Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Poem Not By the Inaugural Poet.

Was hoping this morning to find a poem about water by poet Elizabeth Alexander, who will be the inaugural poet next year.
Couldn't stop looking for a poem.

The Artist
by Amy Lowell

Why do you subdue yourself in golds and purples?
Why do you dim yourself with folded silks?
Do you not see that I can buy brocades in any draper’s shop,
And that I am choked in the twilight of all these colours.
How pale you would be, and startling,
How quiet;
But your curves would spring upward
Like a clear jet of flung water,
You would quiver like a shot-up spray of water,
You would waver, and relapse, and tremble.
And I too should tremble,

Murex-dyes and tinsel—
And yet I think I could bear your beauty unshaded.

Amy Lowell, “The Artist” from The Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell. Copyright © 1955 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © renewed 1983 by Houghton Mifflin Company, Brinton P. Roberts, and G. D'Andelot, Esquire. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Poetry (September 1919).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Year in Ideas

Water is very different than oil -- learning about it, that is. With oil -- much of it had to do with understanding the pervasiveness, the toxicity, the freedom.
I think that to learn about water is to begin to understand discrepancy.
I think that to learn about water is to begin to understand privilege and waste and luxury and comparison.
Sometimes when I am stressed out I take a long hot shower, even if I have taken one in the morning... I think my hot water tank holds 40 gallons of water...

8th Annual Year in Ideas
Mahlangu Hand-washer
NY Times
Published: December 12, 2008

Irene van Peer is a Dutch designer who, with a group of colleagues, has devised a clever method for turning empty plastic beverage bottles into hand-washing devices to help prevent the spread of disease in Africa. Van Peer realized the need for such a device while working on sanitation projects in South African townships; many of the township residents have difficulty washing their hands because they lack easy access to water. Van Peer and her colleagues began by having conversations about the idea with people, mostly women, in the townships. “For me it was important to listen to their problems and to come back with a solution they could make themselves,” she says.

Eventually, van Peer and her colleagues hit upon an ingenious design. It involves converting the cap of an empty bottle into a homemade tap. The cap is pierced and then a long, skinny cone made from a readily available material like cork is inserted. One end of a length of wire is pushed through the cone, and the other is wound around a weight, like a stone, to nestle in the palm of the hand. The bottle is held above the hand facing downward, and when the weight is pushed up, the water is released and trickles down the wire toward the weight. Used carefully, a one-liter bottle can perform up to 60 hand-washes.

After showing people in the townships how to use it, van Peer also left instructions to be passed on from person to person. She named it the Mahlangu after Johanna Mahlangu, a woman who told her she planned to make the hand-washers for her day care center for disabled children.

Monday, December 15, 2008

NY TImes Editorial

August 1, 2007
In Praise of Tap Water

On the streets of New York or Denver or San Mateo this summer, it seems the telltale cap of a water bottle is sticking out of every other satchel. Americans are increasingly thirsty for what is billed as the healthiest, and often most expensive, water on the grocery shelf. But this country has some of the best public water supplies in the world. Instead of consuming four billion gallons of water a year in individual-sized bottles, we need to start thinking about what all those bottles are doing to the planet’s health.

Here are the hard, dry facts: Yes, drinking water is a good thing, far better than buying soft drinks, or liquid candy, as nutritionists like to call it. And almost all municipal water in America is so good that nobody needs to import a single bottle from Italy or France or the Fiji Islands. Meanwhile, if you choose to get your recommended eight glasses a day from bottled water, you could spend up to $1,400 annually. The same amount of tap water would cost about 49 cents.

Next, there’s the environment. Water bottles, like other containers, are made from natural gas and petroleum. The Earth Policy Institute in Washington has estimated that it takes about 1.5 million barrels of oil to make the water bottles Americans use each year. That could fuel 100,000 cars a year instead. And, only about 23 percent of those bottles are recycled, in part because water bottles are often not included in local redemption plans that accept beer and soda cans. Add in the substantial amount of fuel used in transporting water, which is extremely heavy, and the impact on the environment is anything but refreshing.

Tap water may now be the equal of bottled water, but that could change. The more the wealthy opt out of drinking tap water, the less political support there will be for investing in maintaining America’s public water supply. That would be a serious loss. Access to cheap, clean water is basic to the nation’s health.

Some local governments have begun to fight back. Earlier this summer, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom prohibited his city’s departments and agencies from buying bottled water, noting that San Francisco water is “some of the most pristine on the planet.” Salt Lake City has issued a similar decree, and New York City recently began an advertising campaign that touted its water as “clean,” “zero sugar” and even “stain free.”

The real change, though, will come when millions of ordinary consumers realize that they can save money, and save the planet, by turning in their water bottles and turning on the tap.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What We Need...

It's funny, writing about water -- it's so much more... I am looking forward to learning about it globally -- and I know that the lack of drinking water is one of the largest issues facing humanity.
But it's here -- too -- always.
I canceled class today because of water.
It was pouring -- there are ice warnings -- it was optional and at 8:30 -- and I couldn't bear the thought of my finals-weary students out there in it...

Last night I went to the theater -- I saw Rock and Roll. It was great. Which lead to my search of the Times this morning for water and art...

Doesn't art feel like water -- the way it soothes and nourishes and how, when we go without it we begin to dry up -- without noticing -- become corser...

An Elusive Water Sprite Flits By, Skirting the Depths

Published: December 5, 2008

LONDON — In 1958 Frederick Ashton choreographed his last full-length ballet, “Ondine,” as a vehicle for the 39-year-old Margot Fonteyn. “Ondine” has had long absences from the Royal Ballet repertory, perhaps because Fonteyn was so strongly identified with the role of the water sprite who enchants a mortal man, perhaps because its dense score by Hans Werner Henze was regarded as problematic.

“Ondine” was revived in 1988 after 22 years, and it was performed again in 1999 and 2005. This season the Royal Ballet has brought the work back for a few pre-Christmas performances (with a handful more in the spring), and on Wednesday night I saw it for the first time with Tamara Rojo as Ondine and Edward Watson as Palemon, the man who loves and betrays her.

“Ondine” is curiously poised between the past and the present. It is based on an 1811 story by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, and like “La Sylphide,” “Giselle” or “Swan Lake,” it speaks of the Romantic longing for the unattainable, perhaps even the artist’s elusive vision of the creative spirit in the form of a muse. Its designs, by Lila de Nobili, have a dusty Gothic quality that evokes the 19th-century stage, and its lovely, gauzy costumes for Ondine and her fellow sprites are a perfect Romantic fantasy.

But Ashton chose to commission a score from a contemporary composer precisely to avoid creating an imitation period ballet, and the music (written by Mr. Henze at just 34) has a darkness and discordance that often work in odd tension with what is happening onstage.

Instead of offering clearly delineated variations and ensembles, Ashton’s choreography is mostly as seamless and liquid as the watery element that he conjures up throughout the ballet. The dances for Ondine, particularly the “shadow” solo (a tribute to Fanny Cerrito’s pas de l’ombre, a famous highlight of Jules Perrot’s 1843 “Ondine”) and her pas de deux with Palemon, are full of rippling arms and tiny, capricious steps on point, wonderfully inventive lifts full of swimming imagery and a repeated motif of the palms brought together overhead to form a fish-shaped arch.

“Ondine” is, in short, an abstract ballet imprisoned in a 19th-century framework, a poem rather than a tale, and it’s at its most successful when it’s not trying to tell a story but rather to evoke mood and emotion. For that, the ballet is almost entirely dependent on its ballerina, and Ms. Rojo accomplishes a great deal without conveying the full magic of the piece.

Her dancing is beautiful, full of quicksilver precision and fluid lyricism, and she successfully conveys Ondine’s childlike innocence, her ignorance of human custom and form. In Act II, with its long pas de deux on the boat, whose rocking motion is brilliantly conveyed by de Nobili’s rising and falling backdrops of waves, and Ashton’s swaying sailors, Ms. Rojo and Mr. Watson are wonderfully touching in their expression of a love not fully understood by either character.

But Ms. Rojo didn’t evoke the deeper mysteries of Ondine: the idea of her essentially soulless nature (suggested by Mr. Henze’s recurring, eerie harp and wind sounds), and the inherent tragedy of the unattainable that she represents in the tale.

With his long-limbed elegance, Mr. Watson (who has developed into an unobtrusively excellent partner) did suggest that tragedy in the final pas de deux of Act III, showing a resignation to — even a desire for — the death that he knows Ondine’s kiss will bring.

The principal supporting roles — Tirrenio, the Lord of the Mediterranean Sea, and Berta, whom Palemon marries after losing Ondine in the shipwreck of Act II — were well danced by Ricardo Cervera and Genesia Rosato, although (with all due respect to the attractive Ms. Rosato) this Berta was clearly a great deal older than her Palemon.

And a word for the dynamic principal pair (Mara Galeazzi and José Martin) in the Neapolitan divertissements of Act III, a long, pure-dance section I had frequently heard criticized but found enchanting in its odd juxtaposition of the commedia dell’arte aesthetic and Mr. Henze’s jazz-infused rhythms. Here, as elsewhere, Ashton demonstrates how he could transform the conventions of a three-act ballet. “Ondine” may not fully succeed, but it shows the hand of a master.

“Ondine” will be performed on Saturday at the Royal Opera House, Bow Street, London;

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Canals in Cambodia

In Cambodia, they have revitalized a system of canals created by the Khmer Rouge.

I read the article in the Times a few days ago. I will be so glad to really dig into this project -- next week the semester is over.

Published: December 4, 2008

BARAY, Cambodia — The dry season has taken hold here, but water is everywhere. It pours out of sluice gates with the roar of an alpine torrent. Children do backflips into the ubiquitous canals and then pull their friends in with them. Fishermen cast their nets for minnows, and villagers wash their Chinese-made motorcycles.
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The regime built 70 percent of the 800-plus canal networks

“It’s never dry here,” said Chan Mo, a 36-year-old rice farmer standing on top of a dike.

The Khmer Rouge canals have come back to life.

By the time the brutal government of Pol Pot was toppled three decades ago, 1.7 million Cambodians were dead from overwork, starvation and disease, and the country was a ruin.

But the forced labor of millions of Cambodians left behind something useful — or that is how the current government here sees it.

[[[I just keep thinking about PTSD. How the older people must hear the water, see the children jumping to and playing in the water ... and be moved the dead.]]]

Mr. Loh Thoeun hopes the canals he built will help double or triple his rice output.

“I always recall the past to my children,” Mr. Loh Thoeun said. “I say, ‘We have water from this canal that was built by the people. And many of them died.’ ”

Among the current workers on Baray’s canal system is Sim Vy, 48. As a teenager she was also enlisted by the Khmer Rouge to help build the canals here, carrying dirt away on baskets tied to bamboo poles.

She was told she was working for national glory but received only watery gruel as recompense.

Now she is paid $55 a month.

“I prefer working this way,” she said.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Things Could Certainly Be Worse

Not Waving but Drowning
by Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Poem Framed in My Office

The Queen of Carthage
by Louise Glück

Brutal to love,
more brutal to die.
And brutal beyond the reaches of justice
to die of love.

In the end, Dido
summoned her ladies in waiting
that they might see
the harsh destiny inscribed for her by the Fates.

She said, “Aeneas
came to me over the shimmering water;
I asked the Fates
to permit him to return my passion,
even for a short time. What difference
between that and a lifetime: in truth, in such moments,
they are the same, they are both eternity.

I was given a great gift
which I attempted to increase, to prolong.
Aeneas came to me over the water: the beginning
blinded me.

Now the Queen of Carthage
will accept suffering as she accepted favor:
to be noticed by the Fates
is some distinction after all.

Or should one say, to have honored hunger,
since the Fates go by that name also.”

"The Queen of Carthage" by Louise Glück, from Vita Nova. Copyright © 1999 by Louise Glück. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers,

Friday, December 5, 2008


Coal Mining Debris Rule Is Approved
NY Times
Published: December 2, 2008

WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday approved a final rule that will make it easier for coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys.

The rule is one of the most contentious of all the regulations emerging from the White House in President Bush’s last weeks in office.


The proposal that would give more leeway to coal-burning power plants, to increase their emissions when they make repairs and renovations, was on the original wish list of the energy task force convened by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001.

In 2006, a federal appeals court struck down an effort by the Bush administration to loosen the rules on such coal-burning plants.

I'm starting very very slowly...
Isn't it amazing, though, to imagine that Dick Cheney really wrote a wish list of environmental havoc?!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hard to Distinguish

I am still rather buried in work -- so I don't have two hours this morning to read about water in Nigeria. I will. From what I have skimmed -- there will be lots to read.

Over 400 people died last week in Jos, Nigeria in a what the NYTimes called, "angry Christian and Muslim mobs protested what they said were rigged local election results ... Archbishop Kaigama said the soldiers might have overreacted. “Soldiers were given shoot on sight orders,” he said, “so many of those killed certainly could have been shot by soldiers.”"

It occurs to me that much of what I have already read and much of what I am going to read intersect... that was the point, of course, but it becomes striking just a few days in as I begin to feel my way in the dark.

"SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ― A federal jury on Monday cleared Chevron Corp. of responsibility for any human rights abuses during a violent protest on a company oil platform in Nigeria a decade ago."

The Government, The Oil Companies... they are hard to distinguish in many areas of the world...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Portrait of a Figure Near Water

Portrait of a Figure near Water
by Jane Kenyon

Rebuked, she turned and ran
uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner
arsonist, held a match to her brain.
She observed her life: against her will
it survived the unwavering flame.

The barn was empty of animals.
Only a swallow tilted
near the beams, and bats
hung from the rafters
the roof sagged between.

Her breath became steady
where, years past, the farmer cooled
the big tin amphoræ of milk.
The stone trough was still
filled with water: she watched it
and received its calm.

So it is when we retreat in anger:
we think we burn alone
and there is no balm.
Then water enters, though it makes
no sound.

Jane Kenyon, “Portrait of a Figure Near Water” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon