Monday, August 29, 2011

In Which I Wrap Up The Cheese (Trilogy)

So over the weekend someone asked me if I was going to make a trilogy out of “those two posts from last week” in my blog.

I don’t like looking dim-witted and, sometimes, I can make mental connections reasonably quickly. But when I thought back to my posts from last week the only similarity I saw was that I did a post about tree leaves, and I did another post about lithosphere/ionosphere coupling. But I didn’t get the impression the person I was talking to was suggesting a third post about the atmosphere and things that live in it.

So I gave up and said, “Which two posts do you have in mind?”

The person said, “Well, you started last week with a post about that girl tennis player.”

“Caroline Wozniacki,” I said.

“Yeah,” the person said. “Then you finished the week with a post about Rembrandt.”

And then I knew exactly what the person was talking about. I picked my words and my tone-of-voice carefully. “Yes,” I said. “But, you know, Wozniacki is Danish and Rembrandt was Dutch.”

“Oh. Danish and Dutch” the person said. The person asked, “They’re not the same thing?”


But, you know, maybe I can make this a threesome.

Kangaroo Girl And The Yale Boys

Writing About Photographing Rembrandt


First of all, I was kind of mean to Caroline Wozniacki—calling her ‘Kangaroo Girl’ and such—but she went on to win that tournament last week. It wasn’t a big tournament and, possibly, players consciously don’t expend too much effort the week before a Grand Slam event, however this is the fourth year in a row that Wozniacki has won that tournament in Yale. It’s the first time in almost ten years that any player has won the same tournament four years in a row. That’s pretty cool.

Caroline Wozniacki is very pretty and winning the same tournament four years in a row is a cool accomplishment. I’m sorry I was mean to her and I’m glad I have this opportunity to apologize and congratulate her on the good work at Yale.

(But I’ll be honest, too: I know I’ll never get over that kangaroo business and I know I’m going to be calling her Kangaroo Girl again at some point in the future.)


Secondly, I’m not going to talk about the differences between Danish and Dutch. But I would like to talk about places in general.

A long time ago, some fictional character—I think it was a Salinger character, either Buddy Glass or maybe Seymour himself—said something like, “Most people spend their whole life moving from one piece of holy ground to another.”

Now, I often feel strongly that I would love to “get away” from the life I’m living now. Buy a boat. Sail away blue water cruising.

But at the same time I know that “place” is very relative.

I mean, I know if I had been born and raised in, say, Shanghai, then I’d probably be sitting around looking at world maps and thinking, “Gee, it would be great to be living some place distant and exotic, some place like, maybe, Chicago.”

And I know that a person’s sense of place can be used for all manner of manipulations by devious politicians and businessmen. The very phrase Balkanization (from southern Europe) has come into world discourse to describe the process of subdividing places into other places, subdividing populations to suit one or another manipulative scheme.

So I make a conscious effort not to get carried away by emotions driven by my sense-of-place.


Okay. Thirdly, I’m going to say something about Wisconsin.

Danes. Dutch. And Wisconsin.


It’s the concluding chapter of a cheese trilogy.

So: I’d like to “get away” but I’m not sure I really believe “away” has any meaning.

Certainly from a spiritual sense Scripture is blunt. In the Gospel of Luke, 17:20, Jesus specifically says the Kingdom of God is within us, it’s not a place out there that we can see, or go to, or that we need to fight over, or make a pilgrimage to. It is inside us, always available to us.

Now when he was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For, indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

And there are simple practical issues, too.

For me, one cool aspect of getting away would be turning off my worries about meeting people I used to know. I don’t like catching up on old times. I don’t like trying to figure out if a person is happy to see me or just being polite. I don’t like having my reveries intruded on or intruding on the reveries of anyone else. And people always talk about What’s new? but with me nothing is ever “new.” I’m still trying to accomplish the same things I was trying to accomplish ten years ago. Or twenty years ago, for that matter.

Anyway. As a practical matter “getting away” simply can be tricky these days when everybody gets away regularly.

One weekend during some Grand Slam tennis tournament I was feeling kind of depressed and I really wanted to get away from everything and everyone. So I figured I’d drive up into Wisconsin, randomly find some small town and get a hotel or motel room and just watch tennis on TV all weekend.

So without checking a map I drove up north into Wisconsin. I got off the Interstates and drove up regular highways.

I just drove randomly north for hours.

At some point when I found a medium-sized town, I found a reasonably clean looking old hotel, parked and went to the check-in desk.

When I wrote my name in the book, the senior citizen woman doing the check-in looked at my name, looked at me and gasped, bursting into a big smile. She leaned way forward over the counter and hugged me. She hugged me very tightly.

“You don’t recognize me, do you?” she asked.

I smiled and shook my head and tried to look not terrified.

“I’m Agnes, Elinor’s best friend,” she said. “I was your mother’s best friend when you were just a little boy. I was there that time you saw the spider under the front porch, remember? You tried to run and fell on the patio and I picked you up and carried you over to your Mom? Remember? That was me!”

And then I did remember her.

WTF. I drove off into a Wisconsin night, randomly went through town after town, randomly selected an out-of-the-way hotel and somehow managed to find the one hotel that was owned and operated by a woman who had been my Mom’s best friend forty years earlier. WTF?

“So tell me everything!” Agnes said. “What’s your Mom doing? What are you doing? How is everyone?”

So much for my “getting away” weekend.


So, anyway, Danes come from Denmark and the Dutch come from the Netherlands. (Denmark is the one farther north.)

The distance from Amsterdam to Copenhagen is around four hundred miles. That's less than the distance from Paris to Berlin.

Compared to, say, the United States, the Netherlands and Denmark are both tiny, little places. And compared to, say, the distance from New York to Los Angeles, Denmark and the Netherlands are right next to each other.

But in the global scheme of things (or the global scheming things) they are completely different places and completely different peoples who both regard themselves as living in completely different cultures.


I don’t really know what distance means any more.

But I’d still like to get away!

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