Friday, September 29, 2006

You may call her Hathor or Nut.

Some you in blogland may not realize that superheroes have mothers, but they do--and thank gods and goddesses for that!

My mother's birthday was yesterday.

Yesterday in Isisland was not the kind of day that allowed even a superheroine to sit down and write adequately about someone that important, though, so for the purposes of this humble blog, let's call today Isis's Mother's Day (observed).

Sometimes I try to imagine what it could be like to be her. I know she gave birth to me when she was 27, so when I was 27 I tried to imagine having a baby. I could not. This is not the first or the last thing that my mother has done that I find amazing.

Sometimes I have a sense that strength is something emanating from somewhere. Sometimes I can even stand close enough to it to feel it running through my body, and for a long time I wondered why those times were so often times when I was standing next to her, why that feeling got stronger as I moved closer, weaker as I moved away. Now that I so rarely get to stand so literally close, I look for ways to pretend I am. Luckily for me, I have so many memories of her resolute stance, of her armory of defenses, her statements of wisdom, that I can reach into my mind and almost feel like she is standing there beside me.

Many years ago, when I was first living away from home, my aunt and I hatched a scheme to surprise my mother, so that when my aunt and her husband visited for my mother's birthday, they had me in tow. This did not surprise my mother, because she (unlike me, who just pretends) really and truly is a wise and powerful goddess, and she can see through other people's attempts to be slick and wily, so she had even made up my bed.

A couple of years ago, she had a milestone birthday, and lucky me, I had some time away from work and I got to spend it with her. Every time that September 28th rolls around, I wish I could do that again.

So join me please in giving thanks for the gifts of Hathor, or Nut, or however we'll pretend to call the mother of Isis. You may not know it out there in blogland, but we are all happier and wiser and stronger and better for having her around.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm hanging with my best friend, Ibuprofen.

There were some fast people in my lane with me at practice on Monday night, and you know what that means. I wanted desperately to try to keep up with them, but I was also afraid I wouldn't be able to. For the most part lately, I've been as fast as anyone there (at least at evening practices), which does terrific things for my ego, but the challenge is better in the long run.

So do you know what I did? I wimped out. My "excuse," of course, is very sound. For the last week or so I've had quite a lot of soreness around the joint in my left shoulder, and ever sense a bout of tendonitis ended my triathlon career (and an illustrious one it was, let me tell you), I don't take pain lightly, once I am pretty sure it is not just muscle fatigue. I have been doing the icepack thing, but it turns out I don't really know how to approach pain and soreness the smart way.

Which involves not just icing, but also ibuprofen, and apparently my new coach is going to bring me a regimen of shoulder exercises. I am sad that I did not know all this before, because this is not the first time I have had this kind of pain at the beginning of the season. But meanwhile I am pleased to have learned the ibuprofen trick (I know, I know, everybody else knew this already, right?), and I am even more excited about the exercises, which might help prevent it in the future.

And on Monday I have an appointment with a new massage therapist, who my coach calls "The Answer." I am VERY excited about that.

All this to say that those fast people better watch out, because next time I'm not taking it lying down.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Just what you have not exactly been waiting for.

The new museum housing the Ara Pacis in Rome is open, such as it is. By most accounts, the building, open after delay after delay, which have kept the ancient monument hidden, is no success, making no attempt to engage with its context.

Or, perhaps one should say no better attempt than that designed by Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo for Mussolini. That building, opened in 1938, was one of the finest examples of how Mussolini made his mark on the city of Rome: for its construction, old neighborhoods of buildings were cleared, and the building was one piece of several composing an entire cluster celebrating Augustus--and Mussolini's admiration of him.

The reassembly of the Ara Pacis itself was no small feat. Fragments of it had been excavated for centuries when Mussolini's archaeologists figured out that by freezing the soil in the area where the remains were buried, they could be sure they had it all.

That building's construction was not the best, and in a post-World War II half-century when Italians were less than gung ho about Mussolini's legacy, it was allowed to deteriorate and folks decided to replace it.

And Richard Meier was to do the work.

In all the times I have been to Rome, and mind you, many of those trips have been for the express purpose of seeing what Mussolini did to the city and documenting the fascist past and its present legacy, I have never been able to see the Ara Pacis. And this lack of access goes back to well before I was working on this material.

The last time I was there we were able to tour the building site, see something of the planned design and how the spaces were to be used. It was nearly impossible, though, to visualize how it would work in its context--which includes not only other remnants of the fascist-era Piazza Augusto Imperatore, but also the Mausoleum of Augustus and two domed churches. How to integrate all that, without making a cliche-ed passeist eyesore?

Or at least without creating instead a hyper-contemporary monument to oneself?

Now it is open. I have to see it. But is this architectural solution really an improvement?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Let's have a little party in a small cafe.

I just learned that today is the birthday of one bad-ass seminarian. You might drop by and send her a greeting, if you like. Judging by what she's written lately, she might even be too tie-yord to remember how important she is to all of us. Wouldn't it be great if we could all just show up at the door of her blog and yell, "SURPRISE! We brought a cake and gin and tonics and little pointy hats. Let's have a party!"

So estaminet, since we have to put our little party into words, here is what I'll sing to you since I can't sing Happy Birthday To You in person (and actually we are all just as well off that I am not really singing):

We are all very lucky that you were born twenty-something years ago. Thanks to your mom and dad, too, for having you. We appreciate that. And we appreciate you--your humor, your sense, your insight, your compassion, your lovingness, your calling, and really everything you give us. I am especially grateful to have gotten reacquainted with you now, after entirely too long. How is it that the people we grow up with, with whom we share such random experiences, might then turn out to be such fascinating adults? And why is it that we find these people again, we find that instead of living around the corner from one another, we live a couple states away, our friendship relegated to the technological realms?

So happy birthday. Thank you for reappearing in my life. Thank you for the things you write that help me understand the world better, or make me rage at it, or relish it, or wonder at it and my lack of understanding. Thank you for enduring my piano playing in your basement once a week for so many years during our childhoods. Thank you for telling me recently that I was not one of the worst ones to listen to. Thank you for being the kind of person cares so much about other people, who really wants to make this world better and help people find an easier way to live in it. Thank you for your jokes that break my bad moods. Thank you for reminding me that bad moods are life, and life is precious. Thank you for sending me nice messages that help me get through difficult times. Thank you for kicking so much ass. And happy birthday.

He was swallowed by a song.

Welcome, Jonah Reuven Sela. Now we need no longer call you Cletus (the Fetus), or Gaby (the Baby), but can start to know you as your true self.

Jonah, I love it that this is your name, especially your first name. I remember a summer quite a number of years ago that I spent in New Haven, working in the library at Yale. That was the summer I met your dad, and got to know him a bit as your mom’s fiancé. As the years have gone by, I have felt very lucky to have had that time to get to know them a bit, to start to feel like your dad was not just someone I had been introduced to, but who I had gotten to begin to be friends with. And this was about the same time that I started to feel like I was really becoming friends with your mom. Sure, I had known her a lot longer, but now we were more grown up, more like fully formed people. (I do not mean to imply, Jonah, that you are not fully formed. From all I hear, you have all your fingers and toes.)

But I know that you are smart like your mom and dad and that you are starting to wonder why your cousin Isis is going on like this. What does this have to do with my name? You want to know.

You are right to ask, and I am sorry that I was going on. I hope that if I keep doing that more and more as I get older, that you’ll say, Cousin Isis, wrap it up! What is the point you are trying to make?

The point I am trying to make, Jonah, is about your name, and about my sense of your parents. And maybe, therefore, the beginnings of my sense of you.

That same summer I was reading Moby Dick. I like to do that, to read big novels, classics, when I am away from home, staying somewhere else to work in a library. And that summer I was living in a sort of boarding house near campus, although I got to spend a lot of time with your parents, your grandparents, and your aunt. Reading Moby Dick was appropriate, I thought, because there I was in a little New England town reading a novel about people from a little New England town. I would sometimes sit on a bench on the New Haven Green and read, my back to the two little churches there, and I would think about those kinds of little churches, and about the firey preachers who preached in them.

There is a place in Moby Dick where a firey preacher is preaching a firey sermon about Jonah and the whale. (And I do love you, Jonah, but I am not going to look up the page number.) And because there I was at a big university with a big library and without people to hang out with, I took myself to the reference room and found one of those big study Bibles that includes, in addition to the books from the bible, an awful lot about how particular stories in the Bible have been interpreted over time.

And that is when I started reading about your Biblical namesake, who I had encountered before, both in the classic tale of the whale and in studying Hebrew prophecy. But I had never noticed his father’s name before, which I don’t need to tell you, because it is also your father’s name. At the time I thought it was pretty cool just to come across that name in reading about something else, so that I started to know something more about your dad, who I had just met, but about whom my cousin was awfully fond. Now I am especially grateful for that somehow random series of events that led me to know something about you, even though I have not yet had the honor of seeing you in person.

So welcome, Jonah. I look forward to becoming friends with you.

All I need is the air that I breathe

Those of you who regularly share a bed with another person probably will not be any more surprised than I was at the recent attention that the topic of bed-sharing has garnered. What did surprise me was to come across an article about just this matter after our family launched a couple-sleeping experiment last night.

Let me explain. One evening I was on the phone with a friend and apologizing for sounding like the sinus problem poster child. This is not an uncommon state for me, because chlorinated pool water hits me almost as hard as lake water. He said, "have you tried breathe right strips?" and when my answer was no, he urged me to go to a nearby drugstore THAT EVENING. He used them, at the urging of his partner, who was not caring for his snoring.

I did not hit the store that night, but when he said "snoring" my ears perked up. Both the PP and I snore (or so he claims), but I am a notoriously light sleeper, whereas nothing can wake him from his happy slumbers, so his snoring keeps me awake.

I begged him to try the breathe right strips.

You see, three-fourths of the people in our family have breathe-wrong noses, which makes for a lot of snoring at night. Sadly, the breathe right strips do not seem to come in fat kitten size, so there is no helping Jacques Monod, who tends to make appearances in bed now and then, and for whose snoring the PP has occasionally been blamed. (Tut, as you might have guessed, is not a snorer.)

So last night, the PP came home with a little box of the sticky stiff wonders. We both washed our noses and applied them.

AMAZING! I felt as though the great red sea of my sinus passages had been parted, and for once, I could breathe! And while I cannot say that the PP stopped snoring entirely, there was quite a bit less of it overall. And I did not need to put the earplugs until 5:00 or so, which means I slept through my usual (yet annoying) 3 a.m. wake-up. And we did not even use the sound machine that plays a train noise (a.k.a., Sleep train sounding louder, everyone climb aboard the sleep train!)

So lucky us. I wonder, though, how much technology is needed for couples to share a bed.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

You say it's your birthday?

Remember a while ago when I told you I was happy but could not tell you why? Well, now I can.

My cousin gave birth yesterday to a six-pound-three-ounce baby boy. During the gestation period, this baby was called "Cletus the Fetus," and I cannot even say how much I enjoyed the stories about his growth, his kicks, the indigestion he caused, the trips to the doctor he necessitated, the design of the nursery that he required--and seeing his leetle face peering through various ultrasounds.

Although I got a rather ecstatic e-mail from a proud grandmother, transmitting an even more ecstatic message from a similarly proud aunt (with pictures!), I do not know the name yet. I do not know if he has a name yet.

So for now, let me just say, Welcome, Cletus, to the great outdoors! I hope you had a good, if moderately traumatic, journey. In many ways, life gets easier from here, but I know you'll always miss that safe warm gooey place you just came from. Here, I can tell you, the day after your arrival is a cold and rainy one, but we are not sorry for the cold (finally---a break in the heat) or the rain (little thing called "drought). And that cold and rain makes your cousin removed however many times (your mom can give us the right terminology) a little depressed and cranky. But you know what? The news of your arrival cleared all that right up. I can hardly wait to meet you in person, but for now I am happy for any and all photos that come my way.

Last night, while you were emerging into the world, I skipped out on my regular weeknight life to hear a concert--Balkan Beat Box (who I had heard before) with Golem (who I had not). Golem's songs are sung in Yiddish, Russian, and/or English (and others too, probably), and they're made up of 2 singers (one of whom also plays the accordion), a violinist (with hot klezmer skills), a trombone player, a drummer, and a stand-up bassist. Cletus, they can make the ultimate haywire go nuts, let me tell you. Anyway, their new album, Fresh Off Boat, includes a song that is all about thanking your mother and father for everything they do for you. You should do that, Cletus, because, between you and me, your parents rock, and you're a lucky little guy.

Congratulations to Rebecca and Amitai for a job well done!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Whistle set cafe.

For the first time at the new swim team, we did a "whistle set" last night. I cannot tell yet whether this term refers specifically to the set we did last night, or more generally about sets where the whole team is swimming together, doing the same thing (but at different paces). Either way, it was fun. And then I collapsed.

The main set (after 30 minutes of warm-up) went like this: first a timed kick set, where (at the sound of the whistle) you alternated between easy and fast, for (I think) 5 rounds, the amount of fast kicking increasing with time and slow kicking decreasing. Then 200 easy. Then a swim set where you swim for 5:10 and see how far you go, then try to go the same distance or further in 5:05, and then the same distance or further in 5:00. Then about 200 easy. Then that swim set again, but perhaps you change up the strokes. Then cool down.

The whole thing came to 4300 meters for me--which was plenty of swimming, thank you. I see from that that this team swims more in their 1:30 practice than the coach I used to swim for had us do. (Less work on specific skills, though.) And during these swimming sets, we took our heart rate after each swim. I am a bit concerned, because after the third swim in the second round, and for a 6 second count, I counted 20 beats, making 200 bpm. Maybe this means I should coast for a while....

Having this kind of practice makes me more excited about the first meet of the season, in Columbia, SC on the 15th of October. We will only attend that one day, because we are going to a wedding the Saturday of the meet, but I think it will feel good to race again, see where things stand.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday Random 10: Clang, clang, clang went the trolley Edition

Latest sign that I'm getting my act together? This, after quite a few weeks.

In other good news, if I can get some productive work done today, the last day of a long week, I get to go for a nice BYOB dinner at a cool restaurant here that we have yet to try.

Or really, even if I don't get the work done. How cool is that?

1. "Curiosity," k. d. lang (Invincible Summer)
2. "Squeeze Box Boogie," Clifton Chenier (Zydeco Blues & Boogie)
3. "Talk to Me, Baby," The Yockamo All-Stars (Dew Drop Out)
4. Tchaikovsky: Ouverture Minature to Nutcracker Suite, Georg Solti, Chicago Symphony
5. "She Makes Me Feel Good," Lyle Lovett (Joshua Judges Ruth)
6. "The Trolley Song," The Pied Pipers (Music of the War Years, Vol. 2)
7. "Acetate Prophets," Jurassic 5 (Power in Numbers [bonus DVD])
8. Dufay: Agnus dei, Missa "l'homme armé", Paul Hillier and Hilliard Ensemble (Missa "l'homme armé" and Motets)
9. "Through Time," Roisin Murphy (Ruby Blue)
10. "Like Someone in Love," Björk (Debut)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Last night's practice.

Finally! I think I'm getting my mojo back.

Last night was 4000 yards, and it hurt, yes friends it did hurt, but I felt like I could push all the way through it without being zapped by the beginning of the season breathing issues that make you feel like the world's biggest wuss.

I'm getting more comfortable with the 1000-yard warm-ups and the lack of fins (I swam only my cooldown with them). And last night there were even some intervals (4x100 IM kick @ 2:00 descend). And then a dreaded breaststroke set. I had been avoiding that stroke where I could while I got a little strength back, because it is too damn depressing to swim it poorly, especially while the memory of my strength and speed last spring is fresh. But when the coach asked last night which stroke I'd like for the last set, I meekly volunteered it. Bad. Mistake. Because the set was 4 x 150 breaststroke, with the first 150 straight swim (focus on technique), the second 150 negative splitting (2nd 75 faster than the first), the third 150 ascend (getting slower by 50 through the swim), and the last 150 descend (getting faster by 50 through the swim).

After 2 of them I was really ready to just confess to the coach that I was not quite up to a breaststroke set, because I could hardly breathe and my arms and legs felt like fettucine alfredo (yes, soft AND fatty). That's when Coach pulled out the motivational speech, about how the 200 BR is the hardest event, when swum right, and that to swim it you have to be really tough and strong. OK, OK, I'll do the rest of the set.

It turns out there is a meet in Columbia in mid-October, and although we won't be able to attend the whole meet (we have a wedding to attend that weekend), I think we will go for Sunday only. So now it is time to start thinking about that as a goal....

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I overlooked that point completely.

Change is hard.

For instance, I have not gotten my body, and especially my sleep systems, adjusted to the new schedule of evening swim practices. I enjoy not having to go to bed by 8:30 in order to get enough rest AND swim at 5:30 a.m., but I do not enjoy waking up at 3:00 because there is too much adrenaline left over in my system from swimming 6:30-8:00 p.m. How do those of you who swim or train at night do this?

And the new team is much more individual in its practices. It is great to have less downtime between sets, and to have a workout catered to my needs and abilities (which, frankly, are not up to where they should be, after my month away). But I miss racing with other swimmers, and shooting a bit of the breeze.

I am also getting used to doing less swimming with fins. In the old program we usually did 1000-1200 yards of kick or drill with fins. In the new program, there is much less of that, although I see that some people use fins for their kicking. In a way I know that the yardage I do is a truer indication of effort, or whole-body effort, but it is an adjustment nonetheless.

Also, the Masters of the new team only practice 1.5 hours on Saturdays, and I had gotten accustomed to having a super practice on Saturdays, 2-2.5 hours. And because this new team is bigger, there is less flexibility about just staying on and swimming with the kids than I had found at the old program. I do not know whether this is just because I am new, or because they really don't let adults swim with age-groupers.

Yesterday I swam with the morning group, though, which I had resisted since I have a very long work day on Tuesdays. I loved it! I remembered why I like swimming in the morning, and actually the 3200 yards left me energized for the day, not exhausted.

So the lesson for the day is: be flexible in new situations, and be open to trying new approaches.

I hate lessons.