further up the valley somebody else will take it up.
I imagine everybody knows who’s doing what. I like to think of the teenage boy of the family running out to light a fuse and getting out of the way fast.
“That’ll show ‘em,” Mom says in satisfaction. “A retrocentral flower spray. Better than the Joneses had last year.”
“Yup,” says Dad.

This year, right below me, something rather more was going on. Big complex fireworks. Professional stuff. It probably lasted close to an hour. And I could hear a crowd ooohing and aaahing.

I’ll have to ask at the Post Office who put that one on.