Sunday, June 25, 2017

What I did on my summer vacation.

I was sure I'd hung out the "On Vacation" sign here before I left for the airport... Sorry. I guess that was one of the things that slipped through the cracks.

Clearly I needed this break. A lot of things have been slipping through the cracks lately. One of them is editing Maggie on the Cusp, which -- given my publishing schedule over the past few years -- ought to be for sale already. Never fear; I'm going to dive in this week, I swear.

So anyway, I've been gone to Colorado for about a week and a half. Alert hearth/myth readers know that I've been there many times over the years. For this trip, I promised myself that I would do a road trip to take in a bunch of sites I'd never seen in person before. So even though I've been to Denver about a gazillion times, this time I rented a carriage house in the Congress Park neighborhood for a couple of nights. While I was there, I paid a visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens, both before I'd never been there before and because they're featuring an exhibit of Alexander Calder's works this summer. I'm a big fan of Calder. This one in particular caught my eye. The exhibit brochure called it vaguely man/machine-shaped. But come on -- it's a crow. Or maybe a Raven.

And even though I've driven west on I-70 before, I'd never driven up Mount Evans -- one of two 14,000-foot-plus mountains in Colorado whose summits are reachable by car. (The other one is Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs.) So I did that. It was cold and windy (46 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill of 36) at the top, so I didn't stay long. But I wish I could have bought a t-shirt that said, "I survived the Mt. Evans Highway." Not only was the road narrow, but it had no shoulders and no guardrails. Aieee...

I drove from there to Glenwood Springs because I'd never been in a vapor cave before. It's kind of like a steam room on steroids.

I drove from there to Aspen -- or as the tourist brochures call it, "glamorous Aspen," although somehow I managed to circumvent all the glamor. First, I took a city bus up to Maroon Bells because I'd seen a million photos of the two mountains but had never been there. They're just as beautiful in person, as you can see.

In downtown Aspen, I found a bookstore and bought a book to read (Anne Hillerman's Song of the Lion, if you must know), then found the city library and spent an hour getting into the story -- as well as out of the heat.

I also stopped at the John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen. Denver lived in Aspen, and after he died, the city set aside a few acres on the banks of the Roaring Fork River downtown for a memorial. One section features a little waterfall and pond surrounded by trees and wildflowers, and another is a small amphitheater featuring more flowers, as well as boulders on which lyrics to several of his songs are engraved. It could have been really tacky, but I thought it was tastefully done.

One boulder featured the lyrics to "Rocky Mountain High," of course. This one has the lyrics to "The Eagle and the Hawk," which is an excellent one to sing at the top of your lungs when you need to declare yourself large and in charge. (Don't ask me how I know.) Anyway, it's a great song, even though it was never a hit, and I was glad to see it included in the park.

I had never made the drive over Independence Pass (a famously twisty road east of Aspen) before, so I did that next. It was a piece of cake compared to the Mt. Evans Highway. From there, I stopped in Leadville, which was a big deal during the silver rush in the mid-1800s, and toured the Tabor Opera House. Then I stayed for a couple of days near Nathrop, in a cabin with a little, private pool fed by a hot spring. That was very relaxing.

I also made a day trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, again because I've seen many photos but had never been. And I spent a day in Salida, which has a cute downtown that's classified as a Creative District by the state of Colorado.

The only problem with this trip is that I kept hearing about a bunch of other places in Colorado that I also should have visited. I guess I'll just have to go back.

These moments of vacationing blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Happy 50th, Summer of Love.

Open ClipArt Vectors | Pixabay | CC0
Time flies. You blink once or twice, and suddenly it's 2017 and it's been 50! Years! since the Summer of Love.

My pal Shawn Inmon reminded me about this yesterday when he posted about the anniversary on Facebook. He asked where we were in the summer of 1967, when the hippies were bringing peace, love, and music to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Me? I was nowhere near that scene. I was nine years old and living at home with my parents. But I wore love beads (because Davy Jones did!), and I had a transistor radio tuned to WLS Radio in Chicago -- and really, that was all I needed.

The official song of the Summer of Love was Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco." It embodied the innocence of those days, and called everyone to the city by the bay.

In truth, of course, there was more going on than just a love-in. Drugs got Janis Joplin, as they did many '60s artists. Too bad -- she was a powerful performer. "Piece of My Heart," which she did with Big Brother and the Holding Company, is my favorite of her tracks.

What strikes me is how the music of that time would be sliced and diced into categories today. "San Francisco" would be folk-rock; "Piece of My Heart" would be blues; and the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" would be...hmm. We don't really have a category today for psychedelic rock. But the kids on "American Bandstand" didn't seem to care.

The British invasion was a few years old by the time the Summer of Love rolled around, and some British bands made the scene -- including the Animals.

And then there was Grateful Dead, whose music still defies explanation. Country? Rock? Regardless, they kept truckin' until just a few years ago.

So where were you in the Summer of Love?

These moments of rockin' blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Why I'm learning Irish.

"City Wall" in English and Irish, Kilkenny | Copyright Lynne Cantwell

I ran into our Irish instructor on the Metro a few weeks ago. I'd mentioned during the class that I'd studied Czech (more on how it came up below). So when he asked me on the train why I was learning Irish, I said, "Well, I've already studied one useless language, so..."

I was joking, mostly. Czech is a living language (although not for lack of invaders trying to kill it, first the Hapsburgs and later the Nazis), but as the Czech Republic isn't strategically important, studying the language is not likely to get you either a job with the CIA or a promotion at work. But still, about 10.5 million Czechs speak it every day.

Irish, too, is a living language (although not for lack of the English trying to kill it), but the number of those who speak it daily is much smaller -- about 74,000 people, according to Ireland's 2016 census -- and shrinking. Irish children are required to learn the language in school, but most adults say they haven't retained much.

So why am I bothering with these weird languages? The short answer is that it's part of my heritage. My mother's side of the family is all Czech, and a chunk of my father's side is Irish. But there's also the challenge of gaining insights into how people in other countries think, and grammar is one way to do that. No, really. In Czech, for example, you don't say something happens on Tuesday, you say it happens in Tuesday. It's kind of a neat concept, don't you think? Here's Tuesday's bucket, and you put the things that are happening that day inside of it.

It's also fun to see how language has changed over the centuries. All of the languages I speak or have studied -- English, Spanish, Czech, and Irish -- have a common proto-Indo-European root. (In fact, there are only a handful of languages spoken in Europe that aren't Indo-European in origin, Turkish and Finnish being among them.) So some really old words are at least a little similar. The word mother, for instance, is madre (pronounced MAH-dreh) in Spanish, matka (MAHT-kah) in Czech, and máthair (MAW-hirz) in Irish.

Did you notice how the Irish snuck in that z sound after the r? Irish, I'm learning, has two ways to pronounce nearly every consonant: broad and slender. In English, we do this with only a couple of consonants, particularly g (discuss: is gif pronounced with a hard or soft g?), but the Irish go whole hog. And the way you tell whether a particular consonant is broad or slender in Irish is by the vowel next to it.

So the i in máthair is silent -- it's there only to tell you that the r is slender. A slender r sounds kind of like rz in English, and similar to my old Czech friend ř -- r with a caron on top -- except Czech rolls its rs the way Spanish does, and Irish doesn't at all (which is going to take some getting used to).

Anyhow, it was the slender r discussion in which I brought up Czech. Another way Czech and Irish are similar is that nouns are declined in both -- that is, like in Latin, each noun changes in form, depending on what it's doing in the sentence. Irish only has two cases, though, whereas Czech has something like seven. And Irish has only two cases for nouns -- masculine and feminine -- while Czech has three. So Irish should be easier for me, right? Right. Other than all those extra vowels.

I've heard it said on separate occasions that the hardest language for English speakers to learn is either Czech or Irish. Gee, thanks, Mom and Dad.

These moments of linguistic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.