Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Peach and a Pear

I felt a breeze through the window above my kitchen sink this week. It was breakfast, and I had decided to try one of the peaches I had bought a few days earlier. I felt the serrated edge of the kitchen knife cut through the skin of the peach and move easily through the meat to the pit – and with a twist the two halves of the peach separated.

It was a relief to discover that I had not waited too long for this treat – and a relief that I had waited long enough.

I began to slice half moons of peach and carry each slice to my mouth on the side of the knife. I recalled as a boy standing next to my mother at the sink, watching her hand move carefully to my open mouth and deposit a fresh slice of peach on my tongue.

Canned peaches appeared regularly as dessert at our kitchen table when I was growing up. Fresh peaches were always eaten at the sink, however, with the faucet running so my mother could wash the knife and her fingers from time to time.

It was a rare taste of wildness in our careful home.

When a pear yielded just as easily to my serrated knife this past Thursday evening, I knew my dinner salad could sport still another shade of green.

Summer routines.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Modern French

I like thinking back to a time when I did not know something that I now know. When it is something that I ended up knowing well and that I have enjoyed for most of my adult life, I can be curious about that earlier John -- the John whose wonder and desire to know were not yet transformed by the effort of learning.

An eager student in high school, I regularly paged through a textbook the very week I purchased it. Before any teacher's lesson plans or quizzes or quarterly tests could make some pages and charts and photographs more familiar than others, I liked seeing things for myself.

I knew there was a likelihood that the final chapters of a textbook would escape even the most conscientious syllabus. There is about the final fifty or a hundred pages of a textbook what I can only describe as a mood of loneliness. Some vocabulary will always remain unmastered; some laboratory experiments will never be done; some short story will survive at best as a solitary summer read.

Modern French (1964) by Dan Desberg and Lucette Rollet Kenan was selected by the American Institute of Graphic Arts for inclusion in its collection Fifty Books of the Year (1965). In the academic year 1969-1970, my freshman year in college, I used this textbook in French 101. Click on the photograph for greater detail.

You can view this page in AIGA Design Archives. Among other features described by the archives, Modern French boasts a cover "stamped in blue ink and black leaf."

When we emptied my parents' house in 2004, I uncovered my copy of the textbook. There is a stateliness to the design. I am happy these days to see on my shelves the simple Baskerville typeface, the title in blue on the tan spine of the book.

The simplicity retains its challenge.

PAUL Et vous vous êtes bien amusés?

PHILIPPE Enormément.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Last Day of May

I sat with the comfortable shadows of the last evening of May.

I had opened all the windows in my second-floor apartment.

I did not turn on the lamps.

In the quiet after dinner I began to read next to a window.

Putting down the book, I let an hour pass while I thought:

What is the right question I should be asking myself these days?

I have reached a point in my life when there is no more important consideration.