What Happens at the Uffizi Stays at the Uffizi

Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

When I went to Italy in the eighties, I was part of a tour group of twenty people. We spent a full day visiting the Uffizi Museum in Florence, one of the most famous museums in the world. It has a large collection of unique works of art and masterpieces, mostly from the Renaissance Period, although it contains works from the twelfth century to the present. My favorite pieces were works by Italian artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, and Raphael.

Upon leaving the museum, I saw Maxine and Gwen, two elderly sisters, staring down at a grate in the sidewalk under the portico next to the building. Both had knitted brows and worried looks. I had just come out of the museum, and they didn’t see me yet. I told myself I should hurry on my way before they caught sight of me. Unfortunately, I just can’t pass by when someone needs help.

I went over and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I was changing the film in my camera,” Maxine said, “and the canister popped out and dropped into the grate.”

“Why don’t you just buy another roll?” I asked.

“I had all 36 pictures from the beginning of the trip until now. I really want them back.”

Together, we peered down into the grate.

A man walking by stopped and asked, “Is this another exhibit?”

“No,” we said.

He shrugged and walked away.

Actually, we could see statues and paintings beneath the grate, so we knew this must be part of the Uffizi.

“What can we do?” Maxine asked.

“Follow me.” I walked over to the entrance to the gift shop, which is the room everyone must go through before they can leave the museum. The operators hope, of course, that people will linger and buy souvenirs after seeing the artwork. A uniformed officer stands guard at the opening from the museum to the shop so people won’t sneak into the museum without paying.

I went up to her and asked, “Do you speak English?”

No. No Inglese.”

I tried to explain the situation in Italian, but she just kept shaking her head, so I motioned that we just wanted to go back in the museum. She grew more and more frustrated.

Fortunately, I knew the word for office in Italian, so I said, “Ufficio, per favore.”

She pointed behind us and said, “Exit.” She didn’t say, “Uscita,” since she could already tell we were Americans.

I stood my ground. “Ufficio, per favore.”

Once again, she pointed her finger said, “Exit.”

Ufficio, per favore.” I could keep this up all day if I had to. We would not leave without Maxine’s film.

Eventually, the officer sighed dramatically and pointed through the doorway she was guarding. She made climbing motions with her fingers and waved toward some stairs at the back of the museum. The two sisters struggled up the flight of stairs, out of breath by the time we found a receptionist behind a desk.

I went up to the woman and asked, “Do you speak English?”

No. No Inglese.”

Once again, my rudimentary Italian made it impossible for her to understand the situation, so she picked up her phone and spoke into the handset. When she hung up, she pointed to another set of stairs going upward, and we went up another flight, with the sisters stopping to catch their breath a couple of times.

An elegant woman stood in the office doorway at the top of the stairs. She spoke perfect English with a beautiful Italian accent. I explained the problem to her. She went over to her phone, spoke into it in Italian, and then said, “Follow me.”

We went down both flights of stairs and one more before we reached the basement. A handsome young custodian met us at the bottom. He was tall and broad-shouldered, looking quite fit in his blue uniform. A lock of black hair curled on his forehead like Superman.

The woman explained the situation to him in Italian. He smiled, nodded, and started looking around.

We all searched among the dusty statues and paintings for at least thirty minutes before Maxine examined her camera and said, “Oh, wait. It wasn’t the film that’s missing. It’s the battery.”

I said, “Oh, I saw a battery stuck in the sill of the grate while we were on the sidewalk.”

Maxine gave herself a face palm.

Gwen said, “Don’t feel bad.”

“We all make mistakes,” I said.

Her red face told us our words were little consolation.

The three of us thanked the woman and the man for their assistance. I told the woman we wanted to send a thank-you note to their superiors praising them for their willingness to help. She would not give me her name, saying she did not need to be thanked.

I turned to the man and asked, “Come ti chiami?”

“Fabio.”

I raised my eyebrows, opened my eyes wide, and asked in as sultry a voice as I could muster, “Fabio?”

He grinned and said, “Si, Fabio,” then raised both fists in the classic bodybuilder’s pose. I certainly would remember that name long enough to write a letter to his supervisor.

After we climbed back up the stairs and exited through the gift shop, Maxine and Gwen wanted to buy me lunch for being so helpful, but I declined. I realized that if I had not tried to “fix everything,” they would have found out a lot sooner that only the battery was lost.

But then I wouldn’t have met Fabio.

Copyright or Copyleft?

I recently stumbled upon a concept called “copyleft,” a play on the word “copyright.” The term has been around for quite some time, but I had never heard of it.

Basically, I would use copyleft if I create a work and wish to give anyone else the right to distribute, modify, and share it. I also would insist that anyone who modifies my creation must agree to pass on the right to distribute, modify, and share the new adaptation that ensues. All versions that future adaptors create should also be made available for modifying and sharing down the line at no cost.

The goal of copyright, of course, is to ensure that the creator of the art, software, or literary effort will receive monetary gain in addition to recognition. Under copyleft, on the other hand, derivative works are allowed as long as their creators insist that other users who adapt and distribute the new works do so at no cost to recipients. The original creator may require that all future derivatives give credit to him or her, but monetary gain is neither required nor expected.

The term “kopyleft” was used as early as the 1960s, in Principia Discordia, or How the West Was Lost (1965), later revised as How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate Of Malaclypse The Younger, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything. One of these original versions (I could not find out which one) contained a K in a circle followed by the words All Rights Reversed—Reprint What You Like.

The concept of copyleft was used by Richard Stallman, a software expert, as a result of what he perceived as a wrong. When Stallman was working on a Lisp interpreter and Symbolics asked to use his code, he provided them with a public domain copy, giving them the right to use his creation and modify it at will. Later, when Stallman asked them to give him a copy of the code they had developed using his software, they refused.

Stallman called this “system hoarding” and began working to prevent such tactics in the future. Around 1984 he created the first copyleft license. His goal was not to deny copyright as it is historically understood, but he believed that the creator of a work could allow others to revise the original as long as future revisers allow others to do the same.

Copyleft is often used for software. The creator gives anyone else the right to modify and share the code, as long as the recipient insists that the resulting software could be used and modified. Creative Commons provides ShareAlike, which uses a similar license.

Copyleft is still being used mainly for software; however, an amazing artist who supports copyleft is Nina Paley. She gives anyone the right to distribute and adapt her work as long as the adapter allows the same rights down the line.

Currently, there are four levels of permission. Copyleft can be divided into “full” and “partial,” and different countries have different laws for copyleft. At this time the backwards C in a circle has no legal significance; instead, the copyleft terms should be stated in words.

I recently attended a workshop held by a lawyer who is an expert in intellectual property rights. She said that many young people believe that all works should be free to everyone with no restrictions on copying or revising the original.

What are your thoughts?

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HOW TO WRITE A PAGE TURNER

HOW TO WRITE A PAGE TURNER (edited and updated version 6-16-14) Recently, I downloaded a copy of Thread of Hope by Jeff Shelby. As I read the novel, I realized that this is definitely a page-turner. The character returns to the town where his daughter disappeared even though he hates being there because so many triggers remind him of her kidnapping. Even looking at his ex-wife is painful because his wife and daughter look so much alike. He comes back, however, in order to help an old friend who has been accused of a crime and is unconscious in the hospital. The reader can admire Joe Tyler because he forces himself to endure the agony of his memories in order to help his pal. As I read I realized that I rarely stopped at the end of a chapter, so I began to analyze the endings to see what made me continue reading. Here are the endings of some of the chapters. I shortened the list because the book has eighty chapters.

“All I know is that he told her you would know what to do.”

She raised an eyebrow. “They already know you’re back.”

As I gazed at the now gray-looking buildings across the bay, murky behind the fog, I felt no promise. No excitement. No hope.

I stared out that hotel window and I could feel all of it bearing down on me, with no clue how to stop it.

“You go near my daughter, they won’t take you away in an ambulance. It’ll be in a hearse.”

“I’m sorry. I swear to God. I’m sorry.”

A humorless smile took residence on his face and he chuckled quietly, tapping his fingers on the desk.
“So you did come to fight with me.”

“Alright,” I said. “Tell your wife I’ll be at your home to speak to her at nine tomorrow morning. Alone.”

“That’s how I know that something has happened to her.”

“Eight tonight,” he reiterated. “I hope you have some information for me.” I was hoping the same thing.

So I brought up something else that I knew was going to piss him off.

I did think he would’ve noticed that. And that was the problem I was trying to rectify.

“I’ll tell you something about the Jordan family that you don’t know.”

Secrets don’t stay buried. They just wait to be dug up.

But then she abruptly turned and her fist slammed against the door as she disappeared into the locker room.

But after ten minutes, I was tired of waiting and stuck my head into the locker room. A locker room that was already empty.

The situation crystallized for me. And he produced a gun.

Her eyes focused and she finally looked at me. “In case I had to shoot you.”

Each of these sentences could have occurred in the middle of the chapter, but Shelby wisely chose to stop at a point where the reader would want to keep reading. Add a protagonist who is going through a hell of his own while he is trying to help a friend by solving a mystery, and we have the proverbial page-turner. Good job, Jeff Shelby.

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Five Reasons I Hate Facebook

5. It is too enticing, like a siren’s song. I love following my friends, family, and fellow writers. I can easily spend all day returning to it over and over.

It’s too much like the time I made a pecan pie one day. My husband and I each had a piece for dessert. The next evening after dinner, he said, “I’d like another piece of pie.” I hung my head and said, “There isn’t any more.” I started nibbling on the pie in the morning, left a fork in the pan, and kept returning to eat a little bit more all day. Facebook is like that pie.

4. Facebook makes me cry. I am a big softie, and I can cry at almost anything. One day, I was passing through the TV room, and someone was dying on the screen. I started crying as I walked. My daughter said, “Mom, that’s Al Capone.”

“I can’t help it,” I said.

“He’s dyyyying.” I told you I am a softie.

3. Facebook has lots of political lies, such as when a posting made the rounds that said President Obama had the flags across the nation put at half-staff after the death of Whitney Houston. Actually, it was Republican Governor Chris Christie who made that announcement for his state alone. I wonder how many people never learned the truth. I have even been guilty of reposting something I thought was true, only to have Snopes tell me I was wrong. Heavy sigh.

2. Every time I see a recipe, I want to try it. If I see someone’s enticing meal in full color, my mouth waters and I want to head for the kitchen. I think Facebook is bad for my diet.

1. Facebook is ruining (or may have already ruined) one of the old, useful rules for punctuating titles. Once upon a time, we English teachers taught that titles of short works (short stories, short poems, chapter titles) should have quotation marks (“The Trouble with Tribbles,”) and titles of longer works (novels, epic poems, series) should be underlined or italicized (Star Trek).

Since Facebook does not allow underlining or italics, however, people could only use all caps for titles of longer works. Some writers on FB used all caps for a while, which makes sense because we are supposed to use all caps for our novel titles when we submit a query letter to an agent. Other writers just omitted any punctuation at all for titles on Facebook, perhaps because we associate all caps with shouting.

That would not have been so bad, but then authors (AUTHORS!) stopped using any punctuation for titles on their own blogs, even though those sites allowed them to use italics or underlining. I wish I could convince everyone to use single quotation for novel titles on Facebook, but—alas—I am only one person. So I sigh whenever I see a title with no punctuation.

We can’t even tell whether we are looking at one or two novels when we see a sentence like this: I enjoyed reading Basted and Tasted. If we used single quotation marks, we could write: I enjoyed reading ‘Basted’ and ‘Tasted,’ or I enjoyed reading ‘Basted and Tasted.’ I know I won’t win this battle, so I merely move on and sigh dramatically.

I hate Facebook. It is the reason I have not finished my novel or my memoir.

I think I will just go see what my friends on FB are doing right now. They’ll understand my pain.

Bye. Sigh.

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THE BLUEBONNET

Photo Credit - James Sough

Photo Credit – James South

This photo by James South shows the bluebonnet mixed with Indian paintbrush plants.

Our state motto is “Don’t Mess With Texas,” but it could also be “Don’t Mess With Texas Women.” In 1901, when the state legislature decided to select a state flower, most of them (probably all men back then) wanted either the cactus flower or the cotton boll (the cotton-filled seed vessel of the plant). The members of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, however, wanted the bluebonnet, also known as the buffalo flower, Lupinus, and they went to Texas to make their case. The women prevailed. Unfortunately, the legislators chose the Lupinus subcarnosus and ignored the Lupinus texensis, which is much bigger than the daintier subcarnosus. Not only that, but shouldn’t the texensis be the logical choice?

DSC_0014-2-2
Photo by James South

For the next 70 years, individuals met with lawmakers off and on to try to get the texensis named the state flower instead of the subcarnosus. In 1971 the legislators solved the problem by decreeing that both those flowers and any other Lupinus that grew then or that developed in the future would all be recognized as the state flower. The Texas Highway Department scatters the texensis along the highways and byways each year. The bluebonnet is a wonderful choice for the state flower since it needs little water and will often bloom during drought conditions.

Recently, the University of Texas at Austin found maroon-tinged bluebonnets growing in flowerbeds on their campus. Many suspected that Texas A&M University’s Aggies, traditionally rivals with UT-Austin, had something to do with the invasion of the flowers since A&M’s colors are maroon and white.

Many wondered how the maroon flower came to exist. Two horticulturists, Greg Grant and Dr. Jerry Parsons spent some time selecting seeds from red, white, and blue bluebonnets in hopes of creating the Texas flag using the three colors. They noticed some pink bluebonnets had a blue tinge. When they realized that the hue sometimes resembled maroon, Greg Grant, an Aggie through and through, decided to try to develop a strain with a maroon hue. Over time, Grant and Parsons succeeded.

When the maroon flowers were found on the UT campus, many suspected that they were the result of an Aggie prank. Others believed that the invasion was merely a result of the seeds being mixed up at the company that provided them. At first, officials at UT-Austin were willing to allow the maroon bluebonnets to coexist with the blue ones, but they decided on April 17, 2014, that the ones growing on their campus are intruders and will be removed.

Some think it is against the law to pick bluebonnets in Texas, but it is not so. The state just reminds people to watch out for fire ants and rattlers. That might be better than making a law against picking them.

The company that provides the seeds Lupinus texensis (Fabaceae) also known as Alamo Fire, recommends that any non-maroon flowers be removed to avoid cross-pollination.

The legend of the bluebonnet is a fascinating one. I would tell you the story here, but it is told so well on another site that I will give you a link to that version.

http://www.coedu.usf.edu/culture/Story/Story_Texas.htm

You can order the seeds here.

http://shop.wildseedfarms.com/Alamo-Fire_Maroon-Bluebonnet/productinfo/3229/

These are the articles I used as sources.

http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/trb01

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/cemap/maroon/realmaroon.html

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Tex-Arcana-How-bluebonnets-became-state-flower-1792133.php

http://alcalde.texasexes.org/2014/04/they-live-the-saga-of-the-maroon-bluebonnet-continues/

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THE MUGGY MUG

I prefer to proofread carefully.

I prefer to proofread carefully.

CAM00251

CAM00252

I recently ordered a porcelain cup that showed proofreaders’ marks on the left side, with examples of the marks being used in sentences on the right side.

When I opened the box, the first thing I saw was the slogan “Proof carefuly” on the side facing away from the drinker. Oops.

The other side of the cup listed eleven proofreaders’ symbols with examples for each one. Unfortunately, half the sentences used as examples were incorrect. The symbol was used correctly, but some of the resulting sentences were incorrectly worded or punctuated.

For the symbol denoting “Insert a comma,” the example sentence was
“A stitch in time, saves nine.”
The sentence violates the rule “Do not insert a lonely comma between a subject and its verb just because you feel like pausing.”

But wait. There’s more.

The better to see you with. said the wolf.
was changed to
“The better to see you with.” said the wolf.
but it should have been
“The better to see you with,” said the wolf.

The win dows (Two words for windows?) on the bus goes up and down.
was changed to
The windows on the bus goes up and down.
but it should have been either
The windows on the bus go up and down.
or
The window on the bus goes up and down.

“I’ll huff and puff” said the wolf.
should have been
“I’ll huff and puff,” said the wolf.

Goodness!

Some of my friends have suggested that perhaps it is a joke mug, but I think they would have gotten all the examples wrong if they had meant it to be funny.

I contacted the company that sold the mug and received a gracious reply telling me that they would refund my money. They also said not to bother sending it back. I’m not surprised. They are probably happy to get rid of one of them. I wonder how many more they have on their shelves.

THE LEGEND OF THE STRAWBERRY

strawberry shortcke

The Cherokee explain how strawberries came to exist on Earth. Many variations of the legend exist, since the story comes from oral history, but I will tell you the version I like.

In the beginning the Creator, ga lv la di e hi, created First Man and First Woman. For a time they were the only people on Earth. They lived together in contentment for quite some time, but eventually they began to fight. First Woman said to First Man that she was leaving him, and he said he didn’t care. She started walking away, swift and determined in her anger.

After a bit, First Man decided he wanted First Woman back, so he started after her. She, however, was walking so swiftly that there did not seem to be any possibility that he would catch her.

The Creator put blueberry plants in her path, but she walked on. Then He put luscious blackberries in her path, but she walked on. Finally, He put strawberry plants in her path. She looked at the bright green leaves, the white flowers, and the luscious red fruit. Bending down to taste one, she was astounded at how good they were, so she stopped and ate as many as she could. Then she decided that she really did not want to be apart from First Man, so she filled her basket with as many strawberries as she could and headed back toward their home.

First Man caught up with her, and they walked back home arm in arm.

Today, a Cherokee tradition states that a home should always have strawberry jam or jelly, if not fresh strawberries.

My favorite strawberry shortcake recipe is a Sara Lee Pound Cake, thawed, a big tub of Cool Whip, and a bag of frozen strawberries. I cut the cake into cubes, stir in the thawed strawberries, and mix in the Cool Whip. I’m off to the grocery store now.

The easy way to core a fresh strawberry is to push a straw through it, from the pointy end to the green top.

Update: One of my friends asked, “Where did the whipped cream come from?” Another friend replied, “From the First Cow, of course.”

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Strawberry Plant