Monthly Archives: February 2009

Sunny and warm

Most of the week we have been here in San Francisco, it has been quite cool, and it has rained most days. This is our last morning here, and of course today it is warmer and sunny. Isn’t that always the way….

Score card

Bookstore score card for the day:
— Three bookstores in three cities (Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco).
— Three books (Chuang Tzu, Ch’ing dynasty memoir, 19th C. English novel).
— One bumpersticker reading “HOWL if you [heart] City Lights Books”.

What a great vacation.

Music in twelve parts

Carol and I arrived at Davies Symphony Hall. The Philip Glass Ensemble walked onstage at five o’clock and started playing.

oceans fluid seas

The singer stops singing, hurriedly takes a drink of water from the bottle beside her chair, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, pauses just a moment, looks at the music, and begins singing again.

clouds burst of rain sho–
EMTs walk quietly in one of the side doors that lead to the seats just behind the stage. They walk back and forth, someone comes out to meet them. Continue reading


The rain came down all day long and into the night. Sometimes it just sprinkled, sometimes it rained hard, but it kept on raining. It was wet and cold all day. We didn’t care. We are on vacation and in San Francisco. As we walked up Columbus Avenue towards Chinatown for dinner, Carol looked at me and said, “This is incredible. Can you believe we didn’t come back here before this?”

When you are here, you can’t forget that San Francisco is a Pacific Rim city. New York City’s Chinatown looks like an immigrant enclave, but Chinatown in San Francisco is as much a part of the city as any other neighborhood. We walked along, dodging other people’s umbrellas, looking at the foodstuffs for sale along the sidewalks and in shop windows: fruits and vegetables piled up in bins, carcasses of cooked birds hanging in windows, a tub full of entrails and sweetmeats. Pastries were neatly arranged in the windows of bakeries. Fish swam in tanks waiting to be sold.

I have never ridden on a cable car, because I have always been unwilling to wait in line and cram myself on with all the tourists. As we walked back to our hotel tonight, a cable car swept past us, splashing through a puddle. The car was empty except for the conductor and the operator. It looked cold, bleak, dark, and unromantic. I was not tempted to ride it even if it were empty of tourists.


We are enjoying what I consider to be perfect California weather on our vacation: mostly cloudy, mixed with rain showers, with the occasional touch of blue sky. Everything is green, the fruit trees are in bloom, the daffodils are blooming. I overheard someone today talk about how cold it is, and thought about New Bedford where the water temperature in the harbor is the thirties and when you walk down by the waterfront the damp cold gets into your bones.

We took a long walk this afternoon, and in one place an orange tree hung over the sidewalk, with dozens of ripe oranges in the glossy green leaves. Carol reached up and picked one, and peeled it open, and the smell of orange faintly perfumed the air around us as we walked. “Mm,” she said, “it’s so sweet.”

And in the middle of all this, I’m reading Anthony Trollope’s novel Can You Forgive Her? with its long gentle conversations that slowly reveal the personalities of the characters — the pride of Alice, the passionate nature of Lady Glencora, the dissipation of George. Trollope’s finely honed moral distinctions cause me to pause periodically, put the book down, and think through the little moral decisions that the characters make. Its slow pace makes it a perfect book for reading on vacation.

I forgot

Even thought Carol reminded me, I forgot Valentine’s Day. Since I am not a poet, there will be no poem, just this blog post: This is just to say I’m sorry I forgot.

“Don’t be afraid of being thought ultra abstemious…”

Here’s another mention of Rev. John Murray Spear, the Universalist minister in New Bedford from 1837-1841, in the old Universalist Union, this time from the number for Saturday, April 17, 1841:

We have another letter from our friend “J. C.” of Lebanon. He makes war, without mercy, upon tea and coffee, though we are not prepared to say, without considerable justice. They are no doubt highly pernicious to many constitutions, and injurious to all, when used to excess, as in all other things. But it is very difficult obtaining pledges to a total abstinence from these indulgences. Let those afflicted, however, as Br. Clark has been, try his remedy. It is a simple and cheap prescription.

  [J. C. writes:]

Br. Price — As you saw fit to publish what I wrote you in February last, and having received a letter from Br. J. M. Spear, of New Bedford, who, ascertaining that I have been afflicted with the nervous headache, has very kindly, and in the spirit of true brotherhood, proposed a remedy for that disease, with a request that I should try it, and if it proved salutary to me, let the readers of the Messenger know its character and effects, and thus induce others to come up to the cause of temperance, I am now induced to try my hand in writing you once more.

And, first, I wish to render thanks to our kind brother for the interest he has manifested in my temporal welfare, and assure him that I cordially reciprocate fellow feeling and good will toward him and his; and as he intimates I do not belong to “stand still Universalists,” you may assure him he is right. No, Br. Price, there is too much my hand finds to do in the moral reformation of the world, to allow me to fold my arms, and see the tide of sin and corruption roll rapidly along, and not use any effort to stay its desolating march. Intemperance in the use of ardent spirit, is not the only evil we have to encounter. There are other articles commonly used in our most respectable families, whose influence, though not so deadly hostile to morality and religion, are deleterious to the health and happiness of the rising generation. The use of tea and coffee as a common beverage is fast gaining ground, and if not retarded, will shorten the lives and usefulness of thousands.

Perhaps my readers begin to start, and call me a te-totaler. Well, I can’t help that; truth is truth, and should be told, “whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear.” And as those who have heretofore gone forward as pioneers, in whatever reformation has been brought about, either in science, politics, or religion, have been branded as empyrics, knaves, heretics, infidels, and so on; if I should meet the same fate I ought not to complain. No; nor should I by these means, be deterred from doing what my conscience tells me is duty, through fear of reproach.

Lest I weary the patience of the reader, with a long story about a short thing, I will go directly to my purpose, which is to tell what will cure the nervous headache. And this I wish to do in the language of Br. Spear, who says it has cured him, and given him perfect soundess. He says:

“It is a simple abstinence from narcotics. Among these I name tea and coffee. If you would be delivered from nervous headache, and all nervous diseases, abstain from these drinks entirely. If you love them, you must deny yourself, and ‘take up your cross.’ Try the experiment faithfully, and at the end of three months you will be delivered from this bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of a clear head and sound mind. At first, the disease will seize you with greater power, and will hold on perhaps as long as the prophet was in the belly of the fish; but if you persevere, you will come off more than conqueror. You will ask what I drink?” and he answers, “warm water and milk, morning and evening, and cold water at noon.”

Now Br. Price, what is above recommended, is just the course I have adopted, and is, I think, the reason why I am able to write this (as some may term it foolish) essay. It is now about three months since I commenced, and I fondly hope to be able to read, not only the “Messenger,” but much other good matter, that is published at the present time, and above all, the Bible, our only chart to the haven of eternal life.

Others in this vicinity have tried the remedy with success, and I earnestly recommend others, troubled with nervous difficulties, to “go and do likewise.” — Don’t be afraid of being thought ultra abstemious, but come up to the good work of reformation. Don’t be afraid of appearing singular. It was once thought not genteel to do without ardent sprrits. Now, he who should think to treat a company of ladies and gentlemen with the “good crittur,” would bethought hardly civil. Up! up! ye nervous, lame-sided, weak-stomached! — ye who have feeble limbs, distressed backs, weak and painful heads, disorganized systems, and all ye feeble train! up to the rescue! Why will ye die?

J. C.
Lebanon, Conn., March, 1841.


I was headed out for a walk — trying to fit in a little exercise in a very busy day — when I heard someone shout, “Dan! Is that you?” I turned around, and there was L——, standing on the sidewalk. It turns out his business is just a couple of blocks from our apartment, and we had never made the connection. We wound up talking about the kinds of things two New Englanders talk about on a grey February afternoon: ancestors (he’s a Meriam, and my brother-in-law is a Meriam), old cars, the Revolution, politics, antiques we almost bought but didn’t have money for at the time, eccentric characters we have known, New England history. Three quarters of an hour later, I realized I had better go if I were going to have any time at all for a walk. And we hadn’t even spent any time talking about Concord, where I grew up and his people come from. There’s never enough time to talk about everything you want to talk about.