Saturday, January 31, 2009

Beauty Parlor Wisdom

In the city I get my hair cut in a hair salon. Up here, though, I go to a beauty parlor. I doubt they’d call it that, but there are important differences. In the beauty parlor, for example, no one wears black. Jeans are a favorite outfit, in fact. And the stations sport personal assemblages of family photos and other memorabilia. Not just one or two, either, but a great sprouting of them, almost a family tree of pictures, in fact. And finally, the prices are less than half. Not a small matter, these days.

The conversation in a hair salon tends to be one-on-one, your hair cutter and you. In the beauty parlor, conversation can involve everyone. This morning’s subject was cholesterol drugs.

Anyone who has looked up Lipitor or Crestor on the internet knows that horror stories abound. I always thought: well, you’re going to hear from the ones who are having trouble. You don’t hear from the millions who don’t have trouble.
In the salon, today, I had a somewhat different response.

There were approximately ten people in the room; three of them were having the active conversation. Each of the three, and one husband, had experienced very strange side effects from Lipitor as prescribed by their individual physicians. Severe joint and muscle pain for two; mental fogginess to the point of interfering with daily activities for the other two; all of this occurring rapidly after the medication was prescribed and not before.

The doctors in question seem to have difficulty believing that rapid physical deterioration in a patient after they have been prescribed a statin has anything much to do with the statin. They will, if asked, recommend a different statin, but that’s about it.

So, is the problem the patient's perception? A patient is prescribed a statin usually as a response to a high cholesterol count. This is a problem without symptoms, for the most part. Suddenly, following use of the drug for a time, problems arise, which the doctor often ascribes to “aging.” Blood tests are performed, and if there is no sign of a particular pernicious muscle wasting side effect, the doctor attributes the changes to “aging.”

But why would “aging” symptoms dramatically increase in a short amount of time after the drug is prescribed, when they weren’t present beforehand?

We are sure that statins lower cholesterol. They seem to decrease the incidence of stroke and heart attack. They seem to increase muscle weakness and joint and memory problems. Are we now placed in the position of naming our poison? And of doing so without candid or informed advice?

(The two charmers below, who were roaming around Treeland Garden Center this afternoon, don't have need of beauty parlors, do they?)

Friday, January 30, 2009

More odd things

I've been trying to get back into the routine of taking photographs, as an adjunct to daily life. Being in Houston for those weeks intervened, but yesterday I made a foray, first into the yard and then out onto the country roads.

The first image above is what they call, hereabouts, a "bottle tree." Self-explanatory, except for the obvious work putting it together.

The second image is what happened to the "Odd Round Thing" I blogged about months ago. It is not a black and white image. That's just the color of the ground here at present. We all decided it was a fungus.

The third image, if you look closely, involves a tiny frog among the leaves. He moved or I wouldn't have spotted him.

The last two are views from the roads I traveled: a nice barn and the tunnel formed by greenery along Mayer Cemetery Road. A little further along I saw Oso, our neighbor's white Lab disappearing companionably into the brush with his chocolate Lab lady friend from Trails West.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Framing Cards

I've found a neat frame for artists' cards, handpainted ones like PJ's, and I wanted to show a picture of it. They're in dark gray steel or shinier steel, and they're made in New York by Bedford Downing Glass. I got this one at Surroundings in Houston. I think they're great for the purpose, since you can see both sides.

You have to use a card of some kind to slip the card in and position it, but then, there you are.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday, Monday

While on Sunday I seem always to be thinking about politics, probably on account of the newspapers we read, Mondays are different. Fortunately. On Monday, we're propelled back into our weekly routine, hurtling forward to accomplish the items on our to-do list, lacking the time or inclination for mulling the fate of nations. It's a relief, frankly.

This Monday, here at Winedale, there is rain. Yep. That wet stuff falling on the tin roof. The air is misty with it. A woodpecker has just let out a long run of his medium-pitched clacking sound. On the road, a truck rolls slowly by, its tires slushing a little across the damp surface. Our road used to be a reddish gravel, but in the past few years the county has decided to top it with a caliche mixture, whitish, that splashes up on your car's backside in a very unpleasant way.

The country is relatively quiet in January, however. The restaurants are mostly empty. Tourists tend to stay home, which is a shame because the countryside offers some rewarding pleasures this time of year. The monochrome landscape is wonderfully subtle in its variations. With the understory knocked back, the skeleton of the land is more visible. Barns and houses appear where you've never noticed them before. And, no, they're not new construction, thank heaven.

And sometimes, driving along one of the roads, you will see surprising sights. These llamas are definitely not an indigenous animal, hereabouts.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Good or Bad

I've just finished reading John LeCarre's A Most Wanted Man, which I really enjoyed. At the same time, I've been re-reading Leon Hale's Bonney's Place. Two more different books would be hard to find. Yet...the subject matter is the same. Let me explain.

In the Le Carre thriller, the Muslim target is a public figure whose charitable contributions are said to be 95% "good" and only 5% "bad." The five percent relates to the money and goods siphoned off to fund terrorists. So the question becomes: is that five percent bad enough to cancel out the vast preponderance of good works? The Americans in this story think so. And so (spoiler alert) he's basically toast.

In Bonney's Place the question is whether a man who bilks an old man out of a considerable sum of money can possibly be anything other than "bad." This man also spotlights deer out of season, repeatedly cheats a pompous customer, slaughters the same customer's heifer and serves it to the poor people of his community, and performs other larcenies, here and there. At the same time, he takes in people who need help and performs many small acts of kindness in his community.

It seems to me that our society has entered a time where many of our citizens desperately want clarity between actions that may be called good, or bad. But instead we find ever larger situations where the actions encompass both polarities. I'm thinking of things like how to treat people suspected of terrorism when they are arrested; and how we respond to suspicions of terrorist activities. There is no clear and immediate answer, and we grope toward an understanding of the boundaries we cannot allow ourselves to cross.

Our new administration will be caught in the complexities of this process, but it may be able to handle them in a more satisfactory fashion than did its predecessor. Because of the value the president places on the pre-eminence of the rule of law, we have drawn a boundary for ourselves. That will help guide us, and possibly allow us to avoid the pitfalls of ideology.

Without law, there is no civilization. When we must deal with nations and tribes who reject common understandings of law, including their own religious law, and we respond by doing the same, we abandon all concepts of civilization. I suggest that this constitutes another boundary for us. If we must abandon our civilization in order to prevail against the enemy, what have we achieved in the victory?

Friday, January 23, 2009


Thanks to everyone for the nice comments on my previous entry. It's been pretty thick this week, so I've not had time to post. But we're on the road back to Winedale today which will definitely help.

Larry McMurtry gave a talk on Wednesday at Rice and my spies tell me he was very pessimistic on the future for reading. His focus, of course, is books. He defines himself first and foremost as a "bookman". His comments stimulated a spirited discussion in my writers group. He was talking about the publishing industry and the rare book area, where many rare book dealers have contacted him over the past several years asking him to take over their store of books.

What do you all think?

It should be noted, of course, that Larry has written about his own depression following open heart surgery. And his last talk at Rice in the early 80's was seriously pessimistic about writers over the age of 40. So we're not dealing with Pollyanna here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It was more than a color

Many years ago I was working in Washington, DC, and one of my roommates fixed me up with a blind date. The young man had attended St. Paul’s School and graduated from Harvard. He was tall and handsome, with a serious face and hazel eyes. And he was bi-racial. In fact, his skin was scarcely darker than mine.

We climbed into his sports car, and pulled away into Georgetown traffic. We talked while he drove. I don’t remember what we talked about. Neither do I remember where we were going. All I recall of the evening was that at one point we drove past the White House. It was blazing with light and I blurted out: “It certainly is white, isn’t it?”

This admittedly stupid remark made him very angry.

I’ve thought of this young man often as I watched Barack Obama over the past two years. He would be in his sixties, now, and I hope—and expect—that he has been successful. But it gives me great satisfaction to know that no young man or woman will ever again have to look at our beautiful White House and think that the color of its paint says something important about them and their future in our society.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Old Folks

We received a photo of this painting as a Christmas card this year from the artist, Bill E. Morgan. He’s got the postures so right that it really appealed to me. The location is, most likely, the village of Tremolat in the Dordogne region of France, where Mr. Morgan lives and paints for much of the year. The life and buildings of that village form the subject of his art, to the extent I am familiar with it.

My own grandmother, as well as her sister and brother, came from that general area of France and I’ve spent some time there myself. It seems to me that Mr. Morgan has precisely captured these people, who are individuals, yet also examples of their types—especially the women, who can be nothing other than French. He’s even got the shoes exactly right.

But what do we see when we look at them? I can remember what I would have thought a few years ago. I would have thought: oh, old folks. And that would have been that. I would have felt a distance along with a dismissal of any possible connection to me, ever.

How a few years changes things…

How old do you suppose they are? The women are clearly mobile, and two, at least, still have husbands. I met an elderly cousin when I was over there in the 90’s and she wore a similar cardigan and dress. She was in her late eighties.

What are they talking about? Is it the changes their small village has seen in the past decade and a half? Is it the fact that English is spoken as often as French in the village grocery?

My husband wrote a column about our visit to the village a few years ago, and sent it to the paper via email. The next morning our landlord told Hale that the mayor of the village had sent him a copy of the column. Seems the mayor checks Google every morning for references to Tremolat.

Those ladies have a surfeit of change to talk about. That’s clear. But they’re probably listening to a story of someone’s daughter’s husband’s brother who totally messed up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Not even a bite

Cold fronts keep rolling through Texas, so they reach all the way to Houston in a way they haven’t done for a number of years. People are pulling wooly sweaters and even overcoats out of their closets.

By four PM today, however, it had warmed into the sixties, so I took our B dog for her walk. On the street behind our building, a few houses down from the razed house I blogged about earlier, a woman keeps a lovely rose garden. Even this time of year, it has blossoms—souvenir de la malmaison, for one.

The woman who nurtures these roses was out in the garden, in the sunshine, and I wondered if she was preparing to prune them. It would have been early, of course. Pruning roses is done traditionally in our area in mid-February.

I spoke to her, and she called me over to show me something. She pointed to the pink rose, spread generously across one bed, and then to the arched trellis. “Cherry tomatoes,” she said.

The tomato bush was a good eight feet in width, and lush, even before it climbed the trellis. A few yellow blossoms peeked out from beneath the foliage. “Here,” she said, and she handed me a tiny golden tomato, no bigger than my thumbnail. “I’ve picked a lot of them today, and this is the last one,” she said.

There was an eggplant, too, although that plant—even bigger than the tomato—had been nipped by a freeze.

“How deep are these beds?” I asked.

“Oh, they’ve been there a long time and they keep sinking. Three feet deep, I guess.”

Maybe that’s the reason for the prolific vegetables. Or maybe it has to do with her fertilizer—a diet of banana peels, alfalfa and fish emulsion, covered with a nice deep mulch of pine needles.

Something to ponder.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time Travel

One of my repeating fantasies is that of returning to the past, where I can see and interact as the person I am now, with the people I was fond of then, most of them family. On Sunday, though, I got a taste of the experience, and it was strange.

I must be one of the few people in America today whose family never shot videotape of each other. Still photos, sure, but nothing that moved. So we don’t have those embarrassing videos of relatives and friends with bushy sideburns and strange hair, doing odd things. And we don’t have the precious ones of children we love, moving and talking as they did. (Oh, I’d give a lot for that to be otherwise.)

Well, on Sunday we went to the Menil Collection, where they're showing a film shot in 1973 by Francois de Menil, and edited more recently by his son, John. It documents the preparations for a major exhibition of the de Menils' collection of works by Max Ernst. For an hour we watched Dominique de Menil "hang" the show and get ready for the opening. The camera was in the style of just lurking around, focusing on the faces a great deal, as you’d do if you were there. That made it easy to pass through the plane of the screen into the scene.

So, in that fashion, we accompanied her and the artist to the pre-opening party and then to the opening of the exhibition, and all along we heard Dominique or Ernst making little comments, or arts patrons trying to converse, some of them a bit awkwardly, with this iconic master of 20th century art. Of course, on the periphery, the camera inadvertently captured glimpses of Houstonians I once knew, most of them--sad to say—now dead.

During the time of the film, I was pregnant with my son and married to a museum curator. So I knew a few of these patrons of what passed in Houston then as the artistic avant garde. And it was distinctly odd to have them appear suddenly, briefly, before me, the nuance of their faces displayed as it cannot be in memory.

Even more peculiar, though, is the way it feels today—as though on Sunday I actually spent time inside the large white room at Rice where the exhibition was held, a room I remember as much for its chalky emptiness, as for the art.

It seems as though I was there, as Maisie Marshall attempted to put Herr Ernst at ease, with a little graceful inclination of the head that I instantly recognized, but had forgotten. There were a number of others, too: Daphne Murray, looking surprisingly sad as the camera caught her behind Dominique; Elsa and Bob Kaim; David Adickes—the only one of the people I knew in the group who is still alive. And Dominique, herself, lovely in an elegant strapless gown (at sixty-seven) speaking to friends who milled about as people do at openings, and finally exiting the building, with her escort, Miles Glaser—an old friend of mine, as well—strolling diffidently in her wake.

As the images linger, fading slowly, it feels more like a dream I had than a documentary.

(This is the formerly full moon going to bed on Monday morning.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Made sunshine

Today presents us with a transcendence of grey. Our view is grey, grey variegated sky, grey buildings. Through a brilliance of initial concept (mine), the walls of our flat are also grey. The French birds, paint on board, with a painted frame, offer mere punctuation.

So, looking outward, I strive to perceive the details within neutrality, the soft cottony rolls of light and darker clouds, the multiple shades presented by the blocky buildings of Greenway Plaza and along the West Loop.

Inside, however, there are few variations to perceive. The spirit wavers, and then to lift itself, it goes for sunshine into a painting I've had for years. It's by a Canadian artist, Darryl Hughto, who no longer paints, I hear. But it's a fine surprise of Southwestern sun on a grey day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Well, we're definitely back in Houston, folks, and what is the most fitting symbol of that? A bulldozer.

So this morning we were greeted by the very thing, hard at work on the residence right under our western windows. It's the same roof that I blogged about awhile back, as a man removed its chimney brick by brick, while his lunch waited nearby.

Or was.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


We're back in Houston from the country for a bit. Packing and travelling yesterday is why I didn't post. And today, I've begun a massive organization project of the office and home files, so I never made it outside. Still, at sunset I noticed some unusual patterns in the southwestern sky so I photographed them from our balcony. The tall building is Williams Tower, formerly Transco Tower. The man responsible for building it lives in our building now.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I am continually surprised at the variation of pattern and texture I find as I drive around our area. Here are some of them:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Norther (revised)

Today we're back inside winter, once more. Blustery and dark, occasional bouts of rain. Much colder.

For warmth, I turn to the newspapers. When the house is chilled, my own blood begins to flow faster with the words of Frank Rich at the New York Times. (We have it online, here in the country.)

Well, as the Weaver of Grass said yesterday--one jolt of the news per day is more than enough. I'll turn instead toward this stealthy neighborhood hunter (click to see the eyes). Field mice, beware:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Spring in January

Today is so beautiful! Blue sky, breeze, seventy-five degrees!

One of the things visitors to central and southern Texas often don't realize is how beautiful it can be in winter. In between cold fronts (which don't last long, for that matter), you have soft breezes and days where you need neither heat nor air conditioning. That's the time to visit Houston in particular. Spectacular January.

I have the windows open right now and I can hear the birds chittering. They flit between feeders and trees, but their movement has lost the desperate energy it possessed only a couple of days ago. It's almost as if they believe it might actually be such an early spring.

We human inhabitants of this small parcel of real estate, however, know better. And we'll just enjoy it while it's here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dog Books

There is a phenomenon trotting across the landscape of publishing, and it is the dog-book. (I blogged about this in my first post in December on my other blog.) Possibly the reason for so many in one year is the phenomenal success of Marley and Me.

Whatever the cause, it has emboldened me to try short fiction from the point of view of a dog. This is an illuminating mind-meld. We all can immediately imagine the amount of interest a dog has in food or the pleasures of chasing prey. But what then?

Dogs sleep a lot, and they dream. What do they dream of?

If ever you really study a dog, you will see all sorts of expressions cross his or her face. I think anxiety of one kind or another is fairly frequent. Just think of it--here's this wonderful hunting machine, capable of high intelligence as it interacts with its world, an individual, adult creature, and now it exists at the whim of an owner. An owner it didn't ask for, but still manages somehow to love depite the owner's necessary failings.

The owner is leaving. Will she return? The day is growing dark. Will they remember to feed me? I am thirsty and the toilets are closed (or perhaps the dog hasn't learned the availability of the eternal spring). I am a creature that NEEDS to smell many things, and I am confined to a closed house or apartment for endless hours. When will they take me for a walk? Well, you get the drift.

Love is clearly one of those emotions a dog feels, though. We were at a neighbor's house on New Year's Eve and one of the dogs--who has visited us several times on his wanderings around the neighborhood--spent much of the evening lying at, and sometimes on, my feet. He likes me, and I have no idea why.

Has that ever happened to you?

I don't know whether a story will coalesce out of my imaginings, but the seven pages I've written so far are the first fiction I've felt like writing for a couple of months. So, viva!

Thursday, January 1, 2009