Happy Defenestration Day!

What should I cook to celebrate?

On this date in 1618, a meeting of the Bohemian Estates (their representative body, and largely Protestant) in Prague, responded to envoys from the Catholic Hapsburg,s who were their rulers, by throwing two of them out the window. Even though it was a 20 meter drop (70 feet or so), they survived; some say it was divine intervention, Some say it was a very deep dung pile; maybe both or neither. They did much better than the seven thrown out the window in the first defenestration of Prague by rebellious Hussites on the 30th of July 1419: they all perished.

This event marks the beginning of the 30 Years War, a brutal religious conflict that laid huge portions of Central Europe to waste, resulted in seven and a half-isa million deaths, famine, and set back the development of German and Central European culture a century or more.
It did however produce Descartes’ Meditations, so I guess things even out.

An Apology.

It has been a while.

The Bistro has still not reopened. I have been catering, roofing, painting, landscaping, and anything else I can. Percy has gone to visit relatives back home in the Falklands for their winter. Anno is ghostwriting, editing and translating on-line, where nobody knows you are a mouse. Wode Toad has disappeared.

We are still considering vagabonding across Europe in a horse-drawn Food-truck/Gypsy-caravan. We’ll keep you posted.

Twelfth Night

I have been musing lately upon Umbra Mai Fu, the larghetto short aria which begins George Frideric Handel’s opera Serse.

I actually do things like that.
Only Dr Bear.

It is a beautiful piece, although the opera is rather goofy, and was not particularly successful. It premiered on the 15th of April, 1738, in London, with the castrati Caffarelli (Gaetano Majorano) singing the title role. Today, it might be performed by a counter-tenor (Andreas Scholl’s performance is quite good); however, since there are only two dozen or so good counter-tenors out there, it is often performed by a mezzo-soprano.

Papyrus_topsy_turvy_worldThe twelfth and last night of Christmas is celebrated as epiphany, or as the Feast of the Magi in many countries, but in England, it retains one of the characteristics of the Roman festival Saturnalia, that of turning the social order on its head. Twelfth Night is often marked by amateur theatrics, as well as professional ones, which are “Topsy-Turvy;” traditional roles of master and servant, and of man and woman, are reversed.

This is a beautiful song. It is a song of longing for home and peace.
It is a love song to a tree, written for a castrated man, sung by a woman pretending to be a man, who is a Persian king, although the words are in Italian, and the music is composed by a German composer, who lived in London.

Times and places fade away; gender roles and national identities will always be in flux, but beauty–beauty remains.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.


Abby the Spoon Lady

I have no remarkable dexterity–in fact, a history of nerve and other damage to my left arm has left me with little dexterity at all.
I have no remarkable skills–nothing much to show for the last chunk of century.
I have no remarkable musical talent–a good ear and a passable voice that can follow the ear.

I do recognize musical talent, and there is a whole lot of it around me here–maybe there is a lot of music everywhere, maybe all around us, and we should drink our full of it every second.
I do recognize beauty, and Abby the Spoon Lady combines dexterity, skill and music in a way I have never seen before; each time I see her, I sit on the sidewalk amazed, fascinated, unable to tear my eyes from the dancing, flying spoons.
Then, she will always look over at me and grin a knowing grin.

This one just makes me want to ride the rails.



Let us now praise Loud-Mouthed Broads!

The interns and I were talking about Plato’s dialogue Charmides in the afternoon during prep, and then on through tea (apparently, some of them don’t appreciate muffins that leave a warm after burn on your tongue. I, however, thought they went perfectly with today’s post).

Here is my paraphrase of the first part dialogue (Plato’s, not the interns):

Socrates is chatting up Charmides, a handsome, athletic, sweet-natured young man with good manners and a great personality. Charmides is known for having all the virtues a young man should have, especially temperance, so Socrates asks him to explain what that is.

Dr. Bear - Eyes(Editor’s note: the Greek word here is σωφροσύνης, pronounced soph-ro-sun-ace, and involves self-control. We could translate it prudence, but temperance–in the sense of tempering one’s desires and passions–works best, even though I have rarely heard that word used that way since the beginning of the 20th century.)

The young man says it’s like being quiet, or not being too fast.
Socrates points out in how many situations being quiet or slow is actually bad– in Statue_of_a_kouros_Getty_Villa_Collection)classes, the quiet and slow students are not the best, with musicians, the quiet hesitant ones aren’t the best, those who can play loud and fast are generally the best. Do you want your memory to be slow and quiet? Your wit? Your ability to solve problems? No–swift and active.
I might add how many times I haven’t been informed of something until it was too late because somebody was quiet or slow. (“Oh, sorry. I meant to tell you that burner was on.” “You know, there is a tool we got in last week that would have made that easier.” “Didn’t somebody tell you we don’t have to save those anymore?”)

The poor young man says maybe it’s like modesty or meekness.
This won’t do: Homer says that meekness is of no value to the man in need, after all, if you are modest and meek, you won’t be able to speak up for yourself, which would be bad, and certainly a virtue like temperance would be good and not bad?
wode looking rightPersonally, I only value modesty for people who have much to be modest about.
As Wode Toad says: “Modesty is the opiate of the mediocre.”

The young man suggests he heard somebody say it was minding your own business.
Well, says Socrates, if everybody just minded their own business, the plumber would never come to your house, that would be meddling, physicians wouldn’t concern themselves with your body, but would only mind their own, folks couldn’t cook for others, or make clothes for others–it sounds like a pretty chaotic community, doesn’t it?
I might quote Marley: “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again
“Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Now, what struck me this time through the story, was how familiar the youth Charmides’ account of this virtue was. Not that young men today are prone to temperance, but it sounds like a Madeleine_au_miroir,_Georges_de_la_Tourcertain model of what might be called “feminine virtues,” or “acting like a lady,” or “biblical womanhood,” or some other cheap brand name. Be Quiet. Be modest. Mind your own business.
Even girls who don’t have any of these things overtly said to them, have the practices of being feminine–or, by contrast, not being seen as a pushy broad, or a bitch, a tomboy, or (gasp!) a lesbian–conditioned into them. Don’t be too loud, don’t run and jerk around so, will you sit still?, stop putting yourself out there, let others talk first, don’t be so demanding, don’t be so proud, mind your own business–all of these are part of being nice, and we all want to be nice, don’t we?
I keep expecting one year to have a woman in my classes who is not aware of these expectations, especially since I get a lot of athletes, but all of them are aware of them, and of how often they have failed to live up to them.
Boys get the nice stuff a little, but women of all ages are taught to wear it like a heavy flak-jacket.


In an age of speed and communication, why do we want to tell half the population they should be slow and quiet? Why would we want to tell young people to be quiet? How much do we lose by that?Klimt_-_Pallas_Athene

In an age of loud voices, why are we telling so many bright, insightful voices they should be meek and modest? If they cannot speak up for themselves, who will? Even more, if things need to be said, they should be said, even if they are critical–especially if they are critical and we don’t want to hear them; that makes any culture stronger.

Commerce, of course, blurs the lines of minding one’s own business, but so does minding animals or children, cleaning up a creek, asking somebody how they are doing and really wanting to know, keeping an eye on the neighborhood, improving the world, showing compassion, fixing flats, and so much else.

Dancin'I once told my daughter that she comes from a long line of strong-willed women and a long line of men who somehow got a kick out of strong-willed women.
Now, my grandmother and her sisters would never want to be thought of as loud-mouthed broads–they were all proper ladies (I just wanted a catchy headline). I do, however, owe a big chunk of my notion of what a woman should be like through them, the Thomas sisters. They were all out-spoken, and that was one of the things that made them so wonderful. My grandma was demure and directed the church choir, but she could also command a crew to make thousands of hoagies in one morning a few times a year as a fund-raiser. They could all be deferential, but I would have hated to have run up against them when someone was treated unjustly–they were outspoken; they were forces of nature beautiful and terrible to behold.

Most of all, men or women, why do we make virtue about what we don’t do?
Shouldn’t it be about what we do?


Sustained by bouncing
between one sensation sight smell taste sound song and another,

I ride on the spirit of the end of a world cup soccer match.

The mountains are frozen in their dance, dipping down into the cottony mist just to rise again dark and blue and green as my car floats around them.

I give a dollar to the harmonica player hunched like a question mark upon the mosaic of the front of a closed store. I strike a match for Gypsy when she asks and squat to meet her dog Shakey; Gypsy is wrapped in a dress as motley as Tibetan prayer flags, and she lights the second half of her roll-your-own.
I hold that spent match in the corner of my mouth like a blessing, like a kiss, as I walk on.

Like a skipping stone, I skim along between sensations and ideas,
sustained by each image or laugh, every word and rhythm, each sight and color, every sound and song, each taste and smell, and every person—

every person as grimy as a tin can, brilliant as a star.

Bird in his place

As I sat at a table behind the empty Sunday-morning café, a bird flew and perched up on a street light. It is fascinating how each type of bird, and each bird itself, can have such individual personality. A beautiful light gray mockingbird, he was slender, but cocky, prince of his little realm, throwing his head back to sing, and then looking down at his kingdom—and then he flew away.

I looked around, and there was not a another bird in sight

I am alone, I thought, not another living being.

But the maples down by the creek, and the other trees, they are living beings…so was the roll of grass between us, and the Virginia creeper climbing up the trees, and the scrub and weeds and bushes on the bank behind the trees.

And the cars buzzing past beyond—in each of them a living being: every one, all of them with their own destination, their own fears, their own joys, their own desires, their own cares, their own jokes.

The crazy little mockingbird comes back and looks at his little realm.


I am tempted to say that the whole European travel last summer was magical, but that is not the best term. It was so very real. The most wonderful places amazed us by just being themselves–so very themselves.

Oxford SquareOxford is Oxford.

Although Cambridge has been the British University for philosophers, I adore Oxford.
Every moment the town is alive and vibrant, yet mellow and thoughtful. Most of the stones have been there since the Tudors and Stewarts, yet each year a new wash of young students pour over them.

I fell in love with Oxford as a young boy.
As I have mentioned before, we were living in Germany, and my parents were sometimes afraid we would forget the English language, so we would go to England once a year. They would take me to Blackwell’s, a very fine, very old bookstore on Oxford ElephantBroad Street. It seemed like the biggest bookstore I would ever see, which meant it was the best possible place in the entire universe to be.

The Bistro is currently located in a town with a university, but this is not really a university town. Other than a disproportional number of places one can get drunk, there is very little to indicate that there is a university here.
Oxford, by contrast, is a university town (as, by the way, was my home, Tubingen). Being a university town means being aware of a lot of students, but also being aware of the place as a place where people come to learn and to think. There is no reason to pretend that you are not Oxford since Oxford is the place to be.Oxford Mansfield College Cat
Oxford is a university, but that university also consists of a federation of 38 quasi-independent colleges, such as Trinity College, Merton College, Balliol, etc. One of our nights there, we had the good fortune to sleep in Mansfield College.
The Porters’ cat is named Erasmus.
Oxford Mansfield College breakfastThe breakfast was amazing.

I have already told the Oxford story involving the surrealism of the marching band playing YMCA, but the walk that more than anything told me what was possible in Oxford was a few nights later. We had eaten supper and The Eagle and Child–hangout of the Inklings–had walked across and behind St Giles to cut down Keble Road and east.Oxford Gargoyles
Keble College amused my daughter no end–and she would still laugh about it for days. A guide book I had read described Keble and having “Brick like an ugly Christmas sweater,” and that may be an apt description. In general, the gargoyles of Oxford are droll and funny–the stone masons clearly had a sense of humour and several pints Oxford's Best Gargoyleinside them–but Keble has the funniest. The expressions of these fantastical stone creatures had us laughing out loud until we reached Parks Road.
We spent some time in the park–Oxford has huge amounts of green space. Like any good University town, there were plenty of students making the best of the last of the day’s sunshine.
As we walked back on Parks Road, we passed a huge beautifully made iron gate–the Parks Road Gate of Trinity College, leading into “The Lawns.”. On the other side were lawns and  gardens, and a company performing Pride and Prejudice.

Mrs. Bennet: Have you no consideration for my poor nerves? 
Mr. Bennet: You mistake me, my dear. I have the utmost respect for your nerves. They’ve been my constant companion these twenty years. 

Oxford Radcliffe CameraA block further, we passed the courtyard of the Bodlean Library, where the Royal Shakespeare Company was performing Taming of the Shrew. Going behing the library to the Radcliffe Camera, we sat on a worn stone stair and listen to a baroque concert.

Austin, Shakespeare and Handel within a ten minute walk, one of the finest bookstores of the world, all surrounded by Oxford Teaparks and old trees, as well as beautiful old buildings–what more could one need?

Well, obviously, tea, but Oxford has that as well.

Until next time….