Archive for August, 2013


In the final hours of his administration, President Obama has indicated the pardons he is giving convicted federal criminals, a custom famous and infamous in previous presidential administrations. The pardon for Bradley Manning is likely to dominate this custom’s history for decades to come, and is certainly remarkable considering how hotly Manning’s conviction was pursued during this same president’s terms in office…. [New York Times, January 19, 2017]


Jacqueline Kennedy had considered options when selecting furniture for the State Dining Room at the White House, her final choices of several Italian antiques surprising even her closest consultants for her ambitious redecoration effort of so many historic rooms in the presidential dwelling. Of particular interest was her choice of a credenza from the residence of Lucretia Borgia and her third husband, Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, a masterpiece of the final decade of the 15th century.


Only one pair of eyes caught it. Maybe not surprisingly since the International Space Station is a busy place, human activity programmed in detail. But those eyes were rewarded. The wings were alabaster, a light alabaster, they folded the entire earth and drew back to a thin equatorial line, immediately unfolding again and spreading to envelop — a dimming, then an interruption, an arm of the station cutting the view.


The springtime of her final year, in 1519, found Lucrezia often ill, her eighth pregnancy proving even more trying than those previous, none of them easy. While presiding at the Easter banquet, she chanced in conversation with an itinerant priest from Mantua to sample a wine he recommended to assuage her discomfort — a carafe had been drawn, she was served by the principal taster, all in her party savored its richness — and all found ease and merriment. From the empty bottle winged insects flew onto the credenza alighting here and there — the very wood sparkled as they paused. The room was filled with joy, roasts and breads grasped by gluttonous hands, many raved in prophecies. By evening several guests had died in ecstasy.


Michelle Obama wandered the state rooms, nodding to the few scattered attendants and servants she encountered on this last progress she would make before joining her secretary before their review at her final staff meeting. She felt growing pleasure rise in her as she paused in the dining room, vacant now, only a few lights on, and the thought passed, “I won’t miss this.” She almost glowed when it occurred to her, “tomorrow I’m going home, really. I miss Chicago.”


Only an irrigation ditch, straight and unbroken for half a kilometer, divided the vineyard from the footpath. Overgrown rather, this late in the summer, the grapes gathered here a week already, though a few remained, plump, overlooked veterans of a good harvest. A scum pooled in the ditch water, curling, driven perhaps by the slight breeze that swept the utterly flat terrain of these fields between Ferrara and Ravenna. Only insects clustered and buzzed about, in the silence of a light wind. And then too, along the woody stems of several vines slightly larger insects crept, a few only, and only on a few trunks of some of the vines, their diaphanous wings slowly folding, in certain lights opaque, a light alabaster.


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