The King lecture

Once upon a time there was a man born in India, educated in England, working in Africa, who was hired by a visiting American to help set up a new college and program at the newest jewel in the crown that is the University of California.

When Noel King came to Santa Cruz, most of the UCSC colleges were little more than architectural plans. It was the era of Flower Power, teach-ins, and self-actualization. Life Magazine came to record this peculiar manifestation of the taxpayer’s dollars for the wonder of readers in Dubuque and Amarillo, and included this wild-haired professor on the page.Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 9.23.47 AM

Noel taught undergraduates religion and history until he retired in the early 90s. When he died in 2009, his family—both blood and his university kin—began a series of Noel King lectures with a goal of maintaining the presence of religious studies on campus. The third such was particularly great, a panel of women crime writers talking about how they use religion in their work (slightly ironic, considering how fiction baffled Noel!)—the video of it is on my YouTube channel, here.

This year’s NQK Memorial Lecture will take place at 7:00 Thursday night at Merrill College, UCSC, the college Noel and his first wife helped to found. The topic is as dear to his heart as the venue: African Art and Religion, with Professor Elisabeth Cameron talking about how an artifact speaks of the religious truths of a people.

Come and join Noel’s wide-spread family in celebrating his life of ideas.NQKLecture

Happy Birthday, Bill!

Today (or yes, maybe Tuesday…) is the birthday for the man who changed the English language, William Shakespeare.  There’s a fascinating article over on the New York Post about the near-disappearance of all that genius (thanks to The Passive Guy for the link), where only the determination (and financial commitment) of two friends led to the publication of the Folios.

By the 1620s, his plays were no longer being performed in theaters. On the day he died, no one — not even Shakespeare himself — believed that his works would last, that he was a genius or that future generations would hail his writings.

He hadn’t even published his plays — during his lifetime they were considered ephemeral amusements, not serious literature. Half of them had never been published in any form and the rest had appeared only in unauthorized, pirated versions that corrupted his original language.

Sobering, especially for those of us publishing in the digital era, electronics being the very definition of ephemera…

And speaking of The Bard of Avon, many of us in Santa Cruz were saddened when our longtime annual event, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, lost its support and its home at UCSC. And perhaps even more of us were heartened when news came that a new venue had been found, with a new name: Santa Cruz Shakespeare.Build-the-Grove-Header-Image-Hastag

They’re building a new home, deep inside De La Veaga Park, which is only a couple of miles from my front door!  Suitably enough, the first season will be blessed with Midsummer Night’s Dream (always best in an out-of-doors venue) as well as Hamlet and Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending Orlando.

My friend Lisa Jensen (author of the fantastic Alias Hook) has a fuller blog post about the building process, here.  And Santa Cruz Shakespeare will keep us up on their progress here.  Send them a donation, if you’re interested in keeping The Bard in Surf City.

See you in the forest of Athens, with Puck and the wedding-goers…

Close of day

In these days of hate-mongering and rising tides of fear, a good sunset still manages to lift the spirits and calm the heart, whether looking towards the east (note furled pirate flag)…


or the west…
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Coffee week: 2, the Coffee Cantata

In the 1730s, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a sort of miniature comic opera about a young woman devoutly addicted to coffee, and her despairing father who would do anything to break her of her habit. Because coffee is certainly not a habit suited to a lady.Houghton_EC65.A100.674w_-_Women's_Petition_Against_Coffee
I met this cantata in the seventies, when I owned a cheap portable turntable, which despite its speaker couldn’t hide the gorgeousness of Emma Kirkby’s soprano, yearning after her cup of

You naughty child, you wanton girl,
Ah, when will I get my way?
Lay off the coffee, for me!

Dear Father, don’t be so strict!
For if I cannot drink my cup of coffee
Three times each day
In my torment I’ll turn
Into dried-up roast goat meat.

Ah! How sweet the coffee’s taste is,
Sweeter than a thousand kisses,
Milder than muscatel wine
Coffee, coffee, coffee must I have,

If you don’t give up coffee,
You won’t go to any wedding feast,
Or even go for a stroll.

But just leave me my coffee!

(Now I’ve got the little monkey!)
I won’t get you a whalebone dress of the latest fashion.

I can stand that.

Then you’ll have to be satisfied
With never having a husband!

O yes! Dear Father, please, a husband!

I swear it will never be!

Until I abstain from coffee?
Now—Coffee, be forever conquered!
Dear Father, mark, I’ll never drink a bit.

And you in turn will have a husband.

Old Schlendrian now goes off to see
If he can find a husband for this his daughter Lieschen—
But Lieschen secretly lets it be known:
No suitor may come to my house
Unless he promises me—
And puts it into the marriage contract—
That I will be permitted
To brew coffee whenever I want.

Here’s Emma Kirkby, singing the cantata’s opening:

And here’s the whole thing.

Coffee week: 1

My husband was a tea man. He drank proper tea, from a pot, and although he was a truly and creatively dreadful cook, Noel made a better pot of tea than I did.

Coffee, though: that was all me. I have a long history with coffee. When I was putting myself through university, I worked in a coffee store called the Bean and Leaf, which sold, as one might guess, coffee beans and tea leaves. A few years later, a friend started up a coffee store in Los Gatos, and I was about the only person he knew with any actual experience with coffee apart from drinking it. So he hired me to set up and manage the store.Scan 152970001-3

(This was at the same time I was starting my theology MA, and becoming involved in a whirlwind romance with my husband. Hey, why not?)

We called the store Kaldi’s, after the mythic goatherd who noticed his goats acting particularly frisky one day after they’d been eating the red berries from a shiny-leafed bush.Scan 152970001

(My friend Ken Orrett painted a fabulous mural on the wall: goats, coffee, and dancing goatherd.)Scan 152970001-1

Kaldi gathered some of the red berries, rubbed off the outer hull, and dried them in the sun on long tarpaulins—wait, no, that was in Papua New Guinea when I was there in the eighties.Scan 152970001-2

But be it an early goatherd or highland PNG or a coffee house in Santa Cruz, the inner beans get roasted, ground, and brewed into…ahhhh.

I may drink tea that’s been brewed in “bandages,” but when it comes to coffee, I’m a purist, and a snob.

Tomorrow: JS Bach, coffee lover.

Tea and the Death of Civilization

I start my day with two (large) cups of camellia sinensis, which has a fraction of the caffeine that coffee does, and allows me to ease into the day rather than hit the ground running.Tea_Bud

Yes, this is black tea (as opposed to herbal tea, which M. Poirot calls his tisane, or Mma Ramotswe’s bush tea, which is Rooibus.) My first cup has a slight taste of almond in it, to build up my immunity to…um, no, wait, it’s just almond, not cyanide, and I like it because it’s friendly. My day’s second has been, for a long time now, Peet’s Russian Caravan blend, a blend of Chinese black teas with a trace of smoky Lapsang.

Green teas, where the leaves are immediately treated with a quick steam and a fast dry, are the more delicate product of camellia sinensis, refreshing and slightly bitter, particularly in the Japanese form. Here’s what they look like growing around a small settlement in Honshu.tea

Black tea is the same leaf, only fermented—or rather, oxidized, with the freshly picked leaves left to wither for a while, then battered around and left to darken before being dried, then sorted. “Orange Pekoe” (which has nothing to do with oranges) refers to the grade of tea, the fresh tip and bud of new growth. (“Fannings and dust,” on the other hand, are the very lowest grades of tea, being what’s left over when the good stuff is picked off, and those are what go into most tea bags.) And Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese treatment of the lower-quality leaves (ie, not the tip) by smoking them over a fire, which gives you the Laphraoig of the tea world. A cup of pure Lapsang is a bit assertive for most tastes, but often adds a thread of interest to more mellow teas. Such as, yes, Russian Caravan.

To my great sorrow, Peets tea is no more. My last tins of Russian Caravan are slowly disappearing over the horizon, and although I know there are substitutes—I could even blend my own, I suppose—my mornings just won’t be the same.

Now, George Orwell had some firm ideas about the making of tea—“one of the main stays of civilization.”


From the Telegraph.

In 1946, when England was under rationing, he wrote an essay about the art, noting that the manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

His eleven golden rules (the essay is here; do read it) begins with using Indian or Ceylonese tea, and goes on to insist on a warmed teapot and sufficient tea for a strong cup. (“All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes.”)

He continues: The tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. Then, the water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. After which one stirs the tea, lets it steep, pours it into a tall, not shallow cup, and adds milk (without the cream) to it.  This is important: tea first, then milk.

Me? I am a sinner, at all levels. I even admit to what my mother’s English aunts would have scorned as “tea in bandages.” Beyond that, I imprison the Russian Caravan (which comes as loose leaves) in what would cause Mr Orwell to rise and declare the death of civilization: a filtering device made out of nylon mesh that drops into my cup.

And, I use an electric kettle that probably fails to keep the water at precisely 212°.DSC00795

Oh, the shame. Well, at least I pour in my milk (non-creamy) afterwards.

I am more of a snob with my coffee, but let’s talk about that another time.

Drought’s toll

Here in California, we watch the skies as if the collective pressure of our gazes could press moisture from the thin clouds.  Four years of drought are taking their toll:


This live oak came down a few days ago, just crashed to the ground without a breath of wind. Five trees have come down on our hilltop in the past couple of months, and more to come. Here’s a California Bay just off the deck, its leaves normally green and perky:

Bay tree

And if I stand and look off the deck into the valley, the trees are clearly stressed, and even if the rains come soon, may not survive.Trees

And the way they’re talking about El Niño, the trees that are still standing in January are going to wash down the valley in the storms.

(But of course, climate change is just a theory.)

An age of daily miracles

Around this time of year, I start getting up when it’s still dark.  The window with my desktop looks east, so I’ve been greeted by the bright voices of Venus and Mars.2015-september-9-10-11-moon-venus-mars-regulus-jupiterBut this morning as I walked out of my back bedroom, I noticed a spot of light on the floor.  I found it came from a high window, a star almost directly overhead. Now, normally I take the same approach to stars as my mother did with birds: you’ve got your robins, your blue jays, your woodpeckers, and your Little Brown Birds. But when someone leave a shy message at your very feet, well, you have to ask.

I think that gentleman is Castor, one of the Twins of Gemini.  And by putting this machine I’m typing on to its other use, reaching out for information, I’m informed that Castor is not only half of the Castor and Pollux twins, he is also an entire star system, three sets of twins in one. He sent that patch of light that ended up on my carpet when I was twelve years old, and it arrived today, some 51 years later.

All in all, a nice way to begin the day.



Ooh: Maps!

I love maps. I’m always thrilled to have the excuse of a story that just NEEDS a map at the front (because honest, nobody knows what India looks like, or England, so we have to put one in there, right?)

Anyway, when I was in London in May, I was headed to the Victoria & Albert to look at Victorian underwear (well, outerwear too) and because sometimes it’s easier to take one line on the Underground than hassle with changing lines in the stations, I was walking a fairly meandering route through the streets when I passed a store with…

Maps. And more than maps: the most gorgeously delectable and intricately decorated map these eyes have ever set upon.

The Map House, in collaboration with the V&A, handed over an 1816 map of London to an Icelandic artist, who did this:

Here’s a detail:IMG_1055

Isn’t it just mouth-watering? Her name is  Kristjana S. Williams, and if I had endless boodle, I’d cover my walls in her wallpaperd7058a_9344ced094c547dab45ff95240010007.png_srb_p_400_400_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srb

And my sofa with her pillows.d7058a_2541224b138b41d59fee23cfec6394b8.png_srb_p_400_400_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srb

Though in the meantime, at least I have her map.

(Hmm. You think people would pay a couple dollars extra for a novel with a color print map in the front…?)

That man follows me everywhere

Spotted the other day on market day in Thame:Combs