Sunday, January 12, 2014

Old Music Sunday

It's Sunday, which in HannahLand is Mommy Daughter Culture Day, which originated about a month ago when I figured out how to pump and drive.  It's actually really easy - hands free bra with a car adapter if you don't have an electrical outlet in your car (the Cmax does).  Nursing cover if you don't want to put on a show.  Up until I figured that out, it was pretty hard to take long day trips with Hannahbear because how would I pump?  What would I do with her while I did pump, even if I did it in the car?  What would she do with herself for the 20 minutes I was pumping?  If we drove somewhere an hour and a half away, I'd need to pump soon after arriving, and what then?  Do it in the bathroom while she just sits in her car seat staring at me?

Yeah, pumping while driving has been a lifesaver for our mobility.

Now, most every Sunday we go out to museums and look at art, or other interesting stuff.  Hannah's become a fan of Picasso.  She likes the bright colors and strong lines.

Today we went to the California Science Center, and I've discovered that Hannah digs science. I wasn't sure how much she'd enjoy it, given that she couldn't play with the exhibits yet, but she officially loved it.  I had to carry her around the entire time, while pushing the stroller, because any time I put her down and she couldn't see, she screamed at me.  She enjoyed all the bright lights, and I think she liked watching the big kids play with things like building arches, or making vibrations.  I can't wait to go back with her when she's a little older and can interact with things.  So my kid might be a scientist.  Who knew?

Along the drive we listened to the new album by The Hilliard Ensemble, Il Cor Tristo.  The Hilliard Ensemble was started in the mid-70's, and their work is generally really scholarly and keeping to the original as much as possible.  They don't go in for a lot of hokey crowd-pleasers like some early music groups/a capella ensembles (who shall remain nameless) (yeah, I'm looking at you King's Singers)  (but I still love you.  It makes you accessible)  (like, to dimwitted teenagers like I was) (plus, you're all so cute).

Anyway, this album features Jacques Arcadelt (a prolific madrigal composer) and Bernardo Pisano (who, outside of being a composer, is notable because he was very unlucky politically - he was accused of being a spy for the papacy and tortured), both setting the poetry of Petrarch to music. Something that kind of blows my mind is that when this music was being composed, Petrarch was already close to 150 years old.  I tend to lump things together as "the past" and just think, "oh, it was all medieval" yada yada.  But Petrarch was already historical when these composers were setting his poetry to music.  That kind of blows my mind.

The album also features some Dante set by a contemporary composer, Roger Marsh.  The juxtaposition of the ancient music with contemporary works well.

Here's a clip of The Hilliards singing some Lassus, which is along the lines of what the new album sounds like.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Week in Books

There's been a lot in the news lately about the Russian research ship trapped in the ice in the Antarctic ice floes.  I find it interesting (depressing) that none of the news reports even mention Sir Ernest Shakelton, who, about 100 years ago, was trapped in Antarctic ice in the Weddell Sea with his crew for close to three years.  Their fascinating story is told in Endurance: Shakelton's Incredible Journey.

Shakelton wanted to be the first person to discover the South Pole.  Another explorer took that honor from him, and so he decided to do something even more daring - be the first person to cross the entire Antarctic continent.  He raised money, got a crew, made a boat (named the Endurance) and takes off the same year WWI starts.

They leave South America in November, and head off.  The plan was that another boat would go around the other side of the continent and head inland, leaving supplies for them, so that once they got halfway, there would be rations, etc., for the rest of the journey.  The boat is loaded with sled dogs, supplies, etc.

Not very long into it, they find themselves stuck in ice, in the Weddell Sea, the sea east of the peninsula that sticks up.  It's frustrating because they can see open ocean far up ahead, but they can't get to it because they're frozen.

They hang out on the boat for almost a year hoping for the ice to melt so they can be on their merry way, but then the ice starts to move and the pressure starts to crush the boat.  So off the boat they go, and make camp on the ice floes.  They're totally at the mercy of the winds and currents.  They try to cross the floes to land, but it's too hard.  The ice is too uneven, they wind up making only a mile or two per day, and they're hundreds of miles from land.  They take what supplies they can from the boat before it sinks, and they hope that the floe moves in the right direction.  Oh, and no one is going to rescue them because they have no radio, no way to send messages, and no one knows the exact route they were taking.

They stay in that camp for several months, and they realize that they need to get off and try to make for land.  They get stuck after only something like 20 miles, and so they make camp on another ice floe, where they're at for another several months.  Camping on the frozen open sea in the Antarctic.  Not particularly a good time.  They're cold, they're hungry, they're sick of seal meat, and they can't seem to get dry.

And then shit gets really bad.

Their floe starts melting, and they need to take to the life boats.  In the antarctic.  And not get swept out to sea.  And not starve to death.  And not freeze to death in their tiny boats where they get soaked regularly.

I won't say any more because I don't want to give the story away if you don't know it, but there are tons of documentaries on youtube if you're interested in knowing what happens next and don't want to read the book (though you should totally read the book).  I'm embedding part one of a good one below.  You can follow the links on youtube to the subsequent parts.  They had a photographer and movie camera with them, and a lot of the film survived, so we can get a good picture of what life was like for them.

I had a hard time having much sympathy for the Russian research ship after having just finished Shakelton's story.  They were tweeting while Shakelton's men were killing sea leopards with ice spears.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

On having a messed up pelvis

So my Hannah was five months old yesterday, and someone on my August mommies board started doing these chalk board things every month; now I'm copying.  That's my little stinker, who is now napping in her swing.  

Things are looking up for me with my PPD.  Being on less sugar is definitely making a difference.  I've also been exercising 6 times a week, and the endorphins are working for me.  And I started singing with the Claremont Chorale again this week after taking the fall term off, and I saw my magical osteopath friend Lori.  In addition to being an osteopath, Lori is a minister, and a "healer" in the ancient sense of the word.  So Lori asks me how I'm doing, and I respond that I'm dealing with some PPD, and she immediately pulls me into a separate room and starts poking around my butt, prodding and pushing.  "You had a hard labor," she says.  "Yep.  How can you tell?"  "Your butt is out of alignment, your pelvis isn't back in the right place, there's too much energy here with not enough room to get out."  


So Lori teaches me some stretches that I can do to release all this pelvic energy, or whatever it's called, and she says that's going to make a big difference in my depression.  Weird how that can work.  I didn't doubt it because I trust Lori completely, but then I googled "pelvic alignment post partum depression" and found some official articles that say basically the same thing that Lori said, but in more medical terms.   

There are also a bunch of PPD blogs that mention the pelvic pain.

Knowing that my depression might be linked to my pelvic issues, which I had during pregnancy too (getting dressed, rolling over in bed, getting out of the car, etc., were all very painful) I'm going to put off going on the happy meds for a little while and try these stretches and yoga poses that Lori taught me.  If it's related to my pelvis, then going on antidepressants isn't actually treating the problem in the first place.

I just need to get my husband's blessing on this experiment....

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Old Music Sunday

One of my favorite early music groups is Stile Antico, a polyphonic vocal ensemble founded in 2001.  They have a new album out, The Phoenix Rising, which is getting a lot of regular rotation on Spotify lately.  The first song on the album is Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus, which is one of the first pieces of Renaissance music that ever called to me, and is a big part of the reason why I love early music so much.

William Byrd was a composer living during Elizabethan England.  He was a Catholic composer, living under a Protestant Queen.  And it wasn't just that.  It was that for the past 50 years, England had been schizophrenic with regards to religion.  Henry VIII, Elizabeth's father, was awarded the title Defender of the Faith from the Pope for a treatise he wrote bashing Martin Luther, just a few years before he decided that the Pope was a waste of time, and he was going to take some of these new Protestant ideas to justify himself being the head of the Church in England and get himself a quickie divorce.  But Henry didn't completely embrace Protestantism.  He just wanted to be the head of the Church.  Protestants (heretics) were still regularly tortured and burned.

His son, Edward, was a child when he was crowned, and so relied heavily on his advisers, who were largely Protestant.  So England officially becomes Protestant, and the Catholics go underground.  The Protestants have a party, and there is much rejoicing (to quote Monty Python).

Then Edward dies.  Next up to bat comes Mary I.  Aka Bloody Mary.  Her mother was Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, who was a devout Catholic.  She's got a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas on behalf of her mother.  So guess who's not rejoicing anymore?  That's right, the Protestants.  They take the place of the Catholics, who had been underground, and go underground themselves.  Maybe they just swap houses.  Who knows.  Anyway, now the Catholics are doing the rejoicing.

Then, a few years later, Mary dies.  Oops.  Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter (the second wife, for whom Henry excommunicated himself in the first place), comes up to the plate.  Pretty much by this point she's just pissed off at religion in general.  She makes a big deal about not putting windows into men's souls, yada yada.  But guess who rises in her court?  The Protestants.  Guess who ain't so popular?  The Catholics.  Within a lifetime, a Catholic could have gone from being the only religion around (universal - catholic with a small c), to kinda hiding, to seriously hiding, to coming back out, and then having to go back into hiding.

So, that leads us to Byrd.

Byrd was a Catholic.  The Ave Verum Corpus is a Eucharistic hymn that translates to "Hail true Body" and starting in the middle ages was sung when the host was elevated (representing the true body of Christ descending to the bread).

A big debate in Renaissance England was whether the Communion bread actually seriously turned into Jesus, or whether it was representative.  People died because they believed that the bread really was Jesus.  Or wasn't.  Lots of people.  Burned.  Fire creeping up piles straw to where they were bound to a pole, and biting at their feet while smoke swirled around them, slowly scorching their skin until eventually the pain got to be too much to bear and they would mercifully pass out (unless they were lucky enough to have a friend who could provide them a little bit of gunpowder, so they would go faster).

Because they believed the bread turned into Jesus.  Or didn't.

So to write a piece about the True Body of Christ during this clusterf*ck of a period was taking a risk.  And it doesn't take a lot of imagination to hear the longing, the yearning, the prayer for humanity to chill out about what people believe one way or the other.

Take a listen: (This isn't Stile Antico - I think it's the Tallis Scholars)

Hear it?  This is more than a Eucharistic prayer.  This is more than the words - O sweet Jesus, O pious Jesus, O Jesus son of Mary, have mercy on me.  This is a prayer for Jesus to have mercy on all of us, for what we do to each other in His name.  It's just as relevant now as it was then.  It's the most longing musical prayer to God that I've ever heard, and even now, after listening to it for 20 years, it still speaks to me.

Now, back to Stile Antico.  They're awesome.  See their NPR Tiny Desk Concert below, which is also Byrd, but much more happy music.

If you're into this stuff, you can't go wrong with their albums.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Week in Books

I'm not much of a modern art scholar (or any kind of a modern art scholar at all), but I just finished Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo, and I am officially fascinated by the art world. It reads like a whodunnit, only you know the whole time who is doing what; the question is just whether they will get caught, and how. There are two fascinating threads - how the forger and con man did what they did; and how the people who finally caught them figured it out.

So John Myatt was an artist who specialized in making copies of famous works. His own art never really took off, so he made a business out of making fakes, like painting portraits in the style of a famous artist. John Drewe, a con man who would come up with one scheme after another, got wind of Myatt's work, and started commissioning pieces from him. He then started testing Myatt. Inviting home over for dinner and saying, "Don't tell my wife you painted that; she thinks it's an original." Seeing if Myatt would play along. Which he did, because he was making so much in commissions from Drew.

Now here's the fascinating part. Drewe ingratiated himself at some of the most prestigious museums in London, and used his charm (and some donations - money or "original" paintings) to get access to their archives, where he figured out ways of faking the provenance for his fakes - ie their history and authenticity. He would photocopy exhibition catalogs and then insert a fake into the new catalog, making it seem as if the fake had indeed been shown at a particular exhibition. He gained access to copies of receipts and certificates from art organizations and museums throughout London. Very few people suspected him. The paintings Myatt made were sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars around the world, with the fake provenances that Drewe made.

There were two people who were skeptical of him from the get go. One was an archivist at the Tate, who thought that his demeanor and requests were fishy, but her supervisors didn't do anything when she sounded the alarm, because he had just given £20,000 to the Tate, with a promise of fundraising for more. 

The other one was at the Giacometti Association in Paris, when they were asked by Sotheby's to authenticate one of the fakes, and could clearly see that it wasn't authentic. When they contacted the auction house to tell them it was a fake and needed to be pulled, Sotheby's said they weren't going to pull it because the provenance was so good.

The story of how the men were finally found out is a fascinating read, and I won't give it away here. Suffice it to say that it could be a nail-biting thriller of a movie, and I think someone like Matt Damon should get the film rights, if they haven't already.

In Sum: I loved this book.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year: Less Sugar

I subscribe to the digital edition of National Geographic, and was caught off guard a few months ago when, on a cover that usually features exotic places or animals, there was a giant cupcake. If National Geographic is covering it, there must truly be a national sugar epidemic. I ignored it at the time. I had just given birth, and getting back on track with my diet (after a pregnancy where Lucky Charms played a major role) was the last thing I wanted to do.

But I know I need to now. I've been dealing with post partum depression - PPD - (which is a monster, let me tell you) and when I went to the psych for meds, the first questions they asked me were whether I was eating a healthy diet (no), if I was sleeping (no), and if I was exercising (not as much as I'd like). So apparently my sugar addiction is mixing with my hormones and making me loopy. Great.

I'm nervous about taking psych meds, so the doctor advised that the first two things I could do myself to improve my mental health was make sure I was going for a walk every day, and cutting way back on my sugar intake. So now I'm back on a kind-of sugar fast.

And damn, does it suck.

According to the National Geographic article, here:, sugar tickles the same parts of my brain (and yours) that gets tickled by heroin and cocaine. And it's just as addictive. Yikes.

“It seems like every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar.” - Richard Johnson, a nephrologist at the University of Colorado Denver

So cutting back on sugar should help my joints, my headaches and my energy levels. But getting there - ahhhh, that's going to be the tough part. I tried to go cold turkey, but lasted about six hours. Now I'm making bargains with myself. I'm allowed sugar as part of coffee drinks, because right now the Peppermint Mocha Coffeemate creamer is my favorite thing in the world. But that's it. If I have sugar in that form, I'm not allowed any chocolate, for instance. I also am forbidding myself from putting any sugar in my tea.

If sugar is so bad for us, why do we crave it? The short answer is that an injection of sugar into the bloodstream stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain that respond to heroin and cocaine. All tasty foods do this to some extent—that’s why they’re tasty!—but sugar has a sharply pronounced effect. In this sense it is literally an addictive drug. - National Geographic August 2013

I'm on Day 2. I'm jittery and my headache is worse. I kind of feel a little dizzy, even though I've slept well (Hannah gave us a 6 hour stretch last night - bliss!). I really really, but really, REALLY want chocolate. But I am avoiding it. I'm staying strong. I think if I can get through the first week or so, it should get better. I've never quit an addiction like this before. I never smoked, I've never done drugs, I've never been into drinking. So this is my first time cutting out an addictive substance. And I'm really not enjoying it. But I see it as a necessary evil. Once I get over this hump, every day will get a little bit easier.

And if I can lose some weight and feel better soon, then it will be what I need to push me to continue.

Here's to a less sweet 2014. For me, and so Hannah can learn good habits, and not have to kick a sugar addiction herself when she's my age.