Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Discoverers

Too exciting, so I'm sharing.

A small passage on the Portuguese:
"Among the most encouraged were the seamen of Portugal, who had an assignment from geography for their role in history.  On the westernmost edge of the Iberian peninsula, the nation attained its modern borders very early, in the mid-thirteenth century.  Portugal had no window on the Mediterranean - the "Sea-in-the-Midst-of-the-Land" - but was blessed by long navigable rivers and deep harbors opening oceanward.  Cities grew up on the shores of water that flowed into the Atlantic.  The Portuguese people, then, naturally faced outward, away from the classic centers of European civilization, westward toward the unfathomed ocean, and southward toward a continent that for Europeans was also unfathomed" (157).

[...] "The ability to come home again was essential if a people were to enrich, embellish, and enlighten themselves from far-off places.  In a later age this would be called feedback.  It was crucial to the discoverer, and helps explain why going to sea, why the opening of the oceans, would mark a grand epoch for humankind.  In one after another human enterprise, the act without the feedback was of little consequence.  The capacity to enjoy and profit from feedback was a prime human power.  Seafaring ventures, and even their one-way success, were themselves of small consequence and left little record in history.  Getting there was not enough. The internourishment of the peoples of the earth required the ability to get back, to return ot the voyaging source and transform the stay-at-homes by the commodities and the knowledge that the voyagers had found over there.  Fourth-century coins made in Carthage have been found in the Azores, and ancient Roman coins seem to have been left in Venezuela by vagrant wind-driven vessels.  Vikings from Norway and Iceland appear to have touched North America from time to time in the Middle Ages.  In 1291 the Vivaldi brothers from Genoa set out to round Africa by sea, but they disappeared.  It is possible, too, that in pre-Columian times a Chinese or Japanese junk may have been driven off course all the way to the shores of America.  But these acts and accidents that produced no feedback spoke only to the wind" (158).  

This book is filled with all kinds of fascinating discoveries, and only a small portion of the book is devoted to discoveries of land.  However, the sea-faring section is the one I just finished reading, so as illustrative passages you get the paragraphs above.  Interesting, though, huh?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Write?

I miss my friends from England.  It makes me appreciate how wonderful they always were to me. Thankfully, the blogging thing helps me stay in tune with some of their lives.  One good friend posted a very fitting quote on her blog today and I thought I would re-post it here.  I may try to find a permanent place for it on the sidebar, for this is how I feel about my own blogging and more private journaling.  It's a beautiful life, and I want to remember all of it.

"You [...] will have significant experiences. I hope that you will write them down and keep a record of them, that you will read them from time to time and refresh your memory of these meaningful and significant things.  Some of them may be funny. Some may be of significance only to you. Some of them may be sacred and quietly beautiful. Some may build one upon another until they represent a lifetime of special experience." 
 - President Gordon B. Hinckley  

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Week's Recap

Still avoiding the daunting coming-home make-up post.  In the meantime, this has been my life:

I happened to be in the hospital on the day my last term paper was due, so I was given an extra ten days to get it in.  When I came back to Arizona, I sat around all day in my pajamas, reading and writing all about Marc Chagall and the ways in which his art reflected and impacted Jewish-Christian relations.  It was a good paper, but my mark was lower than I had hoped.  Somehow I had reverted back to my humanities roots, and forgotten to stay close to my professor's history methodology...

Nonetheless, I am relieved to be finished and am facing my dissertation year with enthusiasm.  In the meantime, I have one chore:

Oh, the bane of my existence!  Poor Dave can attest to the fact that I despise job hunting.  I'm no good at it.  My resume is in shambles.  I list various summer jobs from odd years, floating between receptionist, office clerk and customer service positions.  In the middle of my employment history I have several years of Religion/Hebrew teaching and grading experience.  If I include the teaching on my resume, it is usually irrelevant experience.  If I don't, I have a two year gap between one summer job and the next.  If I was applying for a position as a Jewish-Christian liaison (yes, making it up), I could do so with some confidence, knowing my experience and training to be unique.  But how do I set myself apart as a receptionist, when there are hundreds of women who have the skills needed to be a perfectly wonderful smiling face behind a desk?  In fact, I don't speak Spanish, so if anything, I am a liability as a receptionist here in the Phoenix valley...

Perhaps none of that would matter too much if I was indiscriminately excited about every job opening listed.  But there is something about returning to a receptionist or customer service position that leaves my insides groaning.

I am working on correcting my attitude.  I need work so that I can start saving money for a kitchen table and set of sofas.  We are moving into our new, permanent apartment tomorrow and have only a bed and entertainment center for furniture.  Additionally, I will soon be receiving the bill for my second year of Cambridge study, even though I am here, not there. SOOO - positivity, here I come!  I have decided that I might as well walk into Kelly Services on Monday morning and hand them my resume.  That way I don't have to worry about impressing anyone.  First I get the job, and then I can start impressing.  I am a bright, diligent worker with a nice personality, so I usually manage to be a valuable employee once I am hired.  It's just the hiring part that's tough...

In the meantime, I putter around my grandparents' condo (where Dave and I are staying in our two-week lease interim) sleeping late, reading, learning how to intentionally shoot the moon against the computer in Hearts, getting my hair cut and swimming in the community pool.  Books of the week:

Dracula has been on my book list for a few years.  I started hearing good things about it from some of my Hebrew students, and it was an un-read on the classics list.  My verdict: Good enough story for a light read (though there are enough "deep" themes that one could dig deeper if desired) but fairly terrible writing.  The book is entirely written as letter or journal entries, which is interesting, yes, but poses some insurmountable narrative difficulties.  For example, the characters have extremely good memories, because (of narrative necessity) they remember every detail, including every word spoken in extensive dialogues.  Additionally, each character has the remarkable ability to describe (not to mention notice!) minute details about the physical appearance of people they just met, who barely walked into the room or were glimpsed on the opposite side of the street.  One of the characters has an accent, and that accent is dictated at great length in the letters and entries of the others, even though it is painful to read (and would undoubtedly be painful to write.  If I had been journaling, I would have just summarized!).  Stoker only minimally bothers to change the writing "voice" of each character, and every character has a strange penchant for writing down long descriptions of scenery.  I had heard that there were some interesting insights into human nature and was looking forward to that part of the novel, but I actually felt that the "good" characters were flat and that the human nature aspect was understated in the actual narrative.  On the other hand, Stoker did manage to create a troubling villain and an exciting hunt at the end.  I was glad to have read it, but think that there are many other books on the classics list more deserving of the label.

 I have been working on The Discoverers for almost a year now.  I have been reading a section or two here and there.  It's the kind of fabulous book that I can read and then put down again, unlike novels, which I generally have to read in one go (I read Dracula almost straight for a day and a half).  Now, with so much time on my hands, I have been able to devote good chunks of my day to it.  I LOVE this book.  It is filled with the most fascinating information that no one ever knew they didn't know.  It is about human discovery from the discovery of time to the discovery of human anatomy and bacteria, etc.  It talks about the evolution of the clock and the compass.  This week I've been reading about why the Portuguese became the great sea-faring power above every other European nation, and then it talks about why the Arabs and the Chinese failed to become "the great discoverers" of oceans and lands.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with an insatiable curiosity for knowing interesting things about our world and history.  Perhaps soon I will post some illustrative paragraphs.          

Monday, August 8, 2011

London with the Fam

Millennium Bridge

St. Paul's - not my hair!

Pret a Manger for lunch

British Museum


Wimbledon, a week after the tournament ended

The happiest moment of Tyler's life

Court 18

Herrods elevator

Cambridge with the Fam