Monthly Archives: July 2021

Three Happy Summer Holidays

Life has been relatively uneventful of late, so there’s not been much to write about or illustrate. So instead of action-packed photos, here are flowers from my mother’s ( and grandmother’s) house in Portland, Oregon. That small yard accommodates a surprising floral variety.

CamelliasFor myself, at least for now, the Covid19 pandemic is basically done. Yesterday was the first day since it began that nobody in the Bay Area died from Covid.

By March, I was vaccinated, my Portland family members by April, and I’ve taken three trips to visit Portland since then.  Things seem so “back to normal” that I sometimes forget to don my mask in the public places where it’s still appropriate.

For us, the pandemic can only return through new virus strains, which current vaccines are effective against so far. That could change, though, since large segments of our population still go unvaccinated, posing a potential danger to the rest, as they give the virus the biological resources to morph into new, more dangerous, strains.

At this point, In America, the unvaccinated account for the vast majority of new infections.  One hospital reported 98% of their Covid19 patients as unvaccinated. Essentially 100% of Americans who die from Covid are unvaccinated.  Vaccines work!

AndromedaCalifornia has somewhat better vaccination rates, in part because Democrats run the state and most local governments. Those run by Republicans tend to be worse, partly because the Republican leadership has worked hard to convince their citizens that Covid and Covid vaccines are “fake news” or are otherwise suspect politics.  This sort of advocacy against reality works out well for them, since reality inevitably pushes back, as if it were a vast anti-Republican conspiracy, which strengthens Republican loyalty.

So America’s well-known political polarization has branched into a vaccination polarization, which increases Republican infections.  (there are other reasons not to be vaccinated, but politics worsens the rate overall in those areas affected) Meantime, though, otherwise unused vaccines can at least help the rest of the world. So the US has begun giving away half a billion doses to countries who otherwise couldn’t obtain them. I’m proud of that generosity, and I hope that some of those doses find their way to people whom I know in those countries.

RhododendronThe pink-flowered rhododendron bush in this picture has a name — “Anna.” My mother’s cousin Bill planted it in my grandmother’s yard after she had died, and so named it after her.

It stands by the back-yard patio where she had held so many summer social events. It seems to offer flowers to the pots sitting in front of it, just like Grandma offered cookies to guests, waving a platter of them under each person’s nose. That bush is a genuine memorial to her.

And I’m reminded that I had originally intended to write this update for Memorial Day, a federal holiday at the end of May which honors soldiers who had given their lives in the Civil War, and later in other wars. Originally called Decoration Day, it was celebrated by decorating those soldiers’ graves.

One of the earliest, perhaps the earliest, Decoration Day took place on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina.  A mass grave of Union Soldiers lay next to a prisoner-of-war camp. Newly-freed slaves dug them up and reburied them individually. On May 1, they decorated the new graves and held a parade featuring singing school-children.

Juneteenth  – June 19th was my second intended deadline for this update. It’s America’s newest  federal annual holiday, established this very year, just a couple days before the holiday itself. It’s only the second new federal holiday created during my lifetime, the other being Martin Luther King’s birthday.

Juneteenth celebrates the announcement of slavery’s end to former slaves throughout the country, but especially in Galveston, Texas, where the Union Army proclaimed it on June 19, 1865, two months after the end of the American Civil War, which was fought over slavery.

I only have one relevant photo, taken many years ago. It shows the home of our first president, George Washington, in Mt. Vernon, Virginia. I took the side view, since I figured everybody else would take it from the front or back. I’ve mainly been proven right about that.

Undoubtedly this house was largely built by slaves (and it’s still standing, 250 years later). After Juneteenth in 1865, they should have gotten paid for such work, though it didn’t always work out that way in practice.

Some people may not be familiar with Juneteenth, though it’s long been celebrated locally. Texans have celebrated it since the 1860’s. They made it an official state holiday in 1980. But it was not an official Federal Government holiday until last month. Of course, all of my old elementary school students should remember it, as we covered it in note-taking exercises!! And anybody who has a copy of my annual custom calendar can find it  listed there.

My most recent intended deadline for this update was for Independence Day, the Fourth of July, which celebrates our country’s independence, declared on July 2, 1777, then written up and documented on July 4, 1777. The choice of celebrating on the latter date just goes to show the importance of records and documentation! Another valuable lesson for elementary school students.

Independence Day and New Years Day are America’s two big fireworks celebrations.  Many fireworks shows were cancelled this year, not because of Covid, but because we’re stuck deep in the most tinder-dry drought ever. Wild-fire season started early this year — back in May. Now, even small and simple fireworks are illegal.

The neighbors on our block celebrated The Fourth with an outdoor potluck party, our first in over a year, due to the pandemic. My own celebrations included my mother, whom I had brought down from Portland for a 2-week Bay Area visit.

The drive was over 12 hours, and it was a bit scary. During the pandemic, the roads had been quite empty, so the few drivers who plied the highways got used to as much speed as they liked.  Since traffic returned, they’ve not slowed down. So those who keep the speed limit are constantly passed from behind, which is both nerve wracking and exhausting. I doubt that I’ll drive between here and Portland in one go ever again.

Meanwhile here’s this year’s traditional photo of Mount Shasta from a “Vista Point” off Highway 5, coming down from Portland two weeks ago.  If I took that photo today, the air would be full of smoke, and the mountain hard to see, since, in the meantime, two major fires have broken out in that area.

The timing for Mom’s visit was fortuitous. The Bay Area weather was  even more pleasant than normal.  But in her absence, Portland set an all-time record of 109 degrees (42 Celsius). The next day it set a new record of 112 degrees (44.5 Celsius). The day after that it set a newer record of 116 degrees (47 Celsius).  A couple hundred people died from heat, as well as a billion marine creatures. These record heats were caused by global warming, another reality that Republicans run against in order to get more loyalty and protect the incomes of the extremely rich.  Portland cooled down considerably by the time Mom returned by plane.

I’ve not mentioned my health for a while. I’m still making progress on straightening my hips through stretching and exercise. Last winter my knees got so sore that I was afraid they’d developed arthritis. A tender spot sprouted on the outside of my right knee. Then it migrated to the inside, then to the inside of my other knee, then the outside, and then off my knees entirely!  It was a relief to have that pain gone, if only because it had been difficult to put my socks on!

Finally, a sad event to report. Jeanine, the last of my father’s relatives in France, has died. This recent photo was sent to me by her grandson. I recognize the location where it was taken, by the front door to her home, where I have been many times.

I still remember the year we all met. At the time, Jeanine was working in a nearby factory that manufactured artificial flowers. She sent a bouquet of those flowers home to my father and to my grandmother, who was also her own grandmother by marriage.

This picture, taken many years ago, shows her at that same home, with her husband (left) and brother-in-law, my father’s two late nephews.  I visited them many times over the course of many years. They were always kind and welcoming to me. They and other relatives toured me all over that part of France. What an adventure!

So, for example, here we are atop Alesia, the famous mountain where Julius Caesar lay siege to the Celtish forces under Vercingetorix, finally vanquishing them and thus conquering all of France (known as Gaul at the time). Caesar described this battle in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars.

And here is Jeanine on the day she married into the family. She was the last of that generation, so it feels like a significant chapter in my life has drawn to a close.

As part of my series of piano compositions dedicated to various friends and relatives, I wrote one for my friend Audine, who is presently sojourning in Japan. Called “Audine’s Oddyssey,” it’s meant to capture her love of travel, kind of like a “Cherry Blossom Special.” It begins with a 6-note variation of a traditional Japanese pentatonic scale.

Click here or click on the foxglove if you’re curious to hear it. I apologize in advance for various playing errors and rhythmic irregularities. I promise to keep practicing!!

Other interesting links: First, for music nerds, a couple music analyses from back when pop tunes had more than 3 keys. Adam Neely presents his analysis of an expressive key change in “All By Myself.” Here’s the song without the analysis to understand the context. He also analyzes a tune that doesn’t have quite so many key changes, but has sophisticated chord voicings — the second most recorded song of all time — “Girl from Ipanema.”  Here’s the song without the analysis. (By the way, the most recorded tune of all time is Gershwin’s “Summertime.”)

Rick Beato analyzes a former number one pop song with perhaps more beautiful and numerous key changes than any other. Here’s the song without the analysis.

One of the most impressive YouTube postings that I’ve seen this month is a forty-minute documentary of the insurrection/terrorist attack on the Capitol back on January 6th. posted by the New York Times. It’s the first presentation I’ve seen that communicates the wildness and incredible danger of that day.  No wonder over 500 participants have been arrested so far. Interestingly, the narrator has an Irish accent, an accent that I love.

And by the way, I mourn for the fact that millions of people, including the Republicans who stormed the capitol, still believe that the election was stolen by Joe Biden, even though Republican leadership never produced any proof.  I simply don’t understand why some people put their faith in such obvious falsities coming from those with a reputation for lying. The latest Republican gambit is partisan ballot audits in Arizona and maybe Pennsylvania. Previous official recounts found no problems, but these don’t follow standard and open procedures, so I won’t be surprised if they find “proof” of cheating, regardless of whether it actually exists.

Meanwhile, the present federal administration exhibits normal competence and integrity! What of relief!  Here’s a list from a partisan web site of several examples of this new style/old style competence.  In contrast, the previous guy’s administration featured a new scandal almost every week, as he lobbed whiny obscenity-laden  insults at everybody, including those whom he’d previously hired as “the best.” C-span’s periodic survey of historians ranked him appropriately.

<sigh> Republican leaders aren’t like they were in the Eisenhower years. I will be very relieved if the day comes that they have changed back and I don’t have to think about them so much.