Terra Infirma

I am not a sailor. Never have been. My times on water that I have treasured were all on inland lakes with paddles in my hand. But I do have a fairly fertile imagination and can sense that if I had put in the time on salt water I might have loved it. I’ve had too many opportunities to do other things, I guess, and haven’t even gotten to all of those yet.

But there have been two pop songs over the years that gave me a sense of what spending more time on the sea might have felt like. The first is by Christopher Cross, a song which won a Grammy in 1980.

The song was a success in the United States, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100  chart on August 30, 1980, where it stayed for one week. The song also won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Arrangement of the Year, and helped Cross win the Best New Artist award.  VH1 named “Sailing” the most “softsational soft rock” song of all time.

Wikipedia: Sailing
Sailing, by Christoper Cross

And then there is this one. An anthem with gorgeous harmonies and thoughtful lyrics. Sung by artists who are personal favorites. Somehow its rhythms bring in the motion of a boat rising and falling on the ocean.

“Southern Cross” is based on the song “Seven League Boots” by Rick and Michael Curtis. Stills explained, “The Curtis Brothers brought a wonderful song called ‘Seven League Boots,’ but it drifted around too much. I rewrote a new set of words and added a different chorus, a story about a long boat trip I took after my divorce. It’s about using the power of the universe to heal your wounds. Once again, I was given somebody’s gem and cut and polished it.”

Wikipedia: Southern Cross
Southern Cross, by Crosby, Stills, and Nash


From The New Yorker


I’ve lost track of how many objects the U.S. has shot down this past week. Is there someone at an exalted level who could tell us what the hell is going on? And would they put it into simple and non-technical language, please? This morning I read that no matter what they are, the fact that there are so many unexpected things floating around in the atmosphere, large things, raises questions about the safety of air travel.

All of a sudden I am glad that I am not flying anywhere anytime soon. Over a lifetime there have been quite a few different things to panic about when it came to air travel. Way back in the sixties it was highjacking. Then it was about seagulls being sucked into jet engines and causing planes to crash during takeoff. Then is was drunken flight crews.

Between these major concerns there were always stories about parts of the plane falling off, batshit-crazy passengers starting fights while cruising at 30,000 feet, and how you were going to get your body into a seating space that was more suited to something the size of a meerkat.

When I think back to some of my early air travel experiences, it’s almost unbelievable how different the situation is today. A passenger would basically just walk right up to the plane and get on. No going through security two hours before flight time. You were shown your way to a seat much like those in movie theaters, which were meant to be spacious and relaxing.

All of the flight attendants were under 30 years of age, single, female, attractive, and wearing skirts completely unsuited to reaching over ones head to straighten things out in overhead compartments.

You were served hot meals on almost any flight that lasted more than an hour. This meant that those flight attendants had to take your order (chicken or beef), distribute all those aluminum trays of food, pick up all those same trays, serve drinks, and still be ready when landing was imminent.

These days I have no problem with taking one of the window seats where I am supposed to help with evacuations in the event of a disaster. My reasons for doing so have nothing to do with altruism, however. I have a bit of claustrophobia, and the cramped seats don’t help that one bit. What sitting in that window seat means to me is that if I lose my mind altogether all I have to do is turn that latch and kick out that chunk of the fuselage and I’m free! Never mind that we’re miles in the air if and when my composure slips, it is my mental safety valve and I’m hanging on to it. It goes without saying that I choose not to share this information with the others in my row. Why upset them?


Robin and I, as do many people who spend a great deal of time together, have evolved some daily routines. One set of those routines is around breakfast. We now have four menu items in ragged rotation:

  • Cold cereal
  • Hot cereal
  • Eggs of some sort
  • Pancakes

There are several good reasons for limiting choice at six o’clock in the morning, and they are all related to the fact that our decision-making apparatuses are not at their peak for the first couple of hours each day.


For instance, none of these breakfasts require the use of sharp objects. For another, they require a very limited set of seasonings – salt, pepper, a bit of maple syrup and that’s about it.

The only problem is that when it comes time to choose among the four candidates, we often cannot remember which one we had yesterday. So the possibility that we have been eating only cold cereal for the past several months does exist. There is no good way of knowing. I have half a mind to count the eggs in the fridge during the month of March to see if we are actually eating them or not.


From The New Yorker


Monday P.M. a full-on snowfall. Cold out there, leaden skies, cabin fever … time to release the kraken! … I mean, Zhivago! Every few years Robin and I rummage through our stuff and pull out our DVD of the film Doctor Zhivago. It is best watched when it is snowing outdoors, just to add a little frisson.

Our attention spans being what they have become, we will take it to the intermission the first night, then finish it on the second. Not quite as romantic, perhaps, but you work with what you have.

BTW, although I have written a few poems in my lifetime, I do not consider myself to be a poet.

To be one of those you need to pull up a frosty chair to a snow-covered desk in this frozen salon at Varykino.

You would then scribble your words while your hands are covered in knit gloves where the fingers have worn through. Each exhalation visible. Anything less would amount to little more than posturing.

But that’s a fantasy, you say. Not real at all. My answer would be that philosophers tell us that everything is a fantasy. Nothing is what it seems. Across history millions of people have perished for one fantasy or another. So it is not such a stretch, I think, to want to live in David Lean’s* castle in the air periodically.

Lara’s Theme, from the film Doctor Zhivago


Entire sections of Moscow were built as a set outside of Madrid. Elsewhere in Spain, predicted snow failed to appear, and marble dust was instead employed to cover the ground. The memorable ice-covered Varykino was achieved with frozen beeswax. The film is a testament to the incredible inventiveness of David Lean and his collaborators. 


*David Lean is the director of Zhivago


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