Thursday, September 30, 2021

September In My Kitchen

It's been a quiet month here.

Changing Seasons Outside My Kitchen Door

Early morning, first day of Autumn from my kitchen door. 
A very cool rainy day after a long warm spell.

Later, we had more sun, but the leaves are turning.
The weather now is nice, and more sunshine is predicted.


Autumn evenings are lovely, but it now gets dark rather early for outdoor dining,
and soon it will be dark early and maybe too chilly for outdoor cooking.
On the table: Len's old iPhone. He has now upgraded to the newly-released version.

Cooking and Eating At Home

Duck eggs. Big but they taste pretty much like normal eggs.

The table set for four of us!

We were at home for the entire month of September, and we cooked and ate almost every meal at home. My sister and brother-in-law visited us for a few days. Once during their visit, we got some take-out sandwiches, cider, and donuts to eat as a picnic at the Dexter Cider Mill — otherwise we ate at home. I didn't take pics at the cider mill this year, as it's always the same, but here are last year's photos: Cider and Donuts.

Homemade tomato and pumpkin soup in the refrigerator.

Another refrigerator scene: chicken and roast vegetables in my
vintage CorningWare casserole which I received as a wedding present.

Cauliflower cheese, browned in the toaster oven.

Local tomatoes are becoming hard  to find.

Len continues to bake many kinds of bread, all wonderful.

What passes for excitement in my neighborhood?

A huge tree fell a few blocks from here during one of the beginning-of-autumn storms.

Blog post and photos © 2021 mae sander.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Kensington MetroPark

Several sandhill cranes at Kinsington Metropark have become tame.
I was very close to this one, which was hanging out near the parking lot.


This is a pileated woodpecker, which is slightly unusual but not rare. It resembles the ivory-billed woodpecker, which very sadly today was declared extinct, along with a number of other species that have not been found in many years. For the complete story about this ongoing tragedy see this just-published story in the Washington Post:
On the wall of the Nature Center: a reproduction of a painting from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The work is titled “Cycles,” by Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007)
It depicts Ojibwa spirits of a frog, fish, bear, bird, and turtle:
animals you can see in the park — except the bear.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Poets in the Neighborhood

Several famous poets have lived in Ann Arbor and taught at the University of Michigan. Three of them in particular lived in my neighborhood, and I like to think about them when I pass their one-time homes. Here are some biographical details about the poets and their presence in my neighborhood. In order to make this a manageable post, I'm not going to talk about any of their actual poetry -- though it's wonderful!

W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

W. H. Auden taught at the University of Michigan during the 1941-1942 academic year. At the beginning of this time, Auden lived in a house on the site that had formerly hosted the poet Robert Frost, who had briefly visited the University in the 1920s. The Robert Frost Ann Arbor house had been moved to Greenfield Village, where Henry Ford had a collection of important American-historical buildings, so it is very well-known but also it's not in Ann Arbor any more.

During the latter part of the 1941-1942 academic year, Auden and  his lover, the poet Chester Kallman (1921-1975), then a graduate student at the university, lived a block down the street from my current home. They sublet a house from a professor who was on sabbatical as often happens in university towns. I very frequently walk past this house, and think about the two poets and what living here may have been like in the 1940s. Probably not that different from what it's like now -- you can walk through the nearby park and continue to the campus in around 25 minutes, which is what they no doubt did. 

Rumors in the neighborhood claim that Auden and Kallman were highly unsatisfactory sabbatical-year tenants for a respectable professor's home, and that they did not leave the house in good condition. Obviously by the time I heard people talking about this, virtually no one still had first-hand memories of these famous renters, but I did find a little information by diligently googling:
"Much to the chagrin of their neighbors as well as the campus authorities, Auden and Kallman hosted regular 'At Homes.' Unfortunately, Auden’s only literary record of the group, a masque that Auden wrote for his guests to perform at one of the 'At Homes,' no longer exists: 'The Queen’s Masque, by Bojo the Homo, played by Kallman’s Klever Kompanions.' Auden described it as 'really obscene,' and reacted to the disappearance of the manuscript by saying, 'I do hope the F.B.I. hasn’t been prying up here.'" (source)

I believe that several Auden biographies offer more details about Auden's life in Ann Arbor, but I'm not into such a big research project right now. So I've offered you some 80-year-old gossip.

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Joseph Brodsky was a Russian poet who was severely mistreated by the Communist regime in his early years, and when he was forced to leave the Soviet Union, he began his exile in Ann Arbor, where he was appointed as a poetry lecturer. The University of Michigan Slavic Languages Department website describes his arrival thus:
"The crucial link between Brodsky and the U-M was the late Carl R. Proffer, professor of Russian Literature. Proffer and his wife Ellendea were co-founders of Ardis Press, which had published a number of Brodsky's works. He happened to be in Leningrad visiting Brodsky in May, 1972, when the poet received notification from the authorities that he was being issued an exit visa for emigration to Israel. After responding that he was not interested in leaving his native land and culture, Brodsky was warned that the coming winter would be very cold — a threat that was not lost on a man who had been convicted of 'social parasitism' for living on his poetry and had served a stretch in exile working on a collective farm in the Russian far north. He decided to discuss the matter with his American friend, and Proffer, in his optimistic way, told Brodsky that he could come and teach in Ann Arbor. Brodsky accepted the idea, and Proffer contacted Benjamin Stolz, who at the time chaired the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures. After receiving authorization to hire Brodsky, Stolz obtained an immigration visa personally approved by William Rogers, Secretary of State, and flew to Chicago to get a federal work permit." (source)

 Auden has also been given credit for assisting Brodsky to come to Michigan:

"Auden was instrumental in bringing Joseph Brodsky to Ann Arbor for a teaching position in 1972 when the Soviet Union cast him out as a danger to the State. In 1987 when Brodsky was no longer in residence at Michigan (alas!), he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and in 1991 he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States." (source)

For part of the time he was here in Ann Arbor, Brodsky rented an apartment on the top floor of a very impressive home just up the street from my house. I also walk past there often, in the opposite direction from the house where Auden had lived. Very recently, this house was completely renovated and enlarged, so it is much grander-looking than it was back then -- I once was inside it on a home tour and I think I even saw the apartment where Brodsky had formerly lived. 

Robert Hayden (1913-1980)

Robert Hayden is considered one of the great Black American poets. A native of Detroit, he was an undergraduate at Detroit City College, now Wayne State University. He did graduate work at the University of Michigan, and received a master's degree in 1944. While studying at Michigan, he was especially encouraged by Auden, who was then teaching at the university. After teaching at Fisk University for a number of years, Hayden became a professor in the Michigan English Department, where he taught from 1969 until his death in 1980.

During the time he taught in Ann Arbor, Hayden lived a few blocks from my current home, and only one block from the house where I lived at that time. I remember seeing him and sometimes briefly talking to him when he was walking his dog around the block. His dog was named Sadie, and he told me "Sadie is a lady." At that time, I had read some of his poetry, and knew his very esteemed reputation, but of course never mentioned it in our very brief conversations.

An anonymous article at, titled "Robert Hayden's Bus Route," included this memory:

"Hayden lived at 1201 Gardner Avenue, not far from campus; however, his severe nearsightedness made it impossible for him to drive, or even walk the rutted sidewalks to work. As a result, Hayden regularly took the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's #5 bus that ran along Packard Street. It was short ride between the Congregational Church on State Street near campus and the intersection of Gardner and Packard. From there, he had a quick walk home, along a sidewalk bordered with hedges and lilac bushes." (source)
Recently, the Ann Arbor City Council voted to establish a committee to consider granting special historical status to the house on Gardner, in honor of Hayden and his contribution to the university. (source)

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.


Monday, September 27, 2021

What we are watching

 "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"

Another film by the Coen Brothers: "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs." The introductory song, "Cool Clear Water," was an old popular cowboy song, written in the 1930s and popular in the 1940s. It was effectively included in the movie, which is a collection of short episodes about the old west with a talented cast and lots of amusing scenes. We rewatched it a few days ago. It's a lot of fun, especially the first two or three episodes which are pretty much a send-up of classic cowboy movies.

The Great British Baking Show, 2021 Season

Friday, September 24, at 3 AM the first episode of the 2021 season of the Great British Baking Show was released on Netflix for American viewers. We watched it at around 8:30 AM. It's not that different from the previous 100 or so episodes we have watched over the years, but we like it. We will no doubt be watching every Friday until the last 2021 episode is complete and we know who won. Then we'll forget who won and what they baked, as we have forgotten the details of all the previous seasons. It's delightfully mindless and in-the-moment.

Paul, Prue, and Noel: back for another season.

The contestants this year aren't very different from prior years, including traditional British natives and a variety of immigrants to Britain who have adapted to British baking. From the Guardian review of the first episode:
"This time around we have Jürgen, the German IT guy, who brought in nuts, bolts and a spanner to aid him with the final task, and the Italian engineer Giuseppe, whose pronunciation of the phrase Jack and the Beanstalk was sweeter than sugar-cane cannoli. We have Jairzeno the Trinidadian, and Freya, the 19-year-old Scarborough vegan. Amanda is a detective who likes wild swimming; Tom seems like the sort of man who would be at home in a model railway shop. Fortunately, his family runs one." (source)
Full disclosure: I'm not that crazy about eating cake. The Great British Baking Show is all theater to me, and doesn't make me hungry or inspire me to actually perform anything in the kitchen. But as they used to say "There will always be an England."

"Midnight Diner"

Thanks to a review by the blog Intrepid Reader and Baker (here) I've begun watching the Japanese series "Midnight Diner" on Netflix. It takes place in a diner in Tokyo which opens at midnight, and which is full of colorful night-owls whose favorite foods are made by the diner's cook and only employee (or maybe its owner), known as "the Master." It's a hilariously funny show but you have to let the humor sneak up on you. 

I agree with the New Yorker reviewer who wrote:
“Midnight Diner” is the rare show that I love but can’t binge-watch—I need to savor the show’s slow, meditative rhythms. The same goes for the food, which we see the Master prepare, and which always looks delicious. It’s particularly moving when regulars ask him to make their childhood favorites—a reminder of the basic comfort that his diner provides. Nighttime is when feelings of euphoria, or despair, feel particularly acute. Yet there’s a simple pleasure to eating with strangers, and swapping stories, in a small room full of people who can be alone together. (source)

I've watched the first few, and I'll be savoring my way through at least several more episodes pretty soon!

Blog post © 2021 mae sander. 


Sunday, September 26, 2021

"Ghost Wall," A Book of Abuse

"There are no surprises. They place another rope around her neck, hold the knife up to the setting sun as it edges behind the rocks. What is necessary is on hand, the sharpened willow withies, the pile of stones, the small blades and the large. The stick for twisting the rope. 

"Not yet. There is an art to holding her in the place she is entering now, on the edge of the water-earth, in the time and space between life and death, too late to return to the living and not time, not yet, not for a while, to be quite dead." Sarah Moss, Ghost Wall (p. 4). 

This very frightening book begins with a human sacrifice. Throughout the book, you are wondering how this starting point will become an ending point. The initial chapter, written in an omniscient voice, describes the girl who is sacrificed in front of a crowd: "her neighbours and her family, ... the people who held her hands as she learnt to walk, taught her to dip her bread in the pot and wipe her lips, to weave a basket and gut a fish. She has played with the children who now peep at her from behind their mothers, has murmured prayers for them as they were being born." (p. 4).

After this grizzly description, the narration of Sarah Moss's amazing novella Ghost Wall is done by a young modern girl, Silvie. She and her parents are engaged in an anthropologist-professor's reenactment of life in the Iron Age in the north of Britain, along with some of the professor's students, including Molly, a woman who has her own ideas of how to cope with these very odd circumstances. Molly isn't nearly as committed to Iron Age life as the others: when she should be gathering wild foods, she sneaks off to a shop that sells sweets, snacks, and ice cream, and she finds a way to have a hot shower and wash her hair, which the reenactment doesn't allow. 

Yes, here I am reading one more book that features anthropology, and again, it's totally different from the books I was talking about yesterday (posted here).

Silvie's father is a bus driver and her mother works as a grocery-store checkout clerk, but her father is obsessed with learning about Iron Age living. In fact he's a British chauvinist who thinks the Iron Age inhabitants of Britain were the real deal, as opposed to immigrants throughout history. His disapproval covers these interlopers: including the Roman legionnaires, who may have brought African people with them, and of course despising much more recent newcomers from around the globe. Thanks to her father's focus on Iron Age life and purity, he has forced them to spend the family vacation living painfully in the woods without plumbing or other conveniences. 

While Silvie's father, a dreadful abuser of his wife and daughter, is having fun, he insists that the three women -- Silvie, her mother, and Molly -- do all the painful Iron-Age labor of gathering roots and berries in the woods, building fires, and preparing unfamiliar foods with the tools he thinks are appropriate, like flint knives. All the inconveniences and challenges of this life are described with great vividness, which is why this book is so readable despite the cruelty. As one reviewer stated it:

"Silvie is alive to nature, and fascinated by the mummified bog people unearthed in that part of the country. But she chafes against her father’s manifold rules for historical authenticity. He longs to re-create a past when, as he imagines, 'women managed well enough' toiling in submission, and true Britons had not yet been corrupted by foreign elements." (source)

Silvie lives in utter dread of her father, who beats her brutally when he feels put down by anyone. Both she and her mother have all the victim response of fear and self-blame. If I tell you more, it will be a spoiler!

Review © 2021 mae sander.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Anthropology: Rice as Self

Katsushika Hokusai: woodblock illustration of a poem by the Emperor Tenchi Tenno (628-681).
The poem describes a sudden storm that forced the Emperor to shelter in a common rice farmer's hut.(

Was the Japanese Emperor a god? This turns out to be a fascinating question, because in Japanese belief, gods were quite different from gods in Western traditions. To understand the emperor's divinity, it's interesting to know that in former times in Japan, every grain of rice was also believed to be a god. The Emperor himself acted as a shaman: he played a role in various ceremonies and rituals to ensure successful rice harvests. While the Emperor is no longer seen as closely linked to the rice crop, rice remains a key to Japanese identity.
Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney is a challenging technical/anthropological  account of the many meanings and uses of rice in Japan over more than 2000 years. Here are some of the fascinating aspects of Japanese historical culture that I learned from this book.

Rice as Self. Published 1994.
In some parts of Japan, rice was the major source of nutrition, and elsewhere in Japan other grains like millet were more nutritionally important, as well as other foods. However, rice had a major role in the way everyone thought about food, no matter what their actual diet included. Even in modern Japan, where many other foods -- for example, toast and eggs for breakfast and KFC or American burgers for lunch -- are a major part of people's diets, rice has a significance that elevates it from ordinary food. Moreover, rice that is grown in Japan is vastly preferred, and the Japanese rice paddies are envisioned as a key feature of the Japanese landscape.

In fact, the word for rice is the word in Japanese for food. A serious meal, like a formal dinner, that doesn't end with at least a small portion of rice (or more) doesn't seem complete to traditional Japanese people. The importance of rice was diminishing in the years after World War II; in the 30 years since the research for this book was completed, its importance may have diminished even more, but the material in the book shows how significant it has been.

For most of Japanese history, until the industrialization of the 20th century, a large majority of Japanese people worked as farmers, growing many types of foods. The rice they grew was identified as the source of all wealth, both symbolically through folk tales and religious beliefs, and literally. Farmers paid their taxes in set quantities of rice. At the end of this time, as money, like coins, was in the process of being invented, oblong gold coins called koban were created with a value equal to a standard measure of rice. There was a belief that rice was always a pure currency, while money was often impure. Some circulating Japanese coins still have images of rice on them, recalling the connection of rice and wealth.

A Japanese 5-yen coin, mid-20th century,
showing a sheaf of rice.

Rice was beautiful to look at, in the aesthetic sense of Japan. Appreciation of this beauty was expressed in poetry and in art such as the poem illustrated in the woodblock print at the top of this blog post. Eating pure, white rice is the ideal, and the sight of rice being cultivated, gathered, and threshed is also appreciated: "Ripe heads of rice grain are described as having a golden luster." (p. 75) 
"As for the beauty of cooked rice, the most important characteristics are the related qualities of luster, purity and whiteness." According to the author Tanizaki Junichirō: "When cooked rice is in a lacquer container placed in the dark, shining with black luster, it is more aesthetic to look at, and it is more appetizing. When you lift the lid... you see pure white rice with vapor rising. Each grain is a pearl." (p. 76-77)

Rice fields also became the emblem of the changing seasons in Japanese art and literature, such as the autumn scene in the woodblock above, and many other such works by Hiroshige, Hokusai, and others. The author's discussion of rice in art before the westernization of Japan in the Meiji era (beginning in 1868) is especially fascinating: 

"The recurrent motifs of rice and rice agriculture in these woodblock prints represent not rice and rice agriculture per se but something far more abstract. At the most obvious level, they signal seasons of the year. Flooded rice fields... are the most familiar sign of spring or early summer... .Rice harvesting scenes, including sheaves of rice stalks... represent fall and its joyful harvest but also the end of the growing season.

"What is striking ... is that these cycles of rice growth have become markers of the seasons for all Japanese. For urbanites, fishermen, and all other nonagrarian people, life became marked by rice and its growth.

"At an even more abstract level, travelers are often depicted agains these agricultural scenes, suggesting that the scenes of rice and rice agriculture are a backdrop for an unchanging Japan, in contrast to the transient and changing Japan epitomized by Edo (Tokyo)." (p. 90)

Although Japan was not predominantly agricultural, and definitely not predominantly populated by rice farmers, rice culture became very intertwined with Japanese identity, "just as rice has been important for practically all Japanese, whether or not it was a staple food." 

There's much more to ponder in Rice as Self. I read it a long time ago, and I'm glad I finally managed to get back to it and read it again. 

UPDATE: for a modern version of rice in art see this: Japan’s Rice Art Festivals of 2021

 ... and a silly comparison 

Anthropology interests me, so I really enjoyed Rice as Self despite the dense technical and sometimes jargon-filled style and too-frequent, awkwardly inserted references to the author's sources. Ohnuki-Tierney, a real anthropologist, isn't anything like the fictional Ruth Galloway, the forensic anthropologist at the center of the easy-reading detective stories by Elly Griffiths. I'm reading them fast:  I reviewed The Outcast Dead last week, and read another in the series a few days ago. I bet Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, unlike Ruth Galloway, is never threatened by strange old men with antique guns, and never chases down kidnappers or identifies murder victims the way that Ruth Galloway does. It's fun to do a lot of reading at very different levels.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Friday, September 24, 2021

More Murals in the Creative District

The Ann Arbor Creative District again: a mural on the RR abutment.


Closeup showing the very clever mosaic of broken glass in the mural.

The other side of the RR abutment.

Is this art?

Another creature at Big City Bakery.
Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Ann Arbor Creative District


More from the Creative District where I found the
utility boxes I posted yesterday.

This mural was only partly finished when I photographed it in August. The woodpecker is new.

Link to previous photos of this building.

Fish sculpture in the garden of an apartment building.

Autumn decorations.

An elephant near the Big City Bakery

Blog post © 2021 mae sander. More Creative District photos to be posted later.