Kittie Howard

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Water Mill in Skovmollen, Denmark

A centuries-old water mill in Skovmolken, Denmark, captures my imagination this morning. This is good. Since my next Remarkable Person comes from Egypt, I am at least across the Atlantic Ocean. Just need to get further south, to another continent. This will happen. In the meantime, the water wheel soothes perplexed thoughts about greed. Not the pinch-another-cookie-type greed. I'm talking about Wall Street, gold Rolex, private airplane greed. The kind of greed that puckers the mouth like a tart lemon.

First, though, the water wheel. Last summer, my husband and I visited Danish friends in Aarhus, Denmark, the country's principal port, second largest city, and unofficial capital of Jutland, the peninsula that winks at Norway. (With archaeological evidence dating back to 770 A.D., Aarhus, now with a population around one million, may be one of Scandanavia's oldest cities.)

Among our many outings, our hosts took us to Skovmollen, a brief ride through the lush countryside from historic Aarhus. After a delicious meal in a restored building, we sat outside on benches and enjoyed the conversation that flowed from relaxed camaraderie.

The Danish water mill, attached to the left of the single-story restaurant, filled much of the conversation (see photo, right). Earlier, we had looked inside the cross-beamed enclosure, first mentioned in writing in 1570, and marveled at how the infrastructure still functioned. Granted, there had been improvements and changes through the centuries. But the historical integrity of the mill and the restaurant remained. And the nearby stream flowed clear and fresh over rocks that dotted the water's bed. And a simple path opened into the small forest that hugged the stream's far bank.

I also thought about another bench setting, several years earlier, in Copenhagen, an international city with a considerable port and shipping infrastructure. But, unlike most port cities, the scarred underbelly that can blight a city's beauty had been muted. The owner of one of the world's major shipping companies, a Dane, had turned what had been a port's rough fringe into a park.

This Dane, who had owned the land, had then turned the park over to the city of Copenhagen. Benches now lined the generous sidewalk that hugged the water. While kids rode bicycles or couples strolled or young mothers pushed carriages, in the far, far distance, the multi-tiered ferry to Oslo prepared to depart. Thanks to this Danish philanthropist (and one of the world's richest men) the port's functionality remained while everyone's quality of life expanded.

Now, let's fast-forward to yesterday, when my friend Judy and I visited nearby Washington, D.C.'s National Geographic building and the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibition. Yes, the exhibition thrilled. The size: horses weighed 700 pounds; warriors weighed between 350 and 400 pounds. Workmanship hadn't overlooked the smallest detail: intricate indentations on an archer's foot covering; breast plate tile designs; elaborate hair top knots.

Judy and I left the Exhibition enthused. We wanted to talk about what we had seen. We wanted to share the exhilaration that knowledge brings. But there was no bench outside. So, with no place to sit, we kept walking, skipping the over-priced Downtown haunts (Republicans eat Here; Democrats eat There) for McDonald's, of all places, and a decent coffee and questionable nibbles. Nevermind. Any port in the bench-less storm.

So, why is there a lack of benches? Washington, D.C. is probably one of the world's most beautiful cities. Monuments truly stand in majestic glory. We Americans are proud of our many achievements. Sixth graders in Montana can identify photos of the Washington Monument. But, short blocks away from these expected, recognizable monuments are just as recognizable streets -- Massachusetts Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Connecticut Avenue -- that lack benches. Why? Because Washington, D.C. has a homeless problem. The homeless sleep on benches.

And in churches. After our McDonald's stop and en route to the Metro, Judy saw that the double front doors to one of the older churches were open. We decided to look inside and were awed by the domed ceiling, marbled side altars, and impressive stained glass. While a worker vacuumed the deep red carpet, two worshippers knelt in prayer, and four of the city's homeless just existed, scattered among the pews, lost in their day-to-day world of black bags, murmurings, and empty eyes.

That evening I wondered where these homeless now slept. Washington, D.C. maintains shelters. Significant out-reach programs exist. Still, shelters fill. Programs don't always reach everyone. And it bothered me that both homeless and visitor lacked a bench. Not that benches should be homes for the homeless. No, no. The public enjoys certain rights...but, if there's no bench, is there a larger problem?

I'm not so naive as to think the homeless problem is completely solvable. But I'm old enough to understand that problems have solutions. I'm old enough to remember another era when people worked together for the common good; when Republicans didn't eat Here and Democrats didn't eat There; when the United States didn't summarily invade another country; when all Americans felt a sense of duty and sacrifice; when the lesser moral gave way to the greater moral; when greed was a dirty word.

So, I opened one of the lovely blogs I follow, A Taste of Denmark (see Blogs I Follow), and returned to the January 15th post: Skovmollen, Moesgard, Aarhus. Ahhh, there was the bench my husband and I had sat on.

And, then, I remembered (again) one of my favorite quips: Athatha Christie once said of her anthropologist husband that the older she got the more he became interested in her. What Dame Agatha meant was that the past held valuable information that enriched the present.

Appreciating the past is good. Remembering is good. I wish those who constantly try to pull down President Obama would remember that internal discord ravaged the Qin Dynasty, the era that produced the Terra Cotta Warriors. I wish that these obstructionists -- the politicians, bankers, doctors, lawyers, Republican tea-baggers, and Wall Street elite -- would realize that President Obama wants to sit with them on a bench where the coversation centers on what's good for our country. The good that could come from such a positive conversation would benefit you, me, and the homeless.

Like the water mill in Skovmollen, we can preserve the nobility of went before us without limiting the future.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Moroccan Argan Oil

Moroccan argan oil! Hmmmm, you ask, What does Moroccan argan oil have to do with Seven Remarkable People? The short answer is, absolutely nothing, per se. Whoa, there's a reason! The morning got away from me. Just too many moving parts.

So, probably on Monday, I'll write about my next Remarkable Person. In the meantime, though, I'd like to share with you what I've learned about argan oil: It works. (And if you already know this, please excuse my enthusiasm!)

I've got really dry skin and am always on the look-out for a cream or oil that does more than just glob on the surface. Well, about a month ago, I found a travel article about a goat and berry bushes and the argan nut that caught my attention.

In Morocco and parts of Egypt, there's a goat that thrives on the argan berry. The black goats jump, almost fly, into the rather large, rough-looking bush and eat the berries. (See photo, right.) The goats excrete the nuts. North African Berbers collect the nuts, clean them, then pulverize the nut to obtain the oil. This process, which has been on-going for long centuries, remains as it was in today's Morocco, where tourists and locals can buy the oil in small village shops or from vendors. For the commercial market, machines clean and pulverize the nuts. However, the product remains organic. And First Cold Press is best.

After reading the article, I thought back to a beautiful little container of oil I'd bought in Italy a couple of years ago. I'd wandered into a small, but pricey, boutique on a side street in Grado, and thinking I was sampling a scent, sprayed my wrist lightly. Instead, of a perfumed mist, though, a blob of oil splattered my wrist. And this turned out to be a stroke of good luck. After massaging my hands, the oil felt light, then lighter, and disappeared into a silky, really nice feeling. I bought the little jar.

But I couldn't open the jar and travel with it ... those airline rules ... so returned home, tucked the jar in my cabinet and forgot about it. After I read the argan/goat article, I raced for the jar, brought it to the pharmacist to check that the content hadn't spoiled (it hadn't), and began using the product. A week later, I couldn't believe my hands were actually mine. And I'm convinced a couple of crows feet have disappeared. (Humor me!)

Knowing I'd eventually run out,I ordered more from Amazon. (There's a variety product names.) Only $32.00 for 100ml (free shipping). What arrived is from Morocco and the same quality I purchased in Italy, at half the price for double the amount (I poured some of the new oil in the pretty little jar that turned out to be very expensive.) Next up: Shampoo.

Oh, almost forgot...when my argan oil arrived, I excitedly showed the bottle to my husband -- and was about to tell him how the oil came to be -- when he said, "Oh, that's the oil from that nut that a goat craps out." When we lived in Egypt, he saw these goats in some of the more remote villages.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

Happy Birthday, Elvis! In my mind's eye, you look the same, still handsome, still rockin' and still swiveling.

Now, don't be offended, but I didn't know I was going to fall in love with you. Grade school was kinda young for that stuff. But, a bit later, oh, man, you got my hormones rockin'! Well, to be fair, the same thing happened to my girlfriends. We used to argue who would marry you, not that it was legal for girls our age to get married, except in Mississippi, where the legal age was 13. But, sigh, not in Louisiana, where we had to be 16. So we fantasized that, since Mississippi was close to Louisiana, you'd know we were Here and Somehow we'd end up in Mississippi, all married and happy. And to prove our loyalty, we turned the volume down real low when Pat Boone sang.

It didn't worry us girls one bit that you couldn't marry all of us. Because I knew, deep down, that once you saw Me, well, you wouldn't notice Melodie and Bitsy and the rest. And when Melodie announced, during a sleepover, that You were her True Love, I kept quiet, for I knew. That is, until Priscilla entered the picture. Sigh!

Okay, I'll admit it: I didn't know what jealousy was until you hooked up with Priscilla. I took your poster off my bedroom wall, rolled up your swiveling hips and stuck you and your pouty lips under my bed. On the other hand, Melodie ripped you off her wall, tore you into little pieces and stuffed you in the garbage can. Even her mom thought that was a bit much. She liked you. As did my mom. Maybe they even loved you. I don't know. Moms didn't talk much about love Back Then.

But, like Melodie and thousands - no, millions! - of others, I never stopped loving you. I love you today, your 75th birthday, as much as I ever did. And I keep your 78-RPM Christmas album nicely wrapped, in a box, in a chest where there's a copy of my marriage certificate. I'm sorry, Elvis, but it wouldn't have worked between us, not that way. But there are different kinds of love. And, when my husband and I went to Graceland some years ago, he fell into respect-love.

Our tour group started out happy and excited. By the time we exited your home and paid our individual respects before your grave, everyone was crying. We just couldn't help it. If the contributions you made to the music industry awed us, your creative genius muted us. And how you must have suffered, deep inside, pierced our hearts. We had grown up with you and hadn't known and silently wondered how this could have happened. I guess we were just all shook up with being young.
Those of you who'd like to take a pictorial trip to New Orleans (and environs), please visit (I subscribe via e-mail). Jolie's photos, with little or no comment, speak volumes and offer something for everyone.
I'm presently re-reading Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and can't recommend it highly enough. Mr. Smith really is a philosopher. He writes about Life, through the most charming stories, and in the most entertaining, refreshing, feel-good way. You don't have ti read the stories in order, but I think it adds more to what you get out of the series. Enjoy! Enjoy! (His latest book is about London during WWII; I'm waiting for the paperback to add to my collection...hard to do, but won't be long.)
My Remarkable People series should return around Tuesday or Wednesday. And, what's up is a Feel-good angel! XOXO, Kittie

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seneca and George Bush and Sarah Palin

On page 152 of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, one of Mary Ann Shaffer's characters states, "As Seneca says, 'Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.'" And this quote hit a responsive chord. (And you probably can guess Why.)

I remembered Seneca (also called Seneca the Younger) from an LSU lecture I didn't cut, but not much of the particulars, except that he was a Roman philosopher, one of the Stoics. So, thanks to Wikipedia, this is what I've bundled together:

Seneca, who lived from 4 BCE - AD 65, is thought by many to be the first great Western thinker, especially in regard to human relationships. As one of the Stoic Philosophers, he considered destructive emotions to be the result of errors in judgment...and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will that is in accord with nature. The Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life, and they thought that the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said but how he behaved. (Wikipedia)

And, just as I was re-acquainting myself with the Stoics, I remembered Justinian I. ("Of course, Justinian!" I said to myself. "Where has my brain been?" Duh!) But back to Wikipedia for details: As the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople (Istanbul), Justinian I or Justinian the Great (AD 483 - 565 AD) shut down all philosophy schools, including the Stoics, in 529 AD because he perceived their pagan character to be at odds with his Christian faith.

Now, without turning this simple blog into an historical outline (because much happened then), suffice it to say that Justinian I is considered a saint among Eastern Orthodox Christians, is commemorated by various Lutheran churches, is reviled by some as a 'cruel and incompetent ruler', and is respected by most for rewriting the Corpus Juris Civilis, the basis of civil law in modern states. (Wikipedia) Justinian's rule is also part of history's time line where the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire blur into one.

Justinian exercised the despot's self-righteousness to engage the Empire in two costly wars, in Carthage and the Kingdom of Italy, and build the very expensive Hagia Sophia Church.

Fun guy that he was, Justinian paid scant attention to the financial drain these wars cost, ignored the tactical error of splitting his troops, and didn't care that the construction of the costly Hagia Sophia Church drained coffers perilously low.

Because in the 540s the Bubonic Plague hit. And spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. People died in the thousands. The living stacked the dead on streets when cemeteries filled.

And because so many died, Justinian lost his tax base.

And because of this financial loss, the Empire he had somewhat succeeded in bringing together would decline. And a few wars would be lost to the marauding Arabs. And the church that would stand in glorious splendor for a couple of centuries, would become a mosque (Istanbul's Blue Mosque).

And Justinian's descendants wouldn't crawl out of this historical hole until the Ninth Century.

And the plague that hit would be known as the Plague of Justinian or Justinian's Plague.

And the reign of Justinian I would be known as a pivotal point in history.

I doubt that Bush thought about -- or knew about -- Justinian I when he invaded Iraq. I doubt that Sarah Palin and others in that self-absorbed and self-righteous circle realize that their verbal bites spread a plague that can pull the United States down.

Because these dysfunctional political hacks are a caricature of the loud loquaciousness Seneca warned against.