Le chateau de Villandry

So I went to this castle in the Loire Valley. As everyone knows, there are lots and lots of castles in the Loire Valley, including some incredibly famous monsters, like Chambord, and some still-private residences of de Truc de Machin and other long-named people, including the castle which supposedly inspired both Perrault and Walt Disney in their respective versions of Beauty and the Beast.
I didn't visit those. I did some midlevel tourist stuff, including the Chateau de Villandry, notable for its gardens. Like those of most Loire castles, the Renaissance gardens of Villandry had been replaced in the 19th century by parcs a l'anglaise, but in this case two people in the pre-war and interwar period came around to reverse that, which means that Villandry has some decorative kitchen gardens, love-themed bushes, basins, and other trappings of the Renaissance outdoors.

Villandry still belongs to the grandson or great-grandson of those people.

These were: one (1) heiress to a Philadelphia fortune, named Ann Coleman, educated at Bryn Mawr and apparently a quite good chemist, who met in Paris one (1) penniless Spaniard, named Joaquim Carvallo, also a chemist. They took to arguing about the war between their countries taking place at the time, swiftly married, used her money to buy a castle on the Loire, which they renovated, and gave up their scientific achievements.
What my parents and I found shocking was that this Ann Coleman is mentioned only in the beginning of the exhibit, and that after their marriage it is Mr. Carvallo who buys, renovates, and rethinks the castle. His quotes are, according to his descendant, the interesting one and the fact that he had a wife who was probably an interesting woman and was, I'm sure, rather involved in what was done with her fortune.
In fact, as the museum puts it, her most important deed after her marriage was converting to her husband's devout Catholicism and "sharing his odyssey of faith".



I never thought bad cake and earnestly-given tourist kitsch could make me almost cry.


Noises at lunch

First the chatter. The woman next to me talking about some catalogues, the makeup and the bedclothes therein. Then suddenly, rain: the incessant rush of a tropical downpour, the noise of shining ropes of water seen through the wide-open blue doors, moving to and fro in a breeze like the leaves of the mango tree across the street.
Meanwhile they are playing dominoes, you can hear the clinking rather steadily under the chatter, and every now and then a triumphant, loud clank, followed by the clatter of the remaining dominoes being knocked down, and a great sound like a moving purse as they are shifted around on the table for the next round.
The rain quiets down, for a few minutes slows to a few drops a second that I can hear, a bright patter. Then a hum ceases, the lights and AC are off; here and there a few dismayed sighs, some laughter. The dominoes continue in the clouded sunlight. Then a roar, the back-up power kicking in at just the same time as the rain starts falling hard again.



Here there are the Católicos and the Cristianos, the latter being of course evangelical Protestants. I've encountered many, and many more who say they are getting there - between faiths, not part of any religion, simply believing in God - still Catholic because they were baptized that way but soon that too will change.
I've seen as many Cristiano churches as Catholic ones: there are the Baptists, 7th-Day Adventists, the 'Biblical Christians', the Methodists, I assume but haven't seen Pentecostals. This makes sense of course. Evangelicals are fragmented, their churches smaller - there is no protestant equivalent to the cathedral, or the other great church. Greater number of churches does not entail greater number of worshippers.
Still, though, I feel smothered here. Expecting to find a Catholic country, I found a more religiously American one than my part of the one I left. It's very unsettling; and I can't help but feel that even here, even in Latin America of all places, the Church is on the verge of disappearing.

I wonder how much of that has to do with the name. In English or French we would never let Protestants accaparate the title of Christians. Is that because Europe has always had to accomodate different sects and recognize them as Christendom together, against the Infidels? Simply because of a more educated population? Of a long tradition of Protestantism?
Here, though, Catholics are not Christians. Even some Catholics talk about Cristianos as being more true to the original intent.


Santiago de los Trente Caballeros

I am in the Santiago mentioned above, which has the distinction of being the second-largest city in the Dominican Republic (i.e. the second-largest city in Santo Domingo after Santo Domingo itself) and the oldest Santiago in the Americas. It is called Santiago de los Trentes Caballeros because during the Dominican Restoration War, fought to free the country from its re-colonization by Spain, some thirty gentlemen held off the Spanish from the tall hill near the city center.

This hill is now the site of a very large white marble monument, known as el monumento, with a Trajan-style column topped by a stylized statue of a woman, presumably a figure for the Republic. This monument is visible from almost every point in Santiago and though it is not strictly speaking in the center, it has become the symbolic center of the city. People hang out there, drink, eat empanadas. Because it is the tallest point, even without climbing the monument one has a very nice view of the city.
So I can't say that I especially like it, it's not what I would call inspired architecture, but I thought of it as a nice spot to see the city and relax. I don't see why it changed when I found out it was by Trujillo, but now the sight of it bothers me somewhat. It's a reasonable thing to make a monument for, a fine public space, it's not ugly; but it is and will remain a monument imposed by a dictator. The lady on top, always weird, now reminds me of dehumanizing dictatorial art.

The center of Santiago is dust-colored. One street has blocky buildings, with signs projecting out clearly directed at the vehicular, not pedestrian traffic. I haven't really been taken off that street, but from what I can see outside of it the buildings are rather old, French-Caribbean architecture, with some nice Hispanic churches.
If the center is dust-colored, the rest of Santiago is green. Green with mango trees, avocado trees, lemon trees, palm, a pretty sort of red-flowered tree. The most striking thing about it as a city is that level of greenery and of indoor-outdoor interaction.


Water and a Machine

Yesterday I operated my first machine. It was an easy thing, not electric or otherwise powered, about 70 cm high and a soft bottle-green color. I had to assemble some brass contacts with some copper pieces that would go on the outside of them.
This sort of thing - a basic contact with a piece of sculpted foil outside of it - is done often here. The pieces of foil come attached to a long metallic tape, and mostly the contacts are pushed inside of them. For this piece, though, I would pass the tape through an aperture in a machine, place five contacts on five foil pieces, and pull on the lever which would press the contacts down into the foil. I assembled 299 contacts, and it was fun looking at the tape with the two metals shining their different colors. It looked like amunition, though.

Also yesterday we ran out of water at home. I found out about this after playing with the dog for an hour or so. When I went to eat a bit of yogurt and wash my hands of the dog, I found that I couldn't.
The water hasn't come on yet, that I know of. Apparently it's missing from some other houses as well.


Progress in Spanish

I've gotten slightly faster, more handy with grammar, better at understanding (I think). But as far as concrete data, additions to my vocabulary, I can only think of these:

Me hacen falta. I miss them. I would have thought it to be me faltan, literally 'they are missing from me,' (or translatable as 'I'm missing them.') but instead the Spanish adds the word hace to suggest that this is an emotional effect.

Al paso. Slowly. I heard this a lot at first: 'you must speak slowly to her, otherwise she won't understand.' Correctly, of course. I thought it strange that it wasn't anything related to lento, slow, until I used it myself in relation to a task on the factory floor. Generally I work fast and well, to general surprise, but I'm still slow when it comes to checking things, and said so, which is when the derivation hit me. Al paso. Fr. au pas. Walking pace, at a walk, esp. of a horse.

Various food items: mangu, a plantain paste; mofongo, a plantain paste with meat; arichuela, the beans in beans and rice. I'm not sure of the spelling on these.


No creo en Dios.

My atheism has come up a surprisingly large number of times. I've been asked by three people on the floor, and each time greeted by a general shock. What do you mean you don't believe in God? What do you believe in then? When you have a problem that men can't solve, who do you ask for help?

I try to explain. I try to say that it might be a comfort but it's certainly a dangerous one. I try to say that I refuse to believe in universal guilt, especially if it comes from an act comitted before the guilty party knew it could be wrong, knew there was such a thing as wrong. That whatever the aims the biblical story strikes me as rather cruel, unable to explain away the misery of the world.
It's really hard to say this in a language I don't speak very well, to a group of people convinced of the rightness of their joint position. It's harder to hear them condescendingly say it's not her fault, it's her culture, if people there don't have faith...

But the hardest thing to bear is to hear my own condescencion. Hear myself thinking that I'm sure I've thought more about my atheism than they about their faith. I've read some Augustine, as well as some Camus and Diderot and other atheist thinkers. Have you? I should not look down on people. Instead I should consider whether atheism might be a luxury of the lucky.


My Fair Leidy

This weekend I spent a fair bit of time at Jinette's (my host's) grandmother's house. She lives in a part of town that Jinette introduced to me by saying:
"Rich people don't live here."
Litotes, of course. Not that this is dire, desperate poverty - houses are small, but not too much so, the road is paved and sidewalked, there is or seems to be a TV in every home, and there is an Internet center that people can afford. It's a poor place but not unlike poor neighborhoods in the United States (and the same people live there, after all).

Aside from the matriarch herself, there are always people about. I've only been there with Jinette's mother, but she seems to spend several hours a day there. Her brothers also come, and their children, occasionally wives, and some people I think are just neighbors. The TV was on continuously, mostly but not only displaying a baseball game. I spent a fair bit of time sitting in the front-porch rocking-chairs, listening to the conversations and almost dozing. I also talked a bit to some of the children.

Mostly I talked to Leidy.
Leidy is not related. She's the girl who takes care of la vieja, the old woman. I assume she's paid, and I know she lives there. She goes to school: again my assumption is that this is a cheap private school rather than a public one, but I don't know. According to Jinette, this is a way for one (better-off) family to help another.
Leidyis 13, and one of the brightest and nicest children I've met. I've been teaching her some phrases in English, because she started asking me, and she learns them quite fast, and pronounces them well given that English has sounds in it which Spanish is incapable of. She's almost driving me crazy with her eagerness to learn and soak things up.

It makes me quite sad. I want to do something for Leidy who's so much like me but born in a bad situation, but I don't know what.


La Planta

Mostly I've been packaging. The amount of packaging in this industry strikes me as amazing. For instance there are clamshell-ish packages, where various parts are arranged one by one in plastic cases, or there are bags. Contacts, for instance, the metal parts of a plug, were being put in tiny little bags of five, then in bags of fifty fives. Then that bag would go with small bags of six other sorts of parts in a really big bag, and that goes in a cardboard box. And it takes up maybe a fourth of the box, so they put some brown paper in the rest, then they ship off say four boxes. Does that seem right to you?

Everything is labeled also. So every medium-size bag in the above example, as well as every big bag and every box. And in the clamshells, there are, say, ten units per plastic sheet, each unit with many different parts. So each unit is labeled, and then ten plastic sheets go in a box, and that's labeled of course. Once on the floor and then again by the delivery people.

Various DR things

They kiss to greet here, like you'd expect from a Latin culture, but once where we do it twice. It's rather difficult for me to get used to.

Apparently this is mostly a Santiago thing, but they drop Ss at the end of words. So they count 'uno, do', tre', quatro, cinco, sei'...' This is not really difficult to get used to. I'm even starting to do it myself - bad idea.

The main roads are in pretty good shape - not really highway quality, but like Township roads after a bunch of snow. The electricity goes off occasionally - on Tuesday there was a storm so it was off for a long time, and yesterday night there was a short blackout. Third-world-ness is most visible at stop-lights, where there are often people selling things - flowers, for instance. I saw once some folk wiping a wind-shield for a bit while the light was red.

In un-DR news, I should find out my college soon.



So far, the biggest surprise I had was the supermarket. Apart from a fleeting memory of Sam's Club, I've never seen such abundance. For instance they had four or five brands of Oreo-style sandwhich cookies, and each took up its section of shelf, floor to ceiling.
There didn't seem to be anything particularly good, but a huge quantity of ordinary packaged branded food. Everything was in English, too. There were things like 'Aunt Jemina's Home Pancake Mix,' marked "EXPORT ONLY" in big yellow letters. Most was not export only, but even what was was not labeled in Spanish.

Also, to call there's no need to type in 011, but the number works as dialed.

On a similar note, the people who work in the office at Souriau are completely bilingual. Many of them have lived in the United States, either as children or for school or at any point, and in their conversation they switch very easily from one language to the other.

I almost feel as though Spanish here were the indigenous language and English the colonial tongue.


More High Line

Courtesy of the Friends of the High Line website.

This picture helps illustrate one of the features of the High Line I was originally doubtful of. While the flooring changes, most of it is these long concrete panels, which are there to, I suppose, hint at the linearity of rails and be vaguely reminiscent of the sidewalk and hence the New York City fabric.
Where the flooring gives in to grassy spots, as it does with some frequency, the boards thin and rise up in a sort of wave, which is what this picture doesn't show. At first I thought it broke the unity of it, and felt quite superfluous. But because they rise up, the effect of the grass poking through is quite complete. It becomes quite wild - more so than ordinarily, as though it were coming of its own free will through borders. It feels like wild growth is possible, responsible, and also very much controlled and unthreatening.

Very well done.


The High Line

Went to New York on Sunday, largely to see the High Line, which just opened. Sitting in a park, especially a well-desigened, peaceful park, like walking through it, is a wonderful feeling. Perhaps not usually what one goes to the city for, but I would posit that a quiet environment within a quiet environment cannot match the feeling of islandness, where traffic noice and a wind over the Hudson mouth become the same background vibration, where one has the feeling of being within a beating heart, amidst people, yet on some level alone, somewhat removed.

It's like the feeling, in a way, of being alone in a crowd. That alienation in The Scream, in some Hopper paintings. It's a feeling that is supposed to be a rude shock, a physical manifestation of the alienation of modern life, of a city where neither fellow humans nor god have any relation to us at all.

To me, it is a wonderful feeling. It makes me feel alive, vibrant, part of something, in a way that mere companionship, wonderful as it is, cannot. Alone in a crowd, one is a cell in the city's meta-organism.