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Archive for May, 2017

Solar Eclipse

On the 21st of August, we, here in South Carolina, will experience a total solar eclipse. Cool. The city thinks so too and they’re expecting a million people to converge on Columbia. On the 21st of April they did what they called a dry run for the event. I had a little trouble wrapping my mind around that. Where are they getting the million people was one thought that went through my head. It turned out they meant a dry run to see where the sun will be at what time and scouting for the best viewing spots. Turns out the sun will be covered the longest someplace south of the city. Where I live it’ll be covered for two minutes and ten seconds, that’s twenty-seven seconds less. I can live with that.

My Mom asked what if it’s at night. I said that it wouldn’t be a solar eclipse then. I don’t think she was paying attention to what she was saying.

The newspaper already listed several viewing places. I’d told someone I’ll them out making eclipse viewing instruments. They’re not glasses and you don’t look at the sun. Instead you make a hole in some cardboard and look down at the circle of light going through the hole. It may sound weird, but it works. I’ve tried it before.

Back in the 80’s or early 90’s, there was a solar eclipse in Houston. I was at work when it happened and sat out on the step with my contraption and watched the circle of light. Sure enough, as soon as the moon began to slide over the sun you could see it.  More and more sun was covered and it got darker and the birds stopped peeping. It was weird. And cool.

I’ve seen a lunar eclipse too, also in Houston. There was a quasi pool party I attended and we sat there, everyone in the complex and gazed upward as the Earth’s shadow covered the moon. Someone took a picture. Using the flash. I still wonder how that turned out.

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Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong has a plan. She’s going to St. Claire’s School for Girls. It’s the first step in getting wealthy. In the year 1906, however, the idea of anyone from Chinatown entering such an institution is ludicrous. The Chinese, nevermind if they were born in America or not, are second hand citizens to be despised and tormented. But Mercy is going to that school and wrangles a deal with one of the board members. She’ll have to room with the daughter someone who hates her, but she can live with that. She has a plan and she’ll follow it.Nature makes a mockery of it when the April 18th earthquake strikes and Mercy could lose everything she worked for in order to become successful.

I have read quite a number of books on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and this is one of the top ones. There’s humor, a bit of romance, trauma, and drama. It introduces a different angle by making the main character Chinese America. By happenstance I’d read a book a few weeks earlier on the plague in San Francisco and that was mentioned in the book. For those wondering, yes, the black plague really did kill a few people in San Francisco in the 1900’s.

Mercy is a strong character, not daunted by little things like trying to conduct a tea ceremony without having a clue how it’s done. Even with her own sorrows she manages to cheer others up. I found it a positive book.

There’s some historical notes by the author to give more information. While interesting there could be more so why not check out a companion book about the earthquake and Chinatown?

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Serendipitous Moment

I had a serendipitous moment when I went to take photos in downtown Columbia, in the Washington Street area. This used to be the black commercial area that began sometime in the 1920’s with restaurants, a hotel, and a theater and more. At the moment there are only two structures left and one will be torn down for an apartment building. I wanted to take a picture of it before they tore it down.

As I inspected the second building, a former bank, I bumped into an elderly man. Wouldn’t you know, he used to eat here, when there was a restaurant. He said it was the best food ever. Then he pointed out where other buildings used to be like the two funeral homes that stood across the street from each other. A movie theater used to be nearby where there’s a parking lot now. And the building that’s to be torn down used to be a hardware store.

Wow. How lucky I was to be standing right there when he came by. How lucky I was that we started talking. That’s one thing I like about taking pictures. It invites people to come and talk to you and tell you what they remember.

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I’m amazed at how many Scottish festivals there are in SC. Last week we went to Tartenfest. Angus had to go to be reinvigorated by all things Scottish. I had to go with him. Little kids want to hug him and then there are the sheep dogs. They just about come running when they sense Angus. It’s actually kind of funny. Angus trying to walk from A to B and a sheep dog is trying to get him to go right.

“Stop herding me!” Angus cries. A little hiss and a bop on the nose usually does the trick.

This year I went in my brand new Tarten gear. Angus did a double take when he saw it.

“Nay! Where did ye get that?” He rushed over to inspect the pattern. “This is nae Scottish.” It’s like I  committed a federal crime.

“You like it? Friends made it for me. Look, green for the forests, light brown and bits of red for the desert, gray for the mountains. This is for the prairie and this is…”

But he’s got his hooves to his cheeks in delight. Or horror. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

“I thought I’d be more festive,” I tell him.

“You’ll stay far away?”

“I heard there’s a whole pack of sheep dogs coming. That’ll be fun.”

“You’ll stay close then?” Angus got a bit stressed out when he got in the middle of one of those that last time. “You’ll run them off,” he adds.

I was lucky a few dogs came to do their tricks so I wasn’t fibbing afterall. They all stood there, tall, eyes feasting on Angus, licking their chop, straining at the leash to go after Angus and herd him to wherever. I strolled behind Angus, me and my beautiful Tarten suit, britches and shirt. It’s not as comfortable as my buckskins, but I can take it for a little while. I can even dance in it, which I do when Angus hops on the table he rented and does his routine. People give him money for his moves. Some people comment on my attire. I should have gotten a tam as well. But I don’t like headgear.

There were bagpipes. There was dancing. There was stuff sold. It was a three day event and Angus went every day. I got a bit tired of it all, but I did promise. Now to get him to go to a cat show.

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Thirteen-year-old Bart spends his time trying not to be the boy on the bottom, the one bullied. He’s working on giving his first punch in boxing class. He’d like to find his father and doesn’t want anyone to know about his mother and home life. His biggest secret – he loves opera. This last one he manages to tell a school friend, the pretty Ada. She can’t keep a secret to save her life. Soon the whole school knows about Bart’s hefty mom and that he lives in public housing with drug addicts. She’s also got him signed up for the summer show. If that’s not bad enough, his mother is hospitalized.

Despite everything this is an optimistic book about an upbeat boy. His life is hard, yet he keeps going. It’s translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson who’s done a marvelous job. Not that I can compare it with the original version, but it’s beautifully written. My hat is off who can do this.

I love reading books by authors from other countries, especially children’s books. You really can a feeling for their country foreign eyes can give. This is the second book I’ve read from Norway. I’m surprised to see the same problems in the U.S. are in Norway. Somehow one gets the idea it’s better in certain other countries and it’s really not. Just different.

Another thing I liked was Bart’s love of opera. I don’t particularly care for it myself although I can listen to operettas without wanting to launch over and switch to another channel. It was refreshing to read of someone who likes a genre others, peers, would not.

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