Wilson: Another Pasadena summer

A few things that have crossed my mind at the start of another Pasadena summer:

You know those parrots — our parrots? The wild ones you occasionally hear squawking or see careening through the skies in flocks, that every five years or so you read about in a feature story in your Star-News?

Of course you do. I’ve always been a believer in the theory that they are descendants of escapees from the Simpson’s Nursery fire in east Pasadena in the early 1960s and are mostly found in that neighborhood still, as well as in their truly favorite hangout, neighboring Temple City, where sometimes you can barely hear yourself think for all the parrot noise.

But Thursday night, walking to my car on North Raymond Avenue in front of Memorial Park after noshing and gabbing and generally being entertained at the ab-fab Light-Bringer Project party for this weekend’s Absolut Chalk festival, I couldn’t help but notice that a posse of the parti-colored birds have migrated to west Pasadena — for one evening, at least.

What a racket in the trees. Walking behind an architect-looking fellow who was carrying blueprints and looking up with a mystified expression, I told him the parrot story as I know it. He seemed grateful that there was some rational explanation for a tropical-bird infestation in the mere semi-tropics. If they stay, perhaps Old Pasadena can market them as a tourist attraction.

Can I be cranky for a minute about what we call this year without getting into the mere fact that the millennium turns next January, not this past one?

All right, sir. Here we are, more than six months into it, and some –many — people are still using that awkward and unnecessary “the year 2000” phrase. And it’s not just the joker on the street.

Even in recent weeks, I have read that phrase in The New York Times, I have heard it on National Public Radio. I know why we used it in, say, 1987: this magic number seemed so unimaginably far off that we couldn’t bring ourselves to say it. But now we are here. Get used to it. Say it with me: 2000. 2000. It’s a perfectly normal place in the space-time continuum. What to call the decade to come, I agree, is still a question. So far I’m leaning toward “the oughties” — though it sounds almost as affected as the rest.

In the same vein, why do we feel the need to call a collection of recorded music after the technology it happens to be encoded on –especially now, with the various media changing all of the time? My suggestion, which I heartily suggest all the world sign on to: Stop with the CDs, DVDs, etc. If you are listening to a recorded group of songs or musical works you are listening to an ALBUM, no matter what kind of plastic it’s on.

One medium that will not ever go away, thank goodness, is the book, and I am in possession of a magnificent one thanks to Caltech’s Bob O’Rourke, who forwarded emeritus Professor Ned Munger’s full-color volume 3 of “Cultures, Chess and Art: A Collector’s Odyssey across Seven Continents” (Mundial Press, San Anselmo).

Munger, the great and passionate geographer whose usual specialty is Africa, wrote the Pacific Islands and Asia portion of this series, featuring gorgeous photos of carved and cast chess sets from Samoa, Rarotanga, Laos, Japan, Tahiti, Easter Island, Palau and on and on. You don’t have to play chess to be fascinated.

As with Melville and his whale, Munger sees that to know one thing well is to know most everything about a people and a place. And he even has a soapstone set from Tuva, the remote place his old friend Dick Feynman heartbreakingly never reached.

— Larry Wilson is editor of the Pasadena Star-News.

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