Le Temps

Certain languages, including French and Bulgarian, have one word for both“time” and “weather.” The French is rendered Le Temps.

One of my treasured moments as a Dad combined weather, time, and beauty. I was sitting on a peak in Arkansas with my son on a Sunday morning singing while watching a thunderstorm roll in not from above but from our flank as it wrapped itself around the mountain and we were, for just a moment, spun into a vortex of time and weather that made my heart skip a beat. The weather became time and time became weather and God seemed very near.

My son taught me to look at the sky. My daughter constantly reminds me of the beauty all around. Brandon is a meteorologist. Lauren, a budding artist and designer. I read some excerpts from this book and thought of them.

Maira Kalman and writer Daniel Handler celebrate in Weather, Weather —  the idea of what I saw on that mountain with my son. I only wish I had taken a picture.

There is a picture in Weather, Weather, taken by Carl T. Gosset Jr./ The New York Times: “This Photo Was Made Just before 4 P.M. at Broadway and 43rd Street, Looking East across Times Square.” July 24, 1959 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler10

In this picture, time stands still for me even though it was 58 years ago. A man stands with a hand in his pocket looking down at the sidewalk oblivious to the torrent of rain as two women dressed vaguely like my mother dodge puddles and shrink against the elements as they run across a New York street.

I was born the day after this picture was taken. And yet it was only yesterday…

Here are some pictures from Weather, Weather by Maira Kalman and the writer Daniel Handler. Enjoy!

weatherweather_kalmanhandler7

Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Hatsuo Ikeuchi’s Snowflakes, c. 1950

 

weatherweather 2

László Moholy-Nagy: The Diving Board, 1931

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler4

Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Man Diving, Esztergom by André Kertész, 1917

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler8

I was in my room wondering what it was like somewhere else.

What’s the weather like?

It’s like summer. It’s like doing nothing.

Delicious.

Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Alfred Stieglitz’s Apples and Gable, Lake George, 1922

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler9

The newspaper said it would be nice today.

What does the newspaper know.

International News Photo: “The Portent of Coming Disaster: A Tornado, Photographed as It Moved across the Sky toward White, S.D., by a Cameraman Who Was the Only Person Who Did Not Take Shelter in a Cyclone Cellar. None of the Buildings Shown in the Picture Was Damaged, as They Were Not in the Direct Path of the Tornado,” 1938 

 

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler11

 Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Barney Ingoglia’s photograph for the New York Times article “Rain Raises Fears of Flooding: Pedestrians in Times Square Wading through a Puddle as Heavy Rains Began Yesterday. The Rain Was Expected to Continue Today, Melting Much of the Snow and Causing Fears of Flooding,” January 25, 1978

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler12

Clarence H. White: Drops of Rain, 1903

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler14Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Children Playing in Snow by John Vachon, 1940

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler15Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Alberto Giacometti Going Out for Breakfast, Paris, 1963

I can’t even say what it’s like. It’s perfect, the whole thing. Come with me, take me with you. Let’s go out together and have poached eggs.

Delicious.

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler16

Valery Shchekoldin: Uliyanovsk, 1978

Advertisements

My New Tattoo in Old English

Yogi Berra was describing his own version of Einstein’s Relativity theory when he remarked, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

I thought of the future that used to be as I sat in a deep leather recliner at Eggbert’s cafe, waiting for a table on a Saturday morning, a pager in hand while sipping coffee. Sitting across from me separated only by a low table, was a very young girl, perhaps three years old.

She balanced her own Eggbert’s pager on her lap, the pager that lights up like a Christmas tree when it’s your turn to be seated for breakfast. She held it with both hands, looking down into the face of the device, both thumbs poised above, in the manner of a teenager preparing to text at warp speed. She was awaiting a sign of life, an electronic pulse of social interaction…she was trying to communicate with her pager.

That made me flinch, and I usually only flinch while eating raw sea urchins or when I see a tattoo on one of my kids.

I saw this kind of behavior once in college when I discovered my roommate sitting on top of the television watching the sofa while listening to a John Wayne movie. Now he is a school board member and a deacon at church. So there is hope for the little pager girl and for a generation of hyperactive thumbs.

We see what we want to see when looking back at another generation. When I see a tattoo, I think of a sailor with “Mabel” inked on a bicep. But my children think of something else. Batman, good coffee, a mission trip to Uganda. Which leads me to a recent conversation in our Bible study group.

“As far as I know, none of my children have any tattoos,” was how the older gentleman worded his comment in a way that implied that if they did, it would have reflected poorly on his parenting. Instantly, someone in our group asked the gentleman, “Do any of your grandchildren have a tattoo?” The question befuddled him, as if he had never considered that.

Every generation has a sense of what is acceptable, and when I look at my children’s generation, gaining on me like Secretariat chasing down a braying mule, I think of the generational riddle that older folks try to solve by observing superficial clues like tattoos, attire from Goodwill dumpsters, and bare feet in $300 loafers.

My generation was by no means easy to figure out. Churchill once said of it, “She is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  Okay, he might have also been describing Mother Russia.

Come to think of it, Russia and three-year olds are the same. They are not aware of the device they hold in their hands nor what buttons to push. Soren Kierkegaard said of the young, “Your own tactic is to train yourself in the art of becoming enigmatic to everybody. My young friend, suppose there was no one who troubled himself to guess your riddle–what joy, then, would you have in it?”

Coming of age requires both intimacy and mystery, vulnerability and come hither enigmas, a longing to be one of a kind, yet gently folded into a community of unconditional love.

Which reminds me of the chimichanga I ate from Maria’s Taco truck last week. It became a part of me, yet I had no idea what was inside it. I just liked it and invited it inside my soul. And if someone from the generation before communicates via a pager or skin art, I am a house guest invited into the parlor of that person’s mind and it’s rude to pick up the chenille throw off the floor and drape it neatly over the wing back Queen Anne chair. Just let it be as Grandma Mildred often said.

Perhaps it is time for my first tattoo, the first line of George Eliot’s Middlemarch written in Old English on my right forearm. It seems much more practical than mismatched clothing. However, getting older means unwrapping the mysterious cloak, telling the world who we really are, people who sometimes didn’t get where we wanted to go, and we are naked, broken, and bleeding.

I’ve been revealed. I have fewer riddles and zero tattoos. And now I am being replaced by children with fast thumbs and fast phones, by the tattooed and mysterious, wrapped in the cloak of potential.

Maybe that is what grace is all about, impossible to describe with words, easier to say with children and old people who understand grace across time and space. Grace, that great cornerstone of the Christian faith, is received by the enigmatic and the revealed, the young and the old, the bumbling and the nimble, the broken and the bleeding. People who belong to one master creator, yet are somehow still marvelously one of a kind.

“Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Words of Jesus from ‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:15-17‬ ‭

My German Vacation Journal 7: cobblestone beauty

Old city one of many towers a few steps from our front door

Old city one of many towers a few steps from our front door


For a brief moment we touched 180 kph on the autobahn, but now we drove on cobblestone streets lined by structures dating back to 1170. Rothenburg ob der Tauber ( red fortress over the Tauber river), is our home for two days.

Scene near our apartment

Scene near our apartment

Amongst the ruin of a city called the “most German of German” cities by Hitler, in the pastel walls once bombed by allied bombers then called off in the name of historical preservation,

Bombing ruins Rothenberg old city

Bombing ruins Rothenberg old city

in the ashes of religious war and the dust of the Black Plague, we discovered beauty set in simple relief against the brokenness of human folly. We will walk these cobblestones, but we must find our home first in an Audi car.

The lane that ate the car.

The lane that ate the car.

We turned into a lane we thought to be our apartment address but it turned out to be the proprietors other property. I was told later by my back seat family that there was a warning sign as we turned into the lane…2 meter width… enough to drive my Audi through at the lanes end with folded in mirrors…maybe? The lane began 5 meters wide and we drove two blocks as the cobbled street constricted our Audi and my heart with each cobbled rumble like a python enjoying a light lunch.

These streets would not pass city codes today but we saw a few tour buses here...seemed wrong.

These streets would not pass city codes today but we saw a few tour buses here…seemed wrong.

Early on my first day driving the Audi I covered 175 kilometers without the knowledge of how to shift to reverse, as it’s six-speed stick requires pushing the shifter down before the far left and up position is found. Luckily, I pulled into a McDonald’s and figured it out, practicing before getting myself into a predicament, like having to back out of an 800 year old cobblestone snake alley. With the annoyance of modern collision sensors continually warning of ancient obstacles, the medieval alley serpent spit me out onto a broader lane.

image

We found our apartment in the middle of this old city, with three bedrooms, kitchen and a veranda.

Our place at gastehaus Liebler

Our place at gastehaus Liebler

image

We walked through the original 1170 ramparts and gate, over the intact wet moat, to the Deutsch equivalent of a Kroger market where we purchased supplies.

Beautiful pastel walls my decorator Tracie would love the bright colors

Beautiful pastel walls my decorator Tracie would love the bright colors


Jenna and Brandon were our chefs and we dined on the veranda, grilled Paprika (red yellow green bell peppers), small white potatoes with onions and mushrooms broiled in olive oil and seasonings, Frisch bread, butter, goat cheese, gassed mineral water, weistwurst (a mild white sausage) and schinkenwurst.

More colorful homes

More colorful homes


Knowing the narrative, the story behind things, people, places, ideas, make beauty real, visceral, felt in our bones not just seen with eyes, a mingling of joy and touch, melancholy and emotion, empathy and connection. It’s why we love our families so, we know the back stories, and we find our own deeper beauty, even extraordinary beauty in common places.

Biking south in the rolling farmlands we biked through four towns

Biking south in the rolling farmlands we biked through four towns

George Eliot in her book Middlemarch describes simple unadorned beauty in Miss Brooke against those who put on beauty as if it is a costume to wear hiding the interior reality.
image
“Miss Brooke had the kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible…”

Town scene

Town scene


That’s how I feel walking the cobblestones of Rothenberg watching young artists gaze at tower clocks, giant pencil sketch pad in their laps drawing shape, shadow, contour, dimension, perspective, beauty, in a place dripping with form, in a world that left it behind four hundred years ago in favor of progress and function and enlightenment.

This twilight zone moment that encapsulated the town in a time warp aided by the conversion of the entire town from Catholicism to Protestant Lutheranism…bringing the military might of Rome down on them and the Thirty Years War, as well as the Plague, both events leaving this town stunted economically, socially, politically, stripped of every adornment of progress and left with only the unadorned beauty of what once was, when this city on a hill was an independent city/state and one of the finest cities in Europe.

The longing we have for the old ways, the simple, everlasting time-tested beauty of place is all that’s left here now. And folks come from all over God’s earth to see it after all these years, still here, set in stark relief to autobahn speed, modernism and slick temporal skin-deep beauty, an ancient German city set in relief by poor dress, like a fine quotation from the bible.

Skimming Along Old Man River

This weekend the Sooner football team defeated Notre Dame and I skimmed along the mud flat shoals of the Red River in an air boat with four college buddies. We powered upstream through the shallow grassy sandbars pausing to shut down the engine to chat with our guide. We then headed downstream until we reached a giant dredger pulling sand from the river. We wore no seat belts, no life preservers, there wasn’t any safety railing…just the wind in our hair, or in my case on my head. We did, however, don ear protection against the roar of the aft engine. We’ve all operated mowers, chain saws, weed eaters and tractors, sans ear protection, yet felt strangely compelled to protect our hearing against the roar of the engine and fan blades. It might be too late, like applying sun screen at midnight, but we do what we can. Sometimes we protect less vital parts of our bodies, like ears, because it’s easy and convenient. But power is fickle and sometimes it reminds us of our tenuous hold on this earth.
Red River Cabin
My friend Kelly Kemp just turned fifty-five but he looks forty, like he could run his college event, the 800 meters, in two minutes. Living with Kelly in Rector House at Harding University, I had seen him often in running shorts, but on this day, I looked down at his thigh from my catbird perch on the air boat. There was a scar across the meat of the left thigh, running side to side about a half-inch wide, a toothy serration longing to tell a story.
Longhorn Kemp
Saturday afternoon we sat in the living room of the Kemp’s home south of Bonham, Texas, watching football games, east and west windows affording views of Texas grassland and Longhorns, the herd spiced by a lone donkey. I had forgotten about Kelly’s scar but the subject eventually arose through our meandering conversations. Kelly and his wife Lee Ann were out near the highway on their property and Kelly was chain sawing a tree and the blade struck an adjacent metal fence post which instantly kicked the saw down to his upper thigh. Once Kelly realized the cut had not just torn his jeans, but had sliced into the thigh, he grabbed both sides of the wound and told his wife, “I’m hurt bad, call 911.” They had no cell phone so Lee Ann ran to the highway and flagged down a passing car, occupied by two trained emergency responders. Upon reaching Kelly and coaxing him to take his hands off the wound, they began to care for him and when he released his hands, blood jetted high into the air. The EMT shouted, “Catch her!”, as Lee Ann went all woozy. Kelly stayed amazingly calm as the EMT took his pulse and told him, “Your pulse is 48!.” Kelly was life-flighted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas and they cared for him and he came home the next day. Just another inch and the saw would have severed the femoral artery in the inner thigh, and the story would have ended differently.
Bonham Texas 2013
Kelly, Jinx the dog, Mike Howell, Ralph Rowand, Brent Taylor, Alan Adams

It’s an illusion that time passes more quickly as we grow older. I can remember sitting in grade school watching the minute hand pass from 2:00 to 3:00, days when I was bored to tears. Today, a week passes more quickly than that glacial hour of waiting in my youth, a time when everything I could see was in front of me. At my age more of my life is behind me than ahead, in proportions I can never know or understand, since tomorrow isn’t any guarantee. As we said goodbye today, someone remarked that our last gathering was fifteen years ago…and if we wait another fifteen, Kelly would be seventy.

And so we went to worship service Sunday morning with Kelly and Lee Ann in Bonham and I was thinking thoughts about time and our place in it and how we grasp for these moments, ephemeral, holy moments, sometimes unexpected, moments that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. As we worshipped at the Bonham, Texas Church of Christ this morning, I noticed a lady sitting just ahead and slightly to my right in a break between the pews, in a wheelchair, perhaps ninety years old. I looked at her profile, at her jaw jutting prominently through her translucent vanilla skin, projecting through sagging cheeks like the rock of ages. The congregation sang Paradise Valley a capella and I watched her jaw move like a stone through time… “As I travel through life, with it’s trouble and strife, I’ve a glorious hope to give cheer on my way, soon my toil will be o’er, and I’ll rest on that shore, where the night will be turned into day.” I couldn’t hear her voice but she sang the words like she was seeing an old friend again after fifteen years. I caught myself missing the entirety of verse two watching her sing, and shamed, sang verse three loudly to make up for missing verse two.

She was sitting next to a lady directly in front of Ralph and me, her friend or perhaps her daughter, younger, seventy? Who can tell anymore? We had spoken to the younger woman before the service began and she had told me about growing up in Edmond, Oklahoma, and I asked her if she had gone to Edmond High School. She said, “Yes.” I told her there were three high schools in Edmond now.

During communion, the lady in the wheelchair received broken bread from her friend, making a cup of her hands, collecting it and tossing it into her mouth as best she could, with all the dignity and reverence she could muster. When the juice came, the younger woman took the cup and tilted it into the mouth of the older lady, like a momma bird feeding a baby sparrow. Her mouth was wide open, probably as wide as she could make it, and she swallowed the juice like a wandering nomad swallowing rain drops in a parched desert.

We are all collectors, dealers in memory. Keepers of time and space. It’s really all we have. Our money doesn’t travel well, our stuff gets put in dusty garages, our houses need painting, our cars break down, our clothes wind up at Goodwill. But moments in time, that’s the stuff we keep.


This weekend I talked to my good friends about work, children, wives and parents and we shared our memories of college when we were young and stupid. We told stories and white lies and we prayed and laughed a ton and we did nothing except be in each other’s company in the good graces and hands of Lee Ann who took care of us like we were kings. We ate delicious pie and cobbler, steak from the Kemp’s pastures, and fresh salsa and peaches from their cupboards. And for just a moment, time slowed down and we peered upstream and downstream along old man river, reflecting on the good stuff. Skimming along a river like modern-day Huck Finn’s, talking about our scars, looking at the stars and being thankful for our blessings.

The Man from 1933

Front Door BTI walked through my front door this morning and was startled by the dense mechanical ring of the oak & metal Bell Telephone Company phone mounted on the wall of our living room facing out to the east garden. I had never heard it ring before since it’s only an antique, so my curiosity piqued, I ambled over and gingerly lifted the ancient earpiece. “Hello”, I mumbled tentatively into the black spout mouthpiece. “Hi,” replied the man on the other end. “I was calling to ask about the cattle you have to sell. I’m looking to buy.” Stunned by the voice coming from the old wooden box with no wired connection (had antique phones entered the cell era through a warping of time and space?), I wondered while pondering what to say to this would-be cattle buyer.

“I need to buy a Hereford breeder to add to our herd. Can I come by and take a peek at your cows?” My reply was otherworldly, from someplace other than my consciousness. “You betcha, c’mon out.” The flinty response was immediate and sounded eerily familiar, “Be there in an hour.” I wandered out to the front porch after a spell and sat on the mahogany swing and waited, kick flexing my left knee out and in, listening to the crackle of 53-year-old cartilage, while pushing back with my right foot and lifting it slightly to let the swing descend, wobbling forward like a kid’s first bike ride.
Ford Truck Model A 1931 b
From the north came the clatter of a 1931 Four-cylinder Ford Model A flatbed truck lurching along the asphalt toward my house. Round headlamps earnestly pressing forward followed by the box cab and black-visored windshield, and a flatbed enclosed with a triple rail wood sideboard. The distinct saucer headlamps looked like eyeglasses and the windshield visor, along with the clattering made me think of a chattering visor-wearing near-sighted bookkeeper rolling along on black vulcanized rubber wheels. I watched him climb out of the truck and walk toward me, 6’1”, dark hair slightly receding, sun-worn smile creases forever marking him as a friendly man. He wore overalls and a white t-shirt, weathered-round toe work boots, and he moved along the ground as if he were part of the earth, like he owned a farm or had a garden. “Afternoon. Are you Taylor?” the man drawled in an easy and unaffected way. I replied, “Yes sir. Ya come to see the herd?” It occurred to me that I did not own any cows, but these words flowed from my lips from places I had seen but never been, like honey dripping off a ladle.

As we walked toward the herd, crossing the cattle guard up and over the berm next to the pond, I asked, “Where ya from?” “The Oklahoma Panhandle,” he replied. “I’m on my way to Arkansas. If we can strike a deal, I’ll stop on my way back and make arrangements to pick up the breeder.”

joad

To which I replied, “Just take your time and pick out what suits you.” And I watched him pacing along the edge of the herd, eyeing several of the smaller bulls. I thought that he looked like Tom Joad in the Grapes of Wrath as I watched him make his choice. Afterwards, walking back up to the house, I asked if he had family. “I do, just had a baby girl, name is Jessie.” We strolled along and he talked about being a Dad, how having a daughter had changed him in ways he never anticipated, how the world was changing so quickly, and he spoke of losing their wheat crop to the drought, everything withering in the hot blowing dust, wondering how he would ever support his wife and baby daughter. I stole a glance at him as he talked and he seemed wise in a way I couldn’t quite comprehend, like he knew my story, even though he seemed to be twenty years younger than me. My cell phone rang. It was my wife. I hung up and he looked at me, then at my phone. “What is that?” I looked down at my Iphone 5 and told him it’s a phone…without the wires. The signal goes through the air. And you can get online, check email and the social media and…” I recognized the blank stare as lack of comprehension. And so I just told him, “It’s how we run our lives now. How we talk to each other, how we communicate.” I asked him, “So where you live you don’t have these?” “No,” came the reply. “What is your technology?” I asked him. He replied, “Hard work, desperation, hope, faith, failure, not knowing how we’ll make it another day…that’s how we get by…just know somehow we will.” Then he said something I’ll never forget. “Can your five phone tell you why I get up every day before the sun rises? Or tell me why I’m here? Tell me what’s important and why? Can it tell me why I love my baby daughter so? What causes greatness? What causes failure? Happiness? Can it tell me what my life will be like in ten years? Twenty? Forty?” As the young man drove away I looked down at my phone and in my other hand five silver dollars he had handed me for a deposit on the Hereford. There was an eagle on the back and a woman in a spiked crown on the front. The words “Liberty” arched over the top edge of the coins along with the banner phrase on one line, “In God We Trust.” They were vintage 1921 coins. I slipped them into my pocket and walked back into my house through the front door.

Weary, I went to my recliner and extended it fully, closing my eyes. I awoke an hour later and remembered the time last month I walked through the cemetery north of town, looking down at my Grandpa Jess grave, with the important stuff chiseled on the face, born 1901- died 1969. I knew him only the last ten years of his life. I walked into my closet and pulled open the top sock drawer. That’s where I keep important stuff because it seems safe and I can see it every day. Nestled near the back of the drawer next to my 1979 U.S. Amateur pin, was a quarter my Grandpa gave me in 1968 when he picked me up at school and asked me to help him. I rode with him over in his Ford truck to Woodland Park where he was working on a house. He said, “Can you stick your arm into that hole in the wall and pull out that wire?” I told him sure. But after trying for several minutes, I gave up. I had failed. He drove me home and as I was getting out of the truck, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter, handed it to me and said, “Thanks.” I walked to the porch and sat down, watching my Grandpa drive away. I glanced down at the worn Washington quarter and read the top word gently arching along the coin edge, “Liberty”, and clustered to one side “In God We Trust.” The year embossed along the bottom, 1933.

Quarter 1933