Monday, May 31, 2010

Another Old Movie

The last three weeks have confirmed me as a loyal fan, visitor and supporter of the local library. I go about every other day for either books, movies, music or WI-FI. I can also look forward to author talks, which are scheduled at times, though I’m not sure how often. I was browsing in the movie DVDs the other day and picked up a movie I had never seen nor heard about. It’s an old movie, made in 1999 by HBO, and called, A Lesson Before Dying. At least three of the actors are well-known: Don Cheadle, Mehki Phifer and Cicely Tyson. The movie is based on a novel by Ernest J. Gaines which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In Louisiana in 1948, a young black man gets dragged by friends into a store holdup. Everything goes straight to hell, and the young man is the only one of four to come out alive, but soon sentenced by the town’s white leaders to die in the electric chair. The defense attorney in trying to save the man, Jefferson from death, and in arguing the case equates the black man to a hog that knows no better.

Jefferson, as well as his old grandmother are brutalized by these words, and in weeks to come, he begins to almost believe that terrible equation made in a court of law. Losing at last his dignity he faces death. The school teacher for the black children in town (Don Cheadle) is chosen to spend the last days with Jefferson, reaffirming the young man’s humanity and self-respect.

The novel, as well as the movie (teleplay) are about a horrible injustice orchestrated by the white leaders of that time. To be black in Louisiana in 1948 and to get caught with three dead people, one of them a white storeowner, well the result was preordained and certainly tragic. One reviewer on IMBd saw it this way: ‘a great american movie. typical american justice system. typical american mentality, typical american prejudice, typical american ignorance. typical american emotions. this is the all american movie of the year.’

Production design is particularly authentic, and the local settings, the right-on accents typical of that area, the clothes, all of that top notch. The actors are one by one achingly believable and you almost forget they are thespians recalling lines memorized beforehand. In my opinion, both book and movie should be required study for all modern schoolchildren. It’s that rich in value morally and historically.

The TV movie went right past me in 1999, but my television set was probably off. Despite the passing of years the story has not lost a grain of its relevance.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Changing Voices

Most of the time, one is content to read books start to finish over the course of a few days; finish one book, let it settle for a spell, then start something new. Nothing unusual about that. On the other hand, there are weeks when I’m not quite so straight-lined about reading, and graze on two or three books alternately—an afternoon visit with one book, a bedtime read with another. Surprisingly, there are no twinges of impatience in this manner of reading, and the shift from one title to the next comes easily enough, with no confusion of characters or plot. Thought I would give a brief sample of three books under my eye this week, each one exceptional in its way.

The Practical Heart by Allen Gurganus

A quartet of novellas, I’ve only so far gotten through three-quarters of the title story, and because of that my perspective is incomplete and my comments limited. The writing is frequently luminous, but I’ve had that same feeling about other books by this North Carolina writer. The first of the novellas revolves around a Scottish immigrant to Chicago in the late 1800s who dreams of having her portrait painted by John Singer Sargent. Her desire to be seen as worthy of the reigning master gives wing to her solid practicality, and her imagination produces events that may or may not be true. Here is a snippet describing what perhaps the narrator saw in the painter’s gaze…

‘And the slight pressure of her pianist’s hand caused the petals of the lowest peony to drop, with half a humid sigh, around her tense white forefinger and thumb on which all weight now pivoted. The chin was lifted, accidentally displaying the long pale neck that her crippled mother had mercilessly and often described as, “along with Muriel’s hands, her one distinguished feature.”’

The prose of Allan gurganus is very special, very singular. If nothing else, the next time you’re at your bookstore or local library, give a look to his prizewinning 1989 novel, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.

Love From the Depths by Tomihiro Hoshino

Writing about another of Hoshino’s books in this blog a few days ago rekindled my interest in his unusual life story. I first read Love From the Depths in 1994. The writer’s whole life has been about heart and spirit, and he records it in a simple style that scores a direct hit on the reader’s heart. The words in the extract below describe his fear and despair during the early weeks after his crippling injury at the age of 24.

‘I could not hold back the tears. Around my bed, doctors stood watching me. I did not want them to see such a pitiful-looking face; but the tears continued to flow like water from a broken dam. When I could not take it any longer, I tried to wipe my face with my hand. But where was my hand? I could not even turn my head to hide my tears, and a little round lamp over my face illuminated them mercilessly.’

If you want a look at human drama Japanese style, but universal in its pain and celebration, then search this book out.

Going Native by Stephen Wright

I’m not beyond the first twenty-five pages in this film noire road story down a dark and violent highway. The Village Voice quote on my copy’s cover says: “Wright broadcasts an English as electrically intoxicating as a mescaline Slurpee…” Yeah, I’d say so. Sharp, slightly abrasive sentences that quickly snag onto your interest about where the character is heading. Here are the opening lines…

‘Rho is at the kitchen sink, peeling furiously away at a carrot when she draws her first blood of the day, and, of course, it’s nonmetaphoric, and her own. A sudden blossoming of color in the drab plot of one ordinary afternoon. She watches herself spilling out across a trembling forefinger as if in a hurry to be gone, a hollow red staccato in the brushed-steel bucket of her sink. For a time she is simply a wide pair of mesmerized eyes, lost in the facts of the moment and strangely, no longer present to herself. But the spell breaks, the cut is plunged into the aerated stream of her Puraflo faucet, the finger wrapped in a floral blue paper towel. The show’s over.’

This 1994 book is something a friend passed on to me. I stuck it in the bookshelves until the other night. Glad now I pulled it out.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Something in the Air

Today brought the hastily arranged delivery of those things I shipped from Japan last April 20. A late email dinged my attention yesterday, informing me the freight had arrived in Atlanta, and was ready for delivery. Both the Atlanta office of Yamato Transport and the Tokyo office impress me as quick, efficient and friendly. I told them any time would suit me for meeting the truck, and the next email alerted me that the boxes would arrive at my address at twelve noon today. Hey, no problemo. Up early as usual, sipping coffee, reading a book, ring goes the phone. The driver for Yamato tells me he is waiting out front in the parking lot. 7:30 a.m.

Some will recall my stories of packing all the boxes for shipment to Florida. The Yamato truck left my Tokyo apartment at 11:00 a.m. on April 20 with all the boxes, a stack of paintings and the old country table from Yamanashi.

The driver and I unloaded the truck (my choice to help) and got it all stashed inside the condo with relative ease. Good workout. The driver was barely gone before I had started cutting tape and pulling out all my at-home things from life in Kugayama. What a joy that was (and will be) to see the old and favorite pieces of this and that. Some old bowls from pre-war Japan, half a shopping cart of ink, paper, blank Noble Note Life notebook-journals, fountain pens, pocket knives, a stack of LPs—Japanese popular music of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, and much more.

I can’t fully describe the feeling all these things have brought to these rooms by the ocean far from Japan. The change was gradual at the time I was unpacking and putting away. First there was a stack of dry, dusty and lifeless boxes. Little by little, as more things found their way to shelf, table or bookcase, the atmosphere, the air inside seemed regenerated. Soon, I heard the toaster whispering to the skillet, “All this Japanese wabi-sabi stuff…Feels a little like the teahouse of the August moon, doesn’t it?” But I will hear no complaints. To me it feels like the touch of a security blanket. The technicolor got re-charged. Twelve bottles of Iroshizuku elixir for the Sailors and Pelikans, the Montblanc, Lamys and Pilot Custom 823 to wiggle their nibs over. (The happiness is not just mine, you see.)

This has been a fun day, and with plenty left to unpack tomorrow. Hope all the excitement doesn’t fizzle the light bulbs.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blue Button

Summer was always Florida time during the last eleven years in Japan. Fortunate enough to have six weeks free in July and August, New Smyrna Beach was my longed for holiday retreat. Now, since the first of May my tag has changed from visitor to resident. Don’t ask me why, but the new ‘residential’ perspective on things is a little different. One of the differences is a sharper eye for the many creatures large and small living in this climate, this environment. Discovered numbers of these “blue button” jellyfish-lookalikes today.

I noticed wide patches of these half-dollar sized Hydrozoa washed up on the beach this morning. At first, they looked like rusted bottle caps sitting in small pools of blue-green ink. That is the appearance of the hydroids, which resemble filament-thin tentacles. Looking closely at one, poking at it, flipping it over, I figured them for a kind of jellyfish.

Porpita porpita is not one animal, but an entire colony of hydroids, classed as Hydrozoan and related to the jellyfish and corals. It lives on the surface of the sea, at the mercy of wind and tide currents. Though small, the numerous branchlets of its hydra-tentacles each end in a knob of stinging cells. Stinging cells they may be, but the science book says they do not sting, though touching them can cause skin irritation. Because of its size it is easy prey for many other kinds of sea life. Drifting passively, it feeds on both living and dead organisms it comes in contact with. It has a single mouth which is used for both the intake of nutrients and the expulsion of wastes.

I also noticed on the beach this morning, two turtle nests freshly roped off by the turtle rangers stationed up the beach. These two may be the first nests of the egg laying season. First I’ve seen anyway.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thorn Flower

Reading today from something I want to share. The book is one I bought in Japan nine or ten years ago, one recommended by my sister, who also spent a few years in old Nihon. It’s called, Road of the Tinkling Bell: Paintings, Poems and Essays, created and written by Tomihiro Hoshino.

Tomihiro Hoshino is a Japanese man from Gunma Prefecture (near Tokyo) who suffered a near fatal gymnastics accident as a young man, and since that time has been unable to move his arms and legs. He learned during nine years in the hospital how to write and paint holding a brush in his mouth. Mr Hoshino’s simple and uncomplicated work is pure and beautiful, a view of life and its small, common rewards through the pen and the eyes of an extraordinary poet-artist.

Here are his words about a thorn flower.

Both flowers and thorns

emerge from the same point

By and by the flowers drop off

but the thorns remain

It’s like me

In my heart

I too feel a thorn

The book is page after page of wonderful paintings, exquisite stories.

In a later book by Mr Hoshino he tells the incredible story of his life, and in that book, too, includes many of his poems. A poem from his book, Love From the Depths


My immature pen

Could never capture one-thousandth

Of the beauty of this flower

But I want to keep it in my heart

Along with the affection of “N” who

Labored to raise it

Cut it

And brought it to me

I want it to bloom forever within me

Both books mentioned are available, but might be a bit pricey, especially the second one. If you get the chance, do read or look at anything from Tomihiro Hoshino, an extraordinary man.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer House

Imagine a summer house, a summer house oceanside.

Driving around New Smyrna Beach, taking random turns through first-time neighborhoods, having a look at residential areas off the oceanfront, the car rounded a curve revealing the house in the photos here. The surprise may have caused me to commit a traffic violation, but not a soul was around and I parked for a few minutes to admire the house.

Just a guess, but the house appeared to be unoccupied at the time. Maybe a weekend retreat, or summer house. Don’t know. What you can’t see in the photos is the view looking out from the front yard, with its geometry of stepping stones. The property faces the Intercoastal Waterway which separates New Smyrna Beach and other communities from the mainland and includes a dock for boats.

I have no details, but something makes me think the home belongs to an architect. Maybe a story I heard.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pool Sheriff

If nothing else, the experience of living in Japan taught me the value of remaining as much as possible non-confrontational in social situations. You quickly learn that the Japanese are people who avoid confrontation at all costs, and when you do encounter it, it’s a rare sight. Most of the time, during my years in Japan, it was more often I who stepped over the line and ‘confronted’ someone about a problem. I like to think that little by little I learned that a less aggressive approach works best. Hopefully I brought some of that understanding back to Florida with me.

Yesterday during one of my pelican watches, I sat on the stairs leading down to the beach, noticing from time to time a group of people playing on the beach. It didn't occur to me that they were guests of someone in the building, but then two of them broke away heading for the stairs I was sitting on. In time, all eleven members of the group began a slow drift toward me and the stairs leading up to the pool, straggling and lagging in groups of two or three. I realized then that they were very likely strangers having a look around.

It occurred to me that some of my neighbors might expect me to rise up and confront these visitors, reminding them it was private property for the use of residents and their guests. That is the rule around here, determined by people who determine things. At one time I might have acted, but this time put aside that thought and kept my mouth shut. You know, like in, “Mind your business, buddy.”

Our eleven temporary guests ranged in age from seven to about twenty-seven. Their purpose was simple: “It’s Sunday afternoon at the beach and let’s have fun.” From a distance I saw them infringe on one rule after another, but each one extremely hard for teenagers to respect. No diving! Oh, really? Take that float out of the pool! Really? Actually it was a quiet time and their good time antics didn't appear to be inconveniencing others. I heard today that one of the owners had advised them to find another place to swim. Apparently no ill-feelings about that, as they all picked up and returned to the beach.

Perhaps an optimistic view of such situations is the healthier approach. Perhaps recognizing the need for rules, but then not allowing oneself to get bent out of shape when those rules are tested, especially if the occasion seems harmless and unthreatening. In the above kind of situation, most of those who wander up from the beach and take a splash in the pool are not people who instill fear or alarm. I’ve never witnessed any dangerous or scary situations in the years I’ve been coming here. And so, no, I won’t act as sheriff in the management of uninvited guests.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blood, Dirt & Sunlight

Received the order from yesterday, the Exacompta journal and the J. Herbin Rouge Hematite. After opening the box I put ink and journal on the table to look at throughout the day. The Herbin ink is a magnificent presentation and the box is an example of smart and classy antique design, lovely to look at and admire. But the Exacompta journal has its charms as well and doesn’t hide in the ink’s shadow. The leatherette cover is a striking red orange described as mandarin. While the first day may have been for just looking, today was hands on.

They call it Rouge Hematite. The first part presents no problem, but the hematite part is a little deeper. Hematite is a mineral which can be red brown, and is important in iron. It gives the ink that rusty terracotta look, sort of like a mix of blood, red earth and sunshine, and reminds one of Cormac McCarthy’s landscape in Blood Meridian. Let me get right to it and say that the color of this new ink is a stroke of genius by the J. Herbin ink blenders. The Rouge Hematite is a knockout, and joins with pen and paper to produce near perfection.

For testing the ink I settled on a Sailor Naginata, with a 21k M nib. I rarely have any doubts about this pen and knew it would serve well with the new Herbin red. For paper, I naturally chose the Exacompta journal with its Clairefontaine paper. This was my very first experience with Clairefontaine, and I'm happy about finally trying this top quality paper. The Sailor, the Herbin and the Clairefontaine interact well together. I wanted to try the ink out over several continuous pages, so I opened the Faber-Castell journal and wrote two full pages, front and back. It was there that the Rouge Hematite showed its full potential. Beautiful shading. I didn’t really test the ink for drying time, but the impression was favorable. I’m certain this ink will become one of my regular inks, and I’d have been smart to order two bottles.

But then I’m glad I didn’t order two bottles because I would rather wait for the bottle make-over, due in June according to Quo Vadis. First of all, the sealing wax looks great, but it quickly loses its luster when it begins crumbling around the mouth of the bottle’s very small opening. And what was the thought behind choosing the cheap, easily damaged aluminum top? I was immediately reminded of the cap used by soft drink makers. As I said, the presentation is good, but once you get into the box, it’s all downhill until your pen touches the ink. Hopefully, you won’t get sealing wax in the ink, and hopefully your fountain pen is slim enough to fit down into the bottle.

Overall, my opinion echoes the wording on the box enclosure, ‘…it will bring majesty to your writing.’ Rouge Hematite is five-star ink, little doubt of that.

As for the Exacompta journal, I will wait a while before making too many comments, On the surface, I love the mandarin color, but wish the journal were a little larger. The Clairefontaine paper is good. But it wouldn’t be fair of me to say more at a time when I’ve only written one small page in the journal.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Missing Doutor

Forgot where I was today, and for a moment was on my way to a coffee shop no longer within reach. A month ago it had been my habit for a long time to spend an hour or so each day in a cozy shop not far from home in Kugayama, Tokyo. A favorite table up and away from the tobacco smoke, an almost attic, full of sunlight, green plants and quiet space, where I sipped coffee, read or worked on first or later drafts, where I felt sort of cloistered and at peace. I forgot for just a second this afternoon and told myself I was going for coffee and to look over a new book at Doutor in front of Kugayama Station.

I don’t mind Starbucks, and was even in one today, but it isn’t really a first choice. A different kind of place attracts me, one with a little less decor and less inflated prices. My regular for a long time was Doutor Coffee. There are probably more Doutor shops in Tokyo than Starbucks, and that’s saying something, because Starbucks has a huge presence in most sizable cities of Japan. Tea is the traditional drink, but Japanese also like their coffee, and there’s no shortage of places to get it.

The absence of a local coffee shop is something I’m now learning to live with. Oh, sure, I could drive up the street and have coffee in a diner, or chain bakery, but merely a place that serves coffee is not the point. I want a place that offers a quiet corner with good light and the invitation to sit for awhile over coffee, book or conversation. I want a place where I know before going in that coffee and sandwiches are good, and the staff friendly, but unobtrusive. Basically, I want a regular place not far from home that offers the all-around comfort I enjoyed at Doutor.

Times are, when working away from home, away from the iMac and the books at hand, that the work gets a boost and the pages come fast. Nothing in, or at hand but pen and paper and the flow unencumbered. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to achieve that in Starbucks. What I have to do now is hunt down that un-Starbucks type of small coffee shop, hidden somewhere along a sandy backstreet, or maybe over the five and dime.


A curious news flash from London…

A British woman has suddenly started speaking with a Chinese accent after suffering a severe migraine. Sarah Colwill believes she has FOREIGN ACCENT SYNDROME, which has caused her distinctive West Country drawl to be replaced with a Chinese twang, even though she has never set foot in China. The 35 year-old from Plymouth, southwest England is now undergoing speech therapy following an acute form of migraine last month that left her with a form of brain damage. There are thought to be only a couple of dozen sufferers of foreign accent syndrome around the world.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Things That Please

The pace of my days is generally slow and allows time to sit around pondering on things. But it isn't all day dreaming, since there is some discipline involved, since a peaceful life-at-the-beach routine can gradually lull one into lethargy both physical and mental, and “monkey mind” wandering make thoughts wasteful and unproductive. I try to guard against that to a certain degree. On many days I sit in one of my favorite aeries watching the wheels go round, thinking on this and that, and today it came to me after a while that I have gotten uncommon pleasure, large and small from a variety of sources in my new post-Japan setting.

Here are some things that please…

• The sight of a trash-car working its way down an already clean stretch of beach

• The large extended family now vacationing at the beach, people who glow with sunlight, happiness and family-ness, and who I amiably observe each day

• Flights of pelicans

• The friendliness of every employee at Publix supermarket

• A nearby public library, a very good library

• Orange Bank of Florida in Lake Mary and it world’s best VP

• Summer squash, a favorite vegetable I did without for many years

• Tamaki-san, a Japanese woman working at CVS Pharmacy

• Successful management of the book buying budget (The pen & ink buying budget needs some attention, however.)

• Being close to best friends

Friday, May 21, 2010

This & That

Yesterday I complained about an empty writing desk, one without the usual supplies that make it a warm and comfortable place to sit and ponder and scribble. Well, today the mailman delivered four issues of the Japanese magazine, Stationery Hobby Box, ten fountain pens and forty-one bottles of ink—a sampling of further things to come.

Steve McQueen was the reigning superstar of my younger years, and I can remember in clear detail the day in 1980 when I heard of his death. I also remember watching him in the TV western, Wanted: Dead or Alive. The other day, at the library I checked out a DVD of the 1972 movie, Jr. Bonner, and as if by plan was browsing in the library today and found a biography of McQueen. Sort of a cheesy book, but what people like to call a “page-turner.” Steve McQueen, King of Cool: Tales of a Lurid Life by Darwin Porter.

An interesting bit of trivia from The Writer’s Almanac—The story of blue jeans began about 500 years ago in the port city of Genoa, Italy, where a special thick cloth was used to make pants for fishermen and sailors in the Genoese navy. Our term “blue Jeans” comes from a bastardization of the French bleu de Genes, or “blue of Genoa.” (Levi Strauss didn’t begin making blue jeans until 1873.)

Reading another book now, an action thriller in the Lee Child-Jack Reacher vein. This one by Stephen Hunter is I think, the ninth in his Swagger series—Bob Lee Swagger, lawman, soldier, sniper, patriot and hard-as-nails American hero. The book is called I, Sniper and is about a new state of the art sniper rifle that never misses the target, and is called, you guessed it, iSniper. My take on this one is, Hunter fails to balance story tension with reader’s patience in this one. Find myself mumbling, hurry up already.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Empty Writing Desk

Haven’t posted anything about pens or ink in the past few weeks. Couple of reasons for that. For the time being I am getting by with a minimum of pens and ink, little to play with, and little to talk about. I can’t write about what I don’t have. It should be another two or three weeks before my boxes arrive from Tokyo. In spite of that I do have a desire to write again soon about what this blog really started out with—pens, ink and paper.

For the moment, the best I can do is report that I’ve ordered some ink and paper from writersbloc, taking a hint from Julie at Whatever. I meant to order some Clairefontaine Triomphe stationery, but that got lost in my hunger for journal and ink. For a long time I’ve wanted to try one of the Exacompta Club Leatherette journals. At the same time, I’ve had my eye on the J. Herbin Anniversary Ink, Rouge Hematite. I ordered both journal and ink from writersbloc and look forward to taking that Rouge Hematite for a whirl in a Pelikan fountain pen on the pages of an Exacompta journal. I’ll write about that soon.

Don’t miss the very interesting bits of information about the Rouge Hematite at Quo Vadis; two short but outstanding posts here and here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Plague of Lovebugs

Picture this. Here’s a guy driving along in his car on a beautiful day in May. He’s enjoying it all. The fine temperature, the pleasant scenery and the smooth operation of his clean, new car. Everything is good. Until the second or third splat of bug juice on the windshield. On the just washed and shined grillwork, and then on the whole car.

May is the lovebug season in Florida, and the air is thick with swarms and blankets of the randy little devils, drunk on love and bumping into everything. Plecia nearctica: lovebug, March fly, the honeymoon fly, something I would sooner call the fly in the ointment. But these soft little creatures are virtually harmless, and do more good to the earth than many of their brethren. That said…

The month of May here means getting out the scrub brush and car cleaner, because that’s when the honeymoon flies appear by the hundreds of thousands. They are quickly attracted to white, so sometimes swarm over white walls and surfaces. Squint your eyes and cock your head and it looks Hollywood biblical. But for many, it’s driving during lovebug season that rubs hard.

Maybe I’m sensitive because the car is new, because I’m not yet accustomed to driving everywhere, to ‘having’ a car and taking care of it, like I always took care of my carry-all bag in Tokyo, which is maybe a very odd comparison. So, I wash and rub this new car of mine, making the almost candy-apple red coat sparkle, I’m guessing this interest and care are related to newness and will fade in time. Meanwhile, I battle the lovebug plague falling like black snow on my once shiny chariot.

Someone may tell you that lovebugs in their splat-state will corrode the finish on a car. That was once true, but carmakers have improved the technology in paint and finish to prevent lovebug corrosion. But it’s still very true that the spatters should be washed off within a couple of hours. If not, you’re going to need slightly more elbow grease.

Believe it or not…Last Friday I washed the car in the morning and later took off for a drive into town. I had to stop twice to wash a thick film of technicolor bug slush off the windshield. At the Toyota dealer later, looking after a small problem, I asked them to wash the car after the job was done. It was diamond bright when I left there. When I got home I had to wash the car again.

‘Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour…’ — KING JAMES BIBLE, ECCLESIASTES 10:1 — And so we have the expression, ‘a fly in the ointment.’

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Magical Fish

Rain has colored the day in these parts, starting early and continuing through the afternoon. I was two miles south on the beach when it started and dripping wet by the time I got home.

Reading to my new friend Angela this morning, she stopped me to ask if I had the Bible, and would I read the part about Tobias. I asked what book he figured in, but Angela didn’t know, so I looked through the front pages of The New English Bible with Apocrypha and found the book of Tobit third among the fifteen books of the Apocrypha. As it turns out, Tobias was the son of Tobit. Unfamiliar pages for me and a wonderful example of the Old Testament type of didactic storytelling. Full of metaphor and classic plot lines, The New English Bible translation tells a beautiful tale.

Tobit is righteous man living his life in obedience to God and doing good for others in all ways. Though he is an exiled Israelite living in the city of Nineveh, over the years of being there he has grown rich and attracted favor in the King's eye. Business has led Tobit to deposit a part of his wealth with another man in the eastern region of Media. Circumstances change, a new king comes to power and finding himself in disfavor, Tobit must go into hiding. Misfortune follows, one upon another and the years pass.

One night he sleeps beside a wall in his courtyard unaware of the sparrows nesting in the wall above him. During his sleep the sparrow droppings fall into his eyes and Tobit awakes to find himself blind. He prays long and hard over his accumulated misery, and God hearing his prayers sends the angel Raphael to cure Tobit of his blindness and other troubles.

Still blind, but full of hope in God’s care and protection, Tobit calls for his son Tobias and instructs him to prepare for a journey to Media. The son is to go and reclaim the money deposited there many years before. It is then that the angel Raphael appears to father and son as a fellow Israelite, offering to guide Tobias on his journey to Media.

And so the two, angel and son, set off for Media. In time, they stop to rest by the banks of the Tigris River and while Tobias bathes his feet in the water, a huge fish leaps from the water and tries to swallow the boy’s foot. The angel shouts, “Seize the fish and hold fast!” Tobias wrestles the huge fish onto land and Raphael directs him to cut the fish open and remove the gallbladder, heart and liver. The parts are preserved and the two continue on their way.

They receive great welcome in Media, and not only is the old business associate happy to return the money held over the years, but he also gives his beautiful daughter to Tobias in marriage. But the boy is warned that seven times the girl has married and seven times the bridegroom died. Raphael reassures Tobias, telling him the demon will flee the girl when he places the heart and liver of the great fish on the incense burner. And so it happens.

Returning to Nineveh with his bride and the ten talents of redeemed silver, Tobias greets his father and right away spreads the gall of that same fish onto his father’s eyes. The blindness falls away from his eyes, as do all of Tobit’s former miseries. They live many years in the happiness of God’s blessing, Tobit until the age of 112, and Tobias 117 years.

I learned later, after we stopped reading that Angela’s son is named Tobias, that being the reason she suddenly wanted to hear the story told in the Apocrypha.

Monday, May 17, 2010


One of my favorite books of some year past is Rohinton Mistry’s epic novel of Bombay, during India’s state of emergency in the mid 1970s, A Fine Balance. I read the book shortly after it came out in 1995, but as I sometimes do with special books, I reread this one over the past week. I won’t say much about the book now, other than to recommend it, and to share a favorite paragraph near the end of the book’s 600 pages…

‘As he spoke, he absently pulled out a fountain pen, unscrewed the cap, and put the nib to his nose. She watched, perplexed, as each nostril in turn was pressed shut and the ink fragrance inhaled deeply. Fortified by his fix of Royal Blue, he continued…’

• • • • • • • •

About the only exercise I stick with these days is walking. While in Japan I had the long, almost endless walking path along the blossom strewn Kanda River, which I took frequent advantage of. Now in Florida and on the beach, I have another superb walking environment just outside my door. There isn’t a lot I can call established or routine about my days here now, but one regime apart from the daily blog post is a three-mile early morning walk on the beach. Somehow, I hold onto that discipline doggedly and never falter in covering my daily distance on the clean white sands of NSB.

There aren’t a great many people on the beach when I go out for a walk, but most of the nine or ten I pass are like me, getting in their own time of exercise. The sounds around me, the surf, winds and birdcalls are as much a part of the experience as the movement of feet and legs. Everyone is different, and some people I pass are walking to the beat of an iPod, or following the distracted cadence of a cell phone conversation. I tried the iPod walk once, but didn’t care for the wall it put up between me and the natural setting. And I do walk with a cell phone in my pocket, just in case, but it would be a rare instance for a phone call to shatter the sanctity of those three miles walking south, feet skirting the surf.

I am trying to learn the names of the common birds, and already know a few of them, like the ever present oystercatchers and white ibis. Earlier pages in the blog have explained my fascination with brown pelicans.

My denuded Japanese iPhone still has a few useful functions, and one of them is a pedometer, which keeps a history of distance walked, time, steps and calories burned. It now tells me I’ve walked thirty-seven miles of white sand since the first outing twelve days ago.

I’m looking forward to the late weeks of summer when there is a chance of encountering newly hatched sea turtles scrambling for the waterline. The giant turtles will soon be arriving all along this stretch of protected coastline to deposit their eggs in nests far up from the surf. The nesting area is a twenty mile stretch of beach, and around 150,000 pounds of eggs are laid each year. It’s always a perilous dash for the baby turtles, and nature very often turns against many. In summers past I’ve ‘rescued’ hatchlings found unmoving at the water’s edge, keeping them safe until the turtle specialists picked them up. I am told they hold them for a few weeks until they grow stronger and can be dropped off at a favorable site twenty-five miles offshore. Hard to imagine when holding a turtle hatchling in the palm of your hand that one day it will grow to be the size of an 800 pound boulder.

About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America