Friday, January 01, 2016

New Year's Day

I'm asleep before midnight. Of course I am. But I hear the footsteps up the stairs. Looking at the clock I see that it's 11:59.
Gorgeous? I thought you'd want to know -- it's midnight. Happy New Year.
I smile and go back to whatever indifferent dream had been interrupted.

Welcome to a new day in a new month of a new year!

In the morning, Ed says -- what's so special about this day anyway?
It's a cause for celebrating!
For one thing, we've made it this far!

We talk about going skiing, but as wisps of sunlight come and go then disappear altogether, we stay rooted at the farmhouse.

Ah, but breakfast, still touched by that elusive sunshine, is absolutely lovely! Happy breakfasts to all of you!

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And then I sit down to do a final correction (well, it's never final) of a chapter of my book and even though my pace has slackened so much that I begin to have doubts that the manuscript will be squeaky clean this year, I feel no guilt nor worry about that. Does it really matter, so long as I still enjoy the process of rewriting sentences?

In the afternoon, I am with Snowdrop. I arrive in time to feed her lunch. (Today: golden beet soup and fruit for dessert.)

Ah, the many faces of Snowdrop. Maybe I needn't provide my own take on her play. We can guess what's in her little head, no? For this first day of the new year, let me just run through a dozen Snowdrops. After all, this is her month. Her year. Her glory. And our delight (or else you would not have stayed with Ocean this long!).


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Happy New Year indeed!


  1. I'm really looking forward to 365 more photos of Ed eating breakfast! Yay!

    Okay, okay. H

  2. Ah, but you're way off, Jeffrey! When I travel (at least 40 days of the year), there is just breakfast. No Ed. Sad but true.

  3. Amazing how grown up our Snowdrop has become in just the past week! Just imagine the year to come!

  4. Nina, what a slacker! Forty days per year without Ed's face above a bowl of granola (or is it oatmeal?) is tough for me, but I'll just have to accept this stubborn fact. Anyway, Happy New Year to Ed, yourself, and your family (now becoming extended -- almost Old World extended, with Ed as Patriarch -- it seems).

    I'm sure you read Ms. Althouse's recent blog entry on travel (which she prefers not to do, as you know, and about which, it appears, she is a little defensive). Well, I know you don't like to engage in debate in the blogosphere (and that's fine with me), but a debate on the virtues and limitations of travel between you and Ann would make good reading (in my estimation).

    1. Patriarch? Hardly. But thanks for the wishes.

      As to the debate on travel -- we considered doing a piece of writing on that topic, but I'm reluctant to do it and in any case it wouldn't be nearly as biting as you'd think/want. I do think people who refuse to set foot outside their own comfortable environment take on life with certain blinders, but honestly, those who travel can do it with blinders too, so that the mere act of travel doesn't free you of your parochial field of vision.If you firmly hold on to your own exceptionalism and refuse to see that someone may offer a plausible alternative, what's the point of going elsewhere? We all function with relatively closed minds and it's a struggle for anyone to crack the door open so that something novel can seep in. Travel in itself wont do it.

      Too, you can spend your time reading (Ann's point) and feel yourself to be even more educated about the world than if you traveled to a place described therein and I think that's a valid point: you gain experiences in many ways and one way would be reading and another would be travel. One isn't more valuable than the other. They're just very different experiences. You cannot replicate what being there offers (Ann would disagree and say that you can even improve upon it) but you can certainly get insights that are profound and meaningful. Even as they're someone else's insights (she would say that they may well be better than your own, which merely brings us back to my original point that you have to make an effort to open yourself up to experiencing the world on its own terms when you travel).

  5. Happy new year to you and Ed et al. Wonderful and delightful expressions you have captured once again of snowdrop. And intriguing conversation about travel.

  6. Happy New Year! Love all that tongue action on that precious Snowdrop!

  7. Nina, I went back and re-read Ann's post on travel. First of all, I would say that she is mostly talking about tourism, the kind where you enter a country for a couple days and head to the must-see spots to snap a few photos. As several commenters pointed out, tourism and travel are two different categories of experience.

    I have lived in over half a dozen countries, in Europe, Latin America, and all over Asia, and traveled to many more, of course. I'm currently living and teaching in China. I was born and raised in a small Iowa town not too far from Madison. Living in a different country is never easy, but it shows you not only the values and patterns of behavior of that country but also those of your own country. For example, in a Chinese restaurant, someone in your group will tick off a selection of dishes from the menu, which are then placed in the middle of the table and shared by everyone. Turning to someone and asking, "What are you going to order?" makes no sense here. A Chinese person might ask an American, "Why do you order a separate meal from everyone else?" Can you imagine the look of incomprehension on the American's face? What? Why do I order a meal for myself? Huh? Living in another country teaches us that common sense is shaped by each individual culture. What is common sense in one country is often very different in another.

    Second, reading a book about that country will NEVER be able to replace what it really feels like to struggle to make sense of that other country. Ann may have visited Europe, but she has never in fact stepped outside of her own culture. You can tell that by the questions she asked in her blog entry. Here's another example from China, where "fresh air" has a priority over warmth. In the dormitories, students keep the door to the balcony open even in freezing weather. When I asked them why they did that, most of them couldn't even understand the question. It was just common sense for them to keep the door open. They needed the "fresh air." Of course, this meant most of them had to wear down-filled jackets while inside their dorm room.

    Ann likes to be in control -- at all times. That's fine, I guess, but that's why she has a visceral dislike of travel. By suggesting that living in another country is similar to "tourism," she is resorting to a variation of a strawman argument. She conflates travel into tourism and claims learning about how culture works by living in another country is "propaganda." She writes:

    You have never traveled beyond your own skull and you never will. The promotion of travel — an expensive, time-consuming, arduous activity — as the only way to understand the world is propaganda.

    That's pretty sad. She seems to suggest that everyone should just stay home in front of their keyboard and monitor with a view of the backyard (just like she does). Only fools believe that there are other cultures out there that function differently and from which we can learn something.

    I do think, however, that reading books can help while you're living in another country. In each of the countries I've lived in, I have reads stacks of books to help me understand my struggles. They really do help. But they are no substitute for the on-the-ground confusion and step-by-step learning that happens while living day to day in a new country.

    This is as short a reply as I could write. You don't have to respond. I just wanted to throw out a few ideas about what I think is a fascinating topic.

    1. For me, travel is not so much about understanding other people as about experiencing new things, new ways, new views. I prefer spending time in one place and experiencing it, not just tourist-traveling around. Travel does broaden my view I guess, but for me that's not the point.

    2. Okay, I'll weigh in later today. I suppose I do enough travel to have an opinion about what it does or does not do for me, or for those who choose not to venture out (you don't have to go far after all...).

    3. Well, in the end, I ran out of time. I'm sure I'll pick this theme up as my travels take shape this year. In the meantime -- thanks all for your thoughtful contributions here!


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