THE IMPORTANCE OF NOTHING


Nothing is more interesting than nothing, nothing is more puzzling than nothing, and nothing is more important than nothing. For mathematicians (not me), nothing is one of their favorite topics, a veritable Pandora’s box of curiosities and paradoxes. What lies at the heart of mathematics? You guessed it, nothing.

We have heard that when zero arrived in Europe it was treated with suspicion. We don’t think of the absence of sound as a type of sound, so why should the absence of numbers be a number, argued its detractors. It took centuries for zero to gain acceptance. It is certainly not like other numbers. Zero as a symbol is part of the wonderful invention of ‘place notation.’Early notations being Roman numerals. Try doing arithmetic with those. So the symbols were used to record numbers, while calculations were done using the abacus, piling up stones in rows in the sand or moving

All of this is of course way over my head. I appreciate Zero when it is added to other numbers in my checkbook. The more zeros, the better. Math and I, while not complete strangers, are hardly friends.

Word games are almost irresistible when you talk about nothing. Nothing is well, nothing. A void. A total absence of thingness. Zero, however is definitely a thing. It is a number. It is, in fact, the number you get when you count your oranges and you haven’t got any. Or you get to the check stand in the grocery store and find your wallet has nothing in it. Of course. like many things in life, zero needs the company of something to make it work. It’s like a marriage which started from the illusive nothing.

The Jerry Seinfeld sitcom, one of the most successful shows on TV was, in their own words, about nothing. From there, they showed that most of us lead perfectly normal lives about nothing. If you check the pages of the average diary, the day’s notations say something like “nothing happened today”.

Of course in the normal course of things, something happens every day. There is no void in Nature, no matter what the mathematicians say

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IT HAD TO BE YOU


Big shopping day at Costco yesterday; three items divided between the two of us. Seems a waste of time to have such a short list, but it was a nice day to get out. Dr. A has joined a large group of people who have become highly aware of the ethnic clientele in Costco. I have begun to appreciate my failing vision, because though I hear the music of multiple languages, all I see are legs and feet. In this time of year we see shorts, colorful saris, and all sorts of pants on all sorts of bottoms. As for shoes, there are high heels, low heels, sandals, flip flops, trainers. School is still out for another week or two, and there are progeny of all sorts clammering for attention. A trip to Costco is an education.

While at the check stand I heard a voice softly singing the old song “It Had To Be You” with which I have been intimately attached to for 74 years, because it is “our” song, claimed shortly after Dr. A and I decided that we liked each other well enough to have a song. The words in this one seem to convey affection without becoming too mushy.

Do people today have songs they claim as “their” songs? I suppose they do, but it’s hard to get romantic listening to the music of today. It evokes such tender feelings to hear a song which has meaning to both parties. I was insulted years ago when attending a friend;s birthday party where they played “our” song for him. I confess that I have the problem of becoming proprietary about things like names, songs, etc.

I was sorry to hear about the death of Aretha Franklin today. Her inimitable music will be greatly missed. It was music with meaningful lyrics delivered by an amazing God-given voice. RIP Aretha.

THE TRUTH ABOUT PASTA


I think we can all agree that there is something comforting about pasta. I knew it as macaroni or noodles while growing up, but after my daughter and then a grandson married into Italian families, I found there are many other ways to use this versatile product.

My late son-in-law’s mother was convinced that I would be happier if I learned to speak Italian, so I could cook like a native speaker. But son-in-law and an Italian friend did not speak the language, and both were excellent purveyors of spaghetti and related products. In fact when I requested their translation of a recipe, they both reminded me that they did not speak Italian.

You might be surprised to learn that they were making lasagna in ancient Rome albeit not quite the same as it is made today. Dried pasta seems to have been invented in North Africa, and was useful on a camel trip through the desert. It was also a staple for sea-farers on long ocean voyages. It was probably brought to Sicily by its Muslim conquerors. In 1154 there was a thriving manufacturing industry near Palermo which exported its products to Muslim and Christian countries alike. By 1785 Naples had 280 pasta shops.

Tomato sauce was not added until comparatively recently. The tomato. which almost surely came from Spain, was viewed with suspicion by many, including my father-in-law who said “it just doesn’t look good to me.” Of course he put sugar on scrambled eggs. The first mention of tomatoes being used in a recipe came at the end of the seventeenth century.

How do I know all this? I confess I read it in a book. After collecting a shelf full of Italian recipe books, I became Italian. It was comparatively easy, starting with putting enough salt in the cooking water–sort of like sea water, to having enough water in the kettle to let the pasta roam around. My son-in-law’s mother said he never used enough water. I never told him, and his pasta was just fine.

Contrary to what I knew before I became Italian, pasta doesn’t always come in long strings; and the flat kind lends itself to all kinds of wonderful dishes besides lasagna. We make a lot of our own pasta, but some time ago I picked up what I thought was a long box of spaghetti and found buccarini, a fat spaghetti with a hole in the middle ready to grab the sauce. I keep learning as I go.

I am easily pleased, but Dr. A is convinced that it isn’t spaghetti unless it has red sauce.

DAILINESS


Print by Marvin Oliver

The hot days of summer make us move a little slower, taking time for puttering. But they also give us time for introspection; for taking stock of what is important. Dailiness sounds like my childhood diary, where page after page said “Nothing happened today.” But of course something happens every day. I’m happy with our morning routine where Dr. A presents me with a latte to start the day. It’s a nice gesture intended to soften the TV news of fires and politics which is never good. We keep thinking we will turn the news off and cancel the newspaper which is nothing more than two or three pages of what was seen the night before. But we do not, because the habits of a lifetime keep us curious, and that constitutes dailiness.

Greek mythology relates how a large white bird fell from favor and was transformed into a large black raven, a favorite omen of warning, tragedy or disaster, and the negative messenger in Poe’s famous poem.

The image above is by my friend Marvin Oliver, Professor of Indian Studies at University of Washington. The interpretation of Art is in the eyes of the beholder, without which there is no Art. To me the broken heart he is presenting to the ancient abandoned village in the background signifies loss. Loss of a way of life and of a proud people whose Dailiness was not enough to sustain their culture. The tribal Journey Paddle to Puyallup brought canoes from as far away as Alaska and from California, which shows that the culture is alive and well.

The days of our youth and unyouth did not include frequent trips to visit the doctor, or the quack as my British friend calls him. Today if I miss calling a friend I find that he/she has had a hip or a knee replaced in the meantime and is already up and ready to go. Our capacity to maintain seems to lessen as we grow older, so I was not surprised to learn yesterday from the young foreign-born eye quack that I am now considered legally blind. Of course that term is broad and subject to qualification. I cannot drive, which I accept as another of those things I don’t have to worry about. One learns to gracefully say goodbye to things with as little regret as possible. The handicapped have so many options for a so-called “normal” life today, we should be grateful. The good new that day was from the leg surgeon who said he would see me in one year.

While waiting somewhat patiently for the pretty young retinal specialist to appear, I thought of the days when if you went to a doctor he could fix your hang nail, clean your ears, offer advice on every part of your body, and possibly tell you to stop complaining. Today each of those parts needs someone whose expertise seems to have ended after they learned to spell their discipline.

The interesting thing about Dailiness, is that it really does change every day. If it doesn’t try using the new app GOYA; Get Off Your Apps. Turn the TV off, stop looking at your e-mail, go for a walk. It’s a beautiful summer day.