Friday, April 26, 2013

What is the Function of Art? ~and a "Music Heals Us" Project Update

This article, The Trueness of Beauty, by George Anderson, has me thinking (again) about beauty, art, and in particular about Lauren and Danny's music project planned for this summer. Anderson asks the question:

"What is the function of art?"

His answer:

"It's to heal. And such also is the function of love."

Anderson acknowledges that form and function can't be separated, however looking at the approach of art, he feels, can help us to identify what has gone wrong when art and love aren't working. 

He also asks:

"So how should we talk to each other?"

Art and love as healing, and healing in relationship with other--that's what I'm thinking about. I look forward to seeing how Lauren and Danny will have a chance to embody these ideas through their music this summer.

Project Update:  John (Active Son) has signed on as the project manager and will be accompanying Lauren and Danny to the West Bank this summer.

John had already made plans to be in Jordan this summer for an internship, and is glad to join with his sister in this project for part of the summer. I'm glad too, and I think his strengths in the areas of  logistics and service will contribute to the goals and vision of the project in a significant way. 

Danny, Lauren, and John have a little over a week to finish raising the necessary funds for their project. Many thanks to those of you who have contributed. If you haven't already, you can read more about their project on their Kickstarter page.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why I'm Reading Gilead Slowly

I think I'm figuring it out.

This week, as I neared the halfway point of  Gilead, I pondered as to why it was taking me so long to read this book. I have already reckoned with the fact that I need to read fiction more slowly than non-fiction, but still. I was able to zip through, and appreciate Chaim Potok's, The Chosen, in a matter of days. Gilead is taking weeks, okay, months. It's not that I don't like the book; Marilynne Robinson's writing is exquisite; I so admire her intellect and her easy, graceful expression of the human condition. (If you like Marilynne Robinson, do follow these links!)

I sensed Gilead isn't a book I can read well just before bed, when my mind either fades or runs too quickly. I should read this book when my pace of living is relaxed (not so often) and I have time to read and savor. I had such an opportunity the other day, and so decided to spend some time with Reverend Ames and his memiors. I didn't get very far. I read the passage below and then stopped:

"I was speaking of visions. I remember once when I was a young child my father helped to pull down a church that had burned. Lightning struck the steeple, and then the steeple fell into the building. It rained the day we came to pull it down. The pulpit was left intact, standing there in the rain, but the pews were mostly kindling. There was a lot of praising the Lord that it happened at midnight on a Tuesday. It was a warm day, a warm rain, and there was no real shelter, so everybody ignored it, more or less. All kinds of people came to help. It was like a camp meeting and a picnic. They unhitched the horses  and we younger children lay on an old quilt under the wagon out of the way and talked and played marbles, and watched the older boys and the men clamber over the ruins, searching out Bibles and hymnals. They would sing, we would all sing, "Blessed Jesus" and "The Old Rugged Cross," and the wind would blow the rain in gusts and the spray would reach us where we were. It was cooler than the rain was. The rain falling on the wagon bed sounded the way it does in an attic eave. It never rains, but I remember that day. And when they had gathered up all the books that were ruined, they made two graves for them, and put the Bibles in one and the hymnals in the other, and then the minister whose church it was--a Baptist, as I recall--said a prayer over them. I was always amazed watching grownups, at the way they seemed to know what was to be done in any situation, to know what was the decent thing.

The women put the pies and cakes they had brought and the books that would still be used into our wagon and then covered the bed with planks and tarps and lap robes. The rood was pretty damp. No one seems to have thought there might be rain. And harvest was coming, so they'd have been too busy to come back again for a good while. They put the pulpit under a tree and covered it with a horse blanket, and they salvaged whatever they could, which amounted mainly to shingles and nails, and then they pulled down everything that was still standing, to make a bonfire when it all dried out. The ashes turned liquid in the rain and the men who were working in the ruins got entirely black and filthy, till you could hardly know one from another. My father brought me some biscuit that had soot on it from his hands. "Never mind," he said  "there's nothing cleaner than ash." But it affected the taste of that biscuit, which I thought might resemble the bread of affliction, which was often mentioned in those days, though it's rather forgotten now.

"Strange are the uses of adversity." That's a fact. When I'm up here in my study with the radio on and some old book in my hands and it's nighttime and the wind blows and the house creaks, I forget where I am, and it's as though I'm back in hard times for a minute or two, and there's a sweetness in the experience which I don't understand. But that only enhances the value of it. My point here is that you never know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature. I remember my father down on his heels in the rain, water dripping from his hat, feeding me biscuit from his scorched hand  with the old blackened wreck of a church behind him and steam rising where the rain fell on embers, the rain falling in gusts and the women singing, "The Old Rugged Cross" while they saw to things, moving so gently as if they were dancing to the hymn, almost. In those days no grown woman ever let herself be seen with her hair undone, but that day even the grand old women had their hair falling down their backs like schoolgirls. It was so joyful and sad. I mention it again because it seems to me much of my life was comprehended in that moment. Grief itself has often returned me to that morning, when I took communion from my father's hand. I remember it as communion, and I believe that's what it was."

It didn't seem right to keep reading. This short narrative needed to be savored, pondered. Though prose, it had the feel of a poem to me, and though I had the time, I couldn't make myself read on.

On Sunday night, Dear Husband, Artist Son and I had a brief discussion about abstract art and how to approach it. We are tempted to ask, "What does it mean?" Artist Son, recalling insights gained from poet John Ciardi's book, How Does a Poem Mean?,  proposed we should instead ask, "How does it mean?" Form and content are inextricably bound.

John Ciardi says it well, but then he would because he is a poet, and I think his insight extends beyond poetry to prose, music, and visual art:

"For What Does The Poem Mean? is too often a self-destroying approach to poetry. A more useful way of asking the question is: How Does a Poem Mean? Why does it build itself into a form out of images, ideas, rhythms? How do these elements become the meaning? How are they inseparable from the meaning. As Yeats wrote:

O body swayed to music, o quickening glance,

How shall I tell the dancer from the dance?

What the poem is, is inseparble from its own performance of itself. The dance is in the dancer and the dance is in the dance. Or put in another way: where is the "dance" when no one is dancing it? and what man is a "dancer" except when he is dancing?

Above all else, poetry is a performance...What for example does a dance "mean"? Or what does music "mean"? Or what does a juggler "mean" when we watch him with such admiration of his skill? All of these forms--and poetry with them--have meaning only as they succeed in being good performances."

And what then, makes a good performance? That is a point to be pondered further, but the first idea that comes to mind is a favorite point of mine made by author Dorothy Sayers in her writing on aesthetics:

"A poet is a man who not only suffers the impact of external events but also experiences them (You only experience a thing when you can express it--however haltingly--to your own mind--also Sayers) He puts the experience into words in his own mind, and in so doing recognizes the experience for what it is. To the extent that we can do that, we are all poets. A poet so-called is simply a man like ourselves with an exceptional power of revealing his experience by expressing it (me: not only in words, perhaps, but also in music or visual art) , so that not only he, but we ourselves, recognize that experience as our own."

And to add to my ponderings, as if that were needed, Tatya is working on writing narratives in her composition course this week. We are considering: point of view, purpose, subject, characteristic trait, movement, and order. I've been thinking in particular of the movement of the details in Gilead--slow. And so, I am reading Gilead slowly.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Garden Journal~April 2013

We will enjoy our first summer in Mafraq this year, and so made extra efforts to finish planting our garden. We moved into this house and yard in the fall of 2011, and at that time I planted only the perennials that I brought with me from Amman, so those are the most established. Last spring, I didn't add much of anything as we would be in the States the entire dry, hot summer. The garden went into survival mode, with a friend keeping the bare minimum of moisture on it.

I returned to Jordan last fall, ever optimistic of making my garden bloom, with a dozen seed packets and several live lavender plants. I transplanted the lavender plants in the fall; the Giant Hidcote and the Grosso, below, are faring the best and have lots of new growth on them. Already blooming is the french lavender that I brought up from Amman. I added the small phlomis bush this spring

Dear Husband put up our canopy a few weeks ago. It has been in storage since moving from Amman. I added a few red geraniums for color, and there is a potted mint plant in the back. The Russian sage is half in/half out of the canopy--we'll see how that works. It doesn't seem to mind so far, so I will leave it for now, hoping that it doesn't attract too many bees when it blooms. To its left is a small lantana with bright pink flowers. It is very drought resistant and should do well in its sunny spot.

The ranunculus are on their way out, but the irises are looking great. I still have lots of empty space in my flower beds, but they are fully planted now with the white plastic yogurt containers marking and protecting the seedlings I transplanted on Friday: blue salvia, verbena, coneflowers, and coreopsis.

Dear Husband marked off two herb/tomato beds for me. The soil level is raised just a little, but the main purpose of the wood is to mark off the beds. Right now they hold fifteen basil plants, three beet plants, and about 25 tomato plants. I'm pretty confident about the basil plants, but it is my first attempt at vegetables. I'm pretty sure my soil isn't up to par, even with the compost and peat moss we added. I 'll continue to add compost and coffee grounds. Please feel free to share any tips you have for growing tomatoes!

The pomegranate tree is bursting into bloom

The other flower bed, also a work in process, but anchored by the ever-blooming lavender.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Milestone Birthday

When I was young, I felt April to be the perfect month for a birthday, and now that I am older I still feel that way. Living in Jordan has reinforced my thankfulness for an April birthday for a couple of reasons: Dear Husband and my children take me on a trip to the countryside to enjoy the soon-to-fade spring beauty one last time, and it is a perfect excuse for some of my dearest friends to get together to see each other after a busy winter and early spring.

I celebrated my 50th(!) birthday last week, and though it is a milestone birthday of sorts, I was able to convince Dear Husband and Tayta that I wanted nothing more than an afternoon trip to the countryside, ending with an early dinner at our favorite Lebanese restaurant in Jerash. My wishes were obliged, enhanced with a few sweet touches by family and friends. I awoke to this banner, which I could see and read even before getting out of bed. (Yes, I have a view into the kitchen from my bed. I think it very cozy.)

Dear Husband went to work for the morning and my friend, Kelly, called to ask if she could stop by. We enjoyed a cup of coffee/tea together and some relaxed conversation. She showered me with some fun gifts--chocolate, of course, and this lovely tea towel which she embroidered. Translation: "shy" = tea. Yis'lam idayki! (God's peace on your hands). What a unexpectedly pleasant beginning to my day!

Dear Husband came home about lunch time.We grabbed our water bottles, sunscreen, and cameras, and we all set off for an afternoon of  wildflower spotting in the countryside. As it is mid-April, the colors of the landscape are fading and muting. The textures are changing too, as wheat and grasses grow long, even as their color fades, and sturdier wildflowers take the stage, replacing those who have finished performing.

It is always a delight to observe some species of wildflower that I've not observed before, and I found a few on my birthday. The first one was easy to find as we could see many bright yellow clumps of flax as we drove the road from Mafraq to Jerash.

Linum mucronatum
Yellow Flax

This doesn't look like much to take a picture of, but this clump of spent irises looked to be black irises and so I took note of their location. I'll try returning a couple weeks earlier next year to observe them. Hat tip to Dear Husband for finding them.

At our next roadside stop, Tatya camped out at one particular clump of Anchusa around which fluttered about a dozen butterflies. She took this beautiful picture:

I found a few interesting flowers just hanging out by the side of the road:

Crupina crupinastrum

Something in genus Asteriscus, I think?

Hmm. I can't get better than family Lamiaceae on this one. At least for now.


We continued on to Dibeen Nature Reserve. I nurtured a hope of spotting an orchid there, though I thought it was probably too late in the season. The pine forest of Dibeen is one of the few places in Jordan where orchids are found in the wild. Being the beautiful spring day that it was, the forest was full of picnickers.

We found a deserted field just outside of the forested area so we stopped to relax for awhile, and of course, take a look around for wildflowers.

Maybe something in the genus Anthemis?

Cistus creticus
Pink Rock Rose

Something in the mint/sage family of plants~Lamiaceae

Trifolium purpureum
Purple Clover

Dear Husband enjoyed the outdoors in his own particular way.

We had to drive back through the picnickers and pine forest to leave the reserve; there was no color to be found, except the green of the trees and the accumulating trash of the picnickers. And then I spotted this from the car window, growing right next to the road.

"Stop the car! I think I saw an orchid!"

From a distance, it didn't look like much, but as I got a close-up view I was delighted to behold its orchid beauty, orchid beauty of a species I hadn't yet seen before. Such a perfect end to a day of wildflower spotting!

Limodorum abortivum
Violet Limodore

We made our way from Dibeen back to Jerash. The Lebanese House was packed with people, but thankfully we had only to wait about ten minutes for a table. My next wonderful birthday surprise was the arrival of  one of my first friends in Jordan, a kindred spirit who has been as a sister to me. She is in the thick of writing her doctoral dissertation, not to mention teaching and directing a play, and I have not talked with her since Christmas! Just two days ago I shot off a plaintive Facebook message to her: " Any chance that I'll be able to see you soon? I MISS YOU!  Dear husband knew nothing of this message when he arranged the surprise. And its a good thing that her husband came along so that Dear Husband had someone to talk to as my friend and I yakked the almost the entire time. Tatya did a lot of listening through that dinner.

The perfect end to the day was arriving home and enjoying a Skype call with all my children, scattered about four locations, if you count Tayta in Jordan. Tatya thought the one blight on an otherwise perfect birthday was the absence of a birthday cake, but with my Lebanese dinner and Lindt chocolate I didn't miss it at all. She promises me a belated birthday cake. My cup runneth over! Happy Birthday to me! 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wadi Dana~Rim Hike

After enjoying a leisurely Arab breakfast, put out by the camp organizers, and our now traditional Wadi Dana Palm  Sunday/Easter passion play with singing and prayer, most of us decided to set on on the Dana rim hike. The hike was not a race, but I soon fell to the back of the pack since I stopped so often to look, smell, and take pictures. At least in the beginning I can still see my other hiking friends as we head up to the top of the rim of  Wadi Dana.

I never tire of the views, every view, in this remarkable place. Wadi Dana's beautifully rugged landscape falls along the face of the Great Rift Valley, and it is the only nature reserve in Jordan which includes all four of the bio-geographical zones found in Jordan. That explains the diversity of flora found here.

Located in the valley is the Feynan district, which is rich with copper and is believed to be  the site of King Solomon's famed copper mines. During the time of the Roman empire, Christians were condemned to work in the copper mines under oppressive conditions, which often led to death. 

I discovered something beautiful around every turn in the path. Sometimes a carpet of wildflowers...

 ...and many times, a fragrant thorny broom bush.

Thorny Broom


Sun Rose

Edit: Tayta scolded me for forgetting to add the family picture. I real had thought to do that but, I forgot. Tatya laments my lack of people pictures. And, I must remember to take the family picture before our last two minutes in the campground, after two full days of hiking and camping!

Monday, April 08, 2013

A Musical Endeavor

Two years ago, Oldest Daughter, Lauren, and violinist, Holly Jenkins, brought their music to Jordan and Palestine, seeking to engage people with limited opportunities of experiencing classical music. Through musical performance, teaching, and workshops, they shared their music, while learning about different forms and possibilities of cross-cultural engagement. These experiences planted a seed of vision in Lauren; during the past two years that seed has germinated and sprouted, and now it continues to grow.

This summer, Lauren, plans to return to the Middle East, this time with her friend and fellow musician, Danny Lai. A violist, Danny  has nurtured a similar vision of how he might share the gift of music he has received. When he and Lauren met at Northwestern University, where they study with Roland and Almita Vamos, a collaboration began.

One of the goals of their project is to explore long term possibilities for similar music projects for themselves and other musicians, and to consider what sort of framework might best support such efforts. I love their vision and their ambition. And, of course, I look forward to seeing Lauren and Danny in Jordan this summer, and hearing them play music together.

You can read more about their project on their Kickstarter page.

Wadi Dana~Morning Beauty

I awoke our first morning in Dana, looking forward to my Dana morning routine: Grab some coffee (and a cookie) and head to the outskirts of our campground for some some time alone before the camp breakfast, served at 8:30am.

The dark clouds moved quickly across the campground and I felt confident the sun would soon break through.

I easily found one my familiar perches overlooking Wadi (valley) Dana and settled in to enjoy some time with my Creator in the midst of His majestic creation. Praise spontaneously filled and overflows my heart as I tried to absorb it in all the beauty.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee...

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name in earth, and sky, and sea.


Something in the Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) Family

And here I go again, noticing the the enduring beauty of trees, a contrast the the fleeting beauty of the wildflowers.

Phonecian Juniper

Retama raetam

The sun breaks through, just in time for an after-breakfast hike around the rim.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Wadi Dana~So Much Beauty

Our annual spring camping trip to Wadi Dana Nature Reserve took place two weeks ago, and though we've been camping there for years, I never tire or become accustomed to the beauty of Creation in this place. It is always fresh, the landscapes always slightly different from the year before, depending on the weather of the previous winter. Jordan received a lot of rain this winter (that is a very relative "a lot") and so we were treated to green and yellow versions of familiar fields and rocky crevices.

Finding beauty around every rock and bend in the path, I took many pictures this year. Thus, I'll write a few posts to cover our camping weekend so that I can savor its loveliness all over again.

Upon arriving at the Rumman campground, I took my belongings to our assigned tent, where I found this little bit of wildlife waiting to greet me. Likely, that's not really what he was waiting for, but this lizard did not budge, even when I pointed my camera at him and clicked away. I wished I could call for Artist Son, the Lizard Whisperer of our family, but he was thousands of miles away. Another young man tried to catch him, but in the end, we "guided" him out the tent flap. I'd much rather have a lizard in my tent than any bug.

As soon as we unpacked and ate some lunch, it was time for our first hike. I love this group of woman, many of whom I've camped with for years. And a shout out to Anneloes, my Dutch friend visiting from Cairo. She has seen pictures of Dana which I've posted in past years, and this year she is in one! We were delighted to have her and her family join us in Dana this year.



The Leopoldia, or Tassel Hyacinth, were popping up everywhere. This one was smack in the middle of the path, but it had such a presence that everyone was careful to hike around it.

We made it back to camp just in time to eat our chili dinner before dark, and to begin adding the layers as the cold set in. I was very thankful for my second-thought, last-minute packing additions of my wool long underwear and my down jacket.