Sunday, March 22, 2015

Equinox sunset walk

Finally rousting myself from my winter sedentariness this past week, I started going for a walk in the morning before breakfast. This is not so ambitious as it probably sounds—I seldom eat breakfast before 10 a.m., and I seldom rise earlier than 8:30.

Nine-ish in the morning is really an excellent time for a walk this time of year, when the sun is fairly high and the air is warming up. The school buses have finished their rounds and the commuters have driven away and it's really pretty quiet around here.

I enjoy listening to the chatter of birds and observing the gradual greening of my neighborhood. It helps that my neighborhood borders on the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Falls.

Minnehaha Falls on March 16
But, I have arthritic knees, I'm overweight, and I'm out of practice—yes, walking is a practice, and subject to both good and bad habits, like everything else. So these walks have resulted in my knees hurting all day long, relieved only partially by the yoga I do afterwards, and the bike rides I take later on each day. They always recover by the next morning, so I figure it's a problem that will gradually get better as I continue to do it; especially as I start practicing Feldenkrais again, which I wrote about some time ago here. When I stopped my one-on-one lessons, I bought a set of CDs by Feldenkrais guru Russell Delman for practicing on my own, but until this week they sat largely untouched.

On Friday I decided I was tired of the day-long pain and skipped the morning walk. I did some yoga and had my usual bike ride of about 5 or 6 miles, with a stop at a coffee shop, of course (because bike riding is about the journey and the destination, for me). At suppertime I was commenting about how pleasant it was to not have pain all day.

But as I sat at the supper table looking out our west-facing windows, I was totally enchanted by the beautiful colors that were playing across the western sky. And then I remembered that it was the vernal equinox. So I decided to take a walk at sunset—an old-fashioned "evening constitutional," I told my husband—reasoning that I would only have pain for the evening and be recovered as usual by morning.

Looking west on East 46th Street at 7:11 p.m., Friday, March 20, 2015

I stopped while crossing East 46th Street to admire the perfect symmetry of the equinox sunset, and then continued on to the falls to take in the beauty and watch several Somali immigrants enjoying this stunning natural feature in the midst of our urban neighborhood.

Afterwards, I did a little yoga and then had a bath, massaging my knee a bit while it was immersed in the warm water. My knees didn't feel too bad after this, and, as usual, they were just fine in the morning.

Minnehaha Falls, about 7:20 p.m., March 20, 2015
I think I'll continue with the evening walks, and make time for my Feldenkrais "awareness through movement" lessons more regularly, and eventually resume the morning walks as well.

And when I go for a walk after supper, hubby washes the dishes. Maybe I should start doing the cooking more often.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Coffee and Virtuosity

Recently I became very curious about the word virtuoso.

I've always thought it had only one meaning—a gifted artist, usually a musician. But then I was reading a book about the history of coffeehouses, and in it, the author makes the argument that the reason coffeehouses caught on in 17th century England was because of the English virtuosi.

What? I could tell immediately that he wasn't talking about a bunch of really good violinists. 

In the introduction to The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse, author Brian Cowan, a professor of British history at McGill University in Montreal, Qu├ębec, writes:

"The crucial social legitimacy for both the coffee commodity and the coffeehouse was provided by the unique combination of a genteel virtuoso 'culture of curiosity' and a rapidly growing commercial world centered in London. ... Coffee culture began with virtuosity and quickly became an integral part of urban living."

Well. I wondered if that was some obscure meaning only known to scholars of 17th century English history.

As I continued to read the book, I was able to infer a sense of who these virtuosi were: men who liked to dabble in scientific experiments, but were not necessarily scientists themselves; who collected art and antiquities and exotic things and arranged them for display in cabinets of curiosities (a cabinet being, at that time, a small room); and who liked to hang out at coffeehouses to read newspapers, observe demonstrations, and engage in learned discussions, or at least make a pretense of doing so.  

Too bad there was no espresso in the 17th century. Imagine what they would have thought of latte art.

I have a few dictionaries

So I got to wondering if any of this was in my haphazard collection of dictionaries.  

Consider my dad's 1929 dictionary—the entry for virtuoso reads:
"1. one with a special knowledge of, or taste for, objects of art, curios, or the like; a collector; 2. one skilled in the technique of an art, esp. the art of music" (The Winston Simplified Dictionary. The John C. Winston Company, 1929)

virtuoso in The Winston Simplified Dictionary, 1929

I found some variation on that first meaning in seven or eight other dictionaries, dating from 1935 to the 1960s, with some adding a third meaning that included an interest in science. But notice this 1964 entry, which includes the science bit, but labels it obsolete:

"... 3. [obs.] a person learned in the arts and sciences; scholar; savant —SYN. see aesthete" (Webster's New World Dictionary. The World Publishing Company, 1964)

Webster's New World Dictionary, 1964

And then there's this simple, single meaning offered in a 1992 dictionary that I would not consider to be more abridged than the others (judging by its size):

"Someone very highly skilled in the technique of a fine art, esp. in the playing of a musical instrument" (New Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus. Lexicon Publications, 1992)
And that made me think that perhaps the sense of the word as meaning a science dabbler and art collector, etc., had fallen out of use by the 1990s. Until I looked up virtuoso in an online dictionary,  which included the older definitions once again, even while labeling one of them obsolete.
Which leads me to a hypothesis: Perhaps the older meaning of virtuoso is making a comeback because of the renewed interest in the quirky obsessions of those virtuosi, with their cabinets of curiosities and their fascination with antiquities and art objects, as well as the aesthetically similar iconography of steampunk.
And coffeehouses. Which are almost as popular today as they were in 17th century London. 

Virtuosic latte art at Dogwood Coffee