Snow day 13

Still snowing. I admit to being obsessed with the snow, but I do have other things in my life, I think. Yesterday I wasn't so sure. My neighbor, David, is obsessed with Gigapans. You remember those photos you can zoom in on and see amazing detail. Last October, he and some friends went to the top of Pittsburgh's tallest building and shot four Gigapans, 360 degrees, 1000 photos in each. Now he's been trying to get those four huge photos stitched together. I helped him stitch together a quarter size version which you can see here. He insists the full size version will be better; he's nothing if not persistent. So he found someone with a computer with 64 GB of RAM. I didn't know such a thing existed. Unfortunately, it doesn't have Photoshop on it. I started the day with a meeting and lunch with David and friend. I think we have figured out a new procedure that we may, or may not, try later this week.

Back to the snow in my life. After lunch I walked, using my walking stick but still somewhat perilously, over to the Frick art building at Pitt to go to the preColumbian art class I've been auditing. Although the pavement was clear around the building there was no clear entry from the street, only those single file/foot paths where you have to put one foot in front of the other. I don't do those. I went to the library across the street, where I was supposed to meet one of my students. My phone was running out of juice so I had it turned off (it was a really bad day). When I turned it on I found a message from him begging off. Again, navigating the really awful unclean pavement, I made my way to the bus stop where I finally had to climb over one of those snow hills to get on the bus.

After a cup of tea at home I took the car out of the garage, almost didn't make it up the driveway (remember I'm from Chicago; I'm supposed to understand this stuff), and went to Whole Foods and got pears, tomatoes, spinach, a papaya and a lot of other stuff.

This morning I had to go downtown. The bus was half an hour late. I now flag it down standing in the street. There is no way I'm going to stand on the mountain at the bus stop. My neighbor at the corner of Penn and Murtland ought to be ashamed. His pavement won't be clean until May at this rate.

Do you wonder that I've become a little crazy?

Looking back

Just finished Barbara Kingsolver's newest, The Lacuna. Her fictionalized protagonist interacts with the real history of the early twentieth century: Russian revolution, Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and finally, the anti-communist witch hunters in Washington. I don't know much about Russian history, but the witch hunters had a profound affect on me. I was 16 years old and started college in 1950 at the height of all the madness. The college seemed to be noted for its communist sympathies (the chancellor was one of the few who stood up early on to the various investigations), and my father was worried about what this would do to me. He made me promise not to get involved and not to sign any petitions. Did I know any Communists? Maybe. Was I afraid? Absolutely!

I obeyed him until I finished school, after all he was paying the bills. Then I decided I would never act out of fear again. I sign any petitions that sound reasonable. I write my Congress people often, and tell them exactly what I think. But I have given up marching. After months of marching against the Vietnam war, and being photographed (by the FBI) so often I have no soul left, I decided the whole thing was useless. 

All during the Bush administration I felt we were headed back to the same mentality that made Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover into heroes. I still feel like we're going there when I hear Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, etc. expounding on patriotism, being an American and denigrating Obama and the Democratic Party.

Going over the Constitution with my Somali refugee I realized we have diluted the power of that amazing document. How about the first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

We have made religion a major concern of government, freedom of speech and freedom of the press into a mockery of rational thinking and reasonable ideas. And here in Pittsburgh we have more than a few questions about the right of the people to peaceably assemble. My student has many questions about our right to bear arms. He's afraid of his neighbors and their guns.

Have you read the preamble:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect
union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the
common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings
of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America.

Sometimes I think it should read: We the lobbyists of the United States, in order to pursue more perfect profits, …And how do you insure domestic tranquility when you don't know who is carrying the submachine gun? Explaining all this to him was not easy. I'm glad he passed the test and we can go on to something easier.


Lots of little things

My refugee student passed his citizenship exam. Three cheers. He wants to continue learning how to read. I'm very proud of him.

Most of my classes are finished for the year. I have one last one tomorrow, but I think I'm going to pick up Eli from the airport instead.

I've been going to the health club and doing more organizing in my workroom. It's a long way from finished, but I'm making progress. I have a very old drafting/light table. It was useful when I was taking lots of slides. Now it's just another surface to clutter. As soon as I finish removing the clutter I'm going to try to sell it. It's really an antique.

I fixed two pairs of pants that needed repairs and took apart two jackets that need altering. I hope I still remember how to do it.

My new doctor told me to get one of those medical alert bracelets because of the Coumadin. It arrived yesterday and I'm wearing it. I feel like I've crossed a line between health and chronic illness, although nothing has really changed.

ESL

Not so easy to post every day. It's getting late; I'm tired; I'll just give you a taste of what I've been doing. First, I'm taking a class about memoir writing. I'm not sure I want to write a memoir, but I like writing; maybe short stories. I'll tell you a story about me and Ayn Rand–tomorrow or later in the week.

I took some ESL training in September. Tonight I met my first students: two Chinese, one a medical researcher, the other a doctor. They are here to get more experience, learn about American culture and learn more English, although their English is quite good. We had a long conversation. Next week I'll try for more formal instruction. I am also working with my Somali refugee and a woman from Russia via Sweden. I really enjoy working with these people; I hope I'm helping them.

Keeping busy

I've been tutoring a Somali refugee.
He's been in Pittsburgh four years. His spoken English is pretty
good, but he wanted help with reading. He's taking classes at a
community college, both ESL and preparation for the citizenship exam.
We have been going over a printout (from a Powerpoint) of 100
questions that might be on the exam, such things as “What are the
three branches of government?” “Who do we pledge allegiance to?”
Evidently they repeat these in class without explaining the meaning.
So we read, repeat, and I explain. I still remember the pledge of
allegiance, which irritates me. I'm sure my brain could be put to
better use. I am loyal to this country, but to a flag? That's just
nonsense.

I found a mistake in one of the
answers. “Name one of the states that borders on Canada.” They
included Pennsylvania. Unless we've ceded all of Lake Erie to Canada
there is no way PA borders it. New York is in the way. There may be
other mistakes. Some of the answers are fairly obscure, such as,
which amendment to the Constitution does what. I don't want to make a
research project out of this, that's the government's job.

This Somali family lives in an
apartment they have decorated by hanging fabrics and rugs on the
walls and fabrics from the ceilings. It's quite marvelous. Last week
when I went there everything had been removed, and it looked pretty
bad. They are preparing to move. I think they will be in a new place
when I return next week. I hope it will look as good. Maybe I can ask
to take pictures.