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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

R&R on the Rocky U.K. Coasts

On New Year’s Eve, our physical selves, David’s and mine, stayed home, while our hearts and minds traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, with more of the same on New Year’s Day. In my case, it was travel to multiple destinations, involving both books and DVDs.

It began when bookstore customers and friends Walter and Marjorie learned a month ago that David would welcome movies during his post-surgical recovery. They kindly loaned us two boxed BBC series, and we are now over halfway through the six-series Irish story, “Ballykissangel,” thoroughly immersed in the life of the little rural village and its inhabitants. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has to say:
The name of the fictional village in which the show was set is derived from Ballykissane, a townland near Killorglin in County Kerry, where the show's creator, Kieran Prendiville, holidayed with his family as a child. The village's name in Irish is shown as "Baile Coisc Aingeal", which means "The town of the fallen angel" on the sign outside the post office.[1] 
The show was filmed in Avoca and Enniskerry in County Wicklow.
Quite by coincidence, two different novels also transported me to stretches of rocky United Kingdom coastline. The new M. J. Rose novel, Seduction, is set on the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel (an advance reading copy came my way just before Christmas), while Meg Rosoff’s What I Was features the landscape of East Anglia, so what with going back and forth between these books and the Irish DVDs, I spent a very restful New Year’s Day on dangerous cliffs and in frightening caves, on rock-strewn beaches and tidal marshes (ever watchful for tides), and amid ruins of earlier cultures near the edge of the sea.

The third book claiming bits of my attention from time to time—short bits because each paragraph is so dense with information—was, of all things, a textbook. But what a textbook! First, the marvelous title (which I associated at first glance with Chinese history): Five Kingdoms. This introductory work by Lynn Margulis and Karlene V. Schwartz is subtitled An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth and has a foreword by no less than Stephen Jay Gould, one of my science heroes. Does anyone remember my shock a few winters ago when I stumbled on what was “news” to me, namely that life on earth is no longer divided into two simple kingdoms? Whether the field of biology will eventually settle on three or five still seems up for grabs, but at least I’m starting to catch up in my very amateur way. The biggest kingdom is that of bacteria. A bacteria cell is without a nucleus. As for viruses, they are left out altogether, on the grounds that they lack cells and can only “live” (feed, grow, & reproduce) by hijacking living cells. Besides bacteria, then, the remaining kingdoms are those of Protoctista, Animalia, Fungi, and Plantae. Each chapter is illustrated with photographs and line drawings, and many pages hold a sort of illustrated frieze along the top-right page that shows the habitat in which the lives under consideration are to be found.

Gould’s foreword gives justification for the book's purpose, to anyone who feels the need to have it justified:
Some people dismiss taxonomies and their revisions as mere exercises in abstract ordering—a kind of glorified stamp collecting of no scientific merit and fit only for small minds who need to categorize their results. No view could be more false and more inappropriately arrogant. Taxonomies are reflections of human thought; they express our most fundamental concepts about the objects of our universe. Each taxonomy is a theory about the creatures that it classifies.
Margulis and Schwartz base their evolutionary theory partly on the timing of branching of life forms as shown in the fossil record. You see? Back we come again to rocks and oceans and geological discoveries, and once more we find ourselves peacefully visiting prehistoric earth through the comfortable lens of distant time.

Caught up as I was in my own reading, I can’t say what literature David enjoyed on New Year’s Day. I can attest to the fact that he also spent time with books, but the other special treat of the holiday for me was that from morning coffee through after-dinner treats, and including dinner for Sarah, David took it all on himself. A third unusual feature was that when we were not actively listening to the radio or watching a DVD, the house was quiet. No background noise or chatter. I cannot remember having a day that completely relaxing in the whole of 2012. It was sybaritic, it was voluptuous, it was almost unreal luxury. I did not miss being "out in the world” at all.


Dawn said...

Lovely day, and a lovely husband as well. Glad you got that time! Hopefully you will have some more of them in 2013!

P. J. Grath said...

Well, I mustn't be greedy, eh, Dawn? Back on my feet this morning, with things that need doing....

Ian Rowan said...

You both would probably also enjoy SLEEP FURIOUSLY, a documentary about a tiny Welsh town. The cinematography alone is worth it, and the subject matter also something I think you'd find worthwhile.

P. J. Grath said...

We'll check that out, Ian. Thanks for the tip! You may recall that one of my very good friends in graduate school was from Wales. When she returned to the U.K. and I left the prairie to come back Up North, she proposed a name for us: PHILOSOPHES FAUVES. We never did have the t-shirts made up.