30 November 2011

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate ...

Rnd. 2:  Knit, slipping the last st of the rnd from the end of the third needle to the beg of the first needle, and counting it as the first st of the full rnd (do not knit again) to keep the yarnovers aligned vertically and counting it as the first of the 2 knit sts in the next rep.

What ?????

23 November 2011

Down on the Bayou

The first thing you notice in the Louisiana Bayou is the air: clean, sweet and filled with the scent of plant-choked water, shrimp trawlers, and damp moss.  In fact it’s difficult to say which of the senses are most involved in loving the place. The seductive scents make you feel like spending the day doing nothing but lying back, closing your eyes and inhaling all the different aromas. But closing your eyes would mean you couldn't be sweetly assaulted by a continuous panorama of gnarled tree roots, moss-draped Cypress, and the rich patina of green that shimmers over the water’s surface.  And throughout it all your ears are teased by the sloshing of pirogues, the chirrup of tree toads, the low rumble of gators, and the whoosh of Heron wings brushing the air. 

It isn’t until you’ve penetrated the chaotic tangle of Cypress roots and hanging moss that you start to notice the stick houses leaning precariously into the breeze with their odd assortment of people, cats, tree toads and baby gators lolling near the docks.  The peacefulness is only occasionally interrupted by the whir of a small motor launch, reminiscent of the African Queen with a flat canvas roof and an gnarled Cajun fisherman at the helm.   

Some of the families have ties to the Bayou that stretch back to the late 18th c. and they know every tree, plant, gator, heron and turtle within range of their Cypress shacks.  I had the good fortune to go out with one of them once, into the heart of the swamp, and it was wonderful to see this exquisitely beautiful territory through their eyes.  "Oh, Miss, look!” the father would say, “Over on that ol' fallen-over log... a little spotty turtle!  You see 'em?"  

We pushed on through the vegetation—gator grass, duck potato, water hyacinths—straining the motor at times and having to throw it in reverse to come clear of all the plant life.  We fed alligators marshmallows along the way.  (For some inexplicable reason they seem to crave this sugary treat, and followed in our wake like excited puppies as we threw handfuls over the side.)

Back at the shack they shared their lunch with me—red beans and rice, chicken gumbo, bread pudding—and then the father called me outside and handed me a baby gator to hold.  I say "baby" but he was about 3 feet long from "snout to tail" and was surprisingly soft and quite docile, seeming to enjoy it when I scrunched the back of his neck.  Hard to imagine in a few month’s time he’d be big enough to take my arm off, or catch me in his jaws and pull me down into the lush green waters in a traditional death roll. 

Fishing on the bayou,
with a cane pole
catching catfish

hooks baited

with earthworms.

Fishing on the Bayou

shrimping and crawdad digging

whistling Cajun tunes

and doing whatever, wherever,

and drinking Pepsi.
(Thomasena Martin-Johnson)

22 November 2011

TO LET : One Faery House

Several years ago I put a 1950s metal doll house in the garden as an erstwhile Faery House. Occasionally I would put a votive light inside at twilight, so the children next door would see the windows glowing.  ("The Faeries Will See You Now")

Imagine my delight when I was in a gift shop last summer and saw a bonafide Faery House (albeit for the princely sum of $85) made of twigs, moss, leaves, a bark roof and tiny furniture. 

One even had miniscule BOOKS on a table and an artist's easel.  (Clearly this faery resident is a distant relative.)

And so as winter draws closer and the gardening books come off the shelves and notebooks are filled with clever plans for next year, I write MAKE A FAERY HOUSE at the very top of the list. 

With luck I can forage enough materials from my garden to construct something a mid-summer faery or two might deign to consider HOME.

Gardening Idea No. 93-b

Okay, so my heart has been set on a bottle tree since I learned about them several years ago.  As yet I haven't been able to afford one so I've been 'making do'.  Last summer I slipped colored wine bottles onto the sturdy branchs of a Rose of Sharon bush. A bit teetery but charming in its own way. This past summer I inverted colored bottles onto the wooden spears of a fan-shaped trellis.  A moderate success but still no substitute for the real thing.  With luck, by next summer there will be a bonafide rebar bottle tree planted somewhere in the garden. Deo volente.

In the meantime, thanks to another blogger leaving bread crumbs to a site she follows, I've discovered another glass garden whimsy that I simply must have. 


I'm not entirely certain how these cheery fellows stay upright on the rebar. (No doubt some industrial strength substances are involved.) Suffice it to say I'll be scouting the local consignment shops for colored glass plates between now and April.

(By the way I have noticed that more and more bloggers are posting about bottle trees. Coincidence??)

Carry on.

21 November 2011

Stone Cottages No. 27

And, just at hand, I spied a cottage on the green;
The walls were white, the thatch was neat, the window bright.

 Oh look!  A blue door....

Favorite Literary Quotes No. 14

"Guests to her home were few and after such a visit, during which a linen cloth would be laid on the dining table and cutlery and glasses set for two, the vacuum left by the departing visitor served to echo along the hallway and into the walls. It was at those times when her aloneness took on a darker hue, that she almost wished there would be no more guests, for then there would be no chasm of emptiness for her to negotiate when they were gone."

"You cannot deliberately change the course of the river without causing a flood or drought somewhere else; but spring will come, the soil will seed itself, that flood or drought will abate, and life goes on in this new landscape."

The Mapping of Love and Death [Winspear]

17 November 2011

Judging a Book by its Cover

So I've just read Geoff Dyer's recent N.Y. Times Book Review column about book cover art, a phenomenon in publishing dating from the 70s.  Books printed prior to that decade were, according to Dyer, somewhat “old and dreary” but by the 70s, Penguin was partly responsible for the delightful marriage of art and literature, borrowing images from famous paintings to grace the covers of their paperback series.  

Being a child of the 50s, Dyer’s column provoked my own bibliophilic memories.  I have countless Modern Library Classics on my bookshelves, identified by their maroon, green or navy blue covers adorned with nothing more elaborate than a stamped gold typeface on the spine identifying what (or who!) might be inside:  Anna Karenina; Oscar Wilde; John Donne; William Blake; Longfellow; Emily Bronte, to name but a few. There were rarely any pictures throughout the pages and those few that did turn up (most often on the frontispiece) were merely pen and ink sketches, oftentimes of the author. These books provoke a deep sensory response in me whenever I take them from the shelf and I have immediate recall of hours spent in Dana’s Corner Book Shop where the attendant scents were part library, part men’s club, part great-aunt’s attic. A Modern Library edition was a book meant for the hardcore reader, someone who needed no external folderol to tempt one beyond a hard cover in a dun red or blue into the creamy thick pages covered in old-fashioned Garamond type. 

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, like Dyer, I’m hopelessly enamored of the art-enhanced covers on books from the late 20th century.  For my money, the best among this genre must be the reprints of novels by Angela Thirkell, for which Penguin plumbed the luscious depths of Pre-Raphaelite paintings for its covers.  Each one is an aesthetic jewel, not only capturing the essence of each novel’s spirit, but also the Howards End / Room With A View aesthetic of Thirkell’s own era.  I agree entirely with Dyer that the covers of these books enhance the reader’s enjoyment -- and perhaps even understanding -- by providing a visual touchstone to the story. 

A similar phenomenon took place with phonograph record slip cases in the late 60s and 70s and many of the recordings I purchased from that period feature watery images by Monet, flowery canvases by LaFarge, imperialistic tableaux by David, and high-spirited illustrations by Toulouse Lautrec, reflecting the Debussy, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, or Milhaud that waited within. The image on my recording of Tchaikowsky’s First Symphony (“Winter Dreams”) has a wintry Dutch landscape on the cover, one that drew me into the composer’s winter daydream no less than the actual music. And you could always count on a bucollic landscape by Constable or Samuel Palmer for albums that featured music by English composers such as Vaughan Williams, Elgar, or Delius.

One could argue that using fine art for advertising is not a new thing.  Soap and Biscuit companies have been using it on their boxes and tins for more than a century, spreading a little class with the morning lather-up or afternoon cuppa. But purposely marrying a piece of art to reflect literature or music is taking this many steps higher than biscuit tins, bestowing the lagniappe of visual expression, drawing the psyche and perhaps even the soul further upward. Or inward. 


When art and literature -- or art and music -- marry, we are certainly the better for the union, and I’m grateful to Mr. Dyer for reminding me of this. 

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go and have a cup of tea and a biscuit from a tin that has a Bruegel family cavorting in the snow. 

16 November 2011

Gardening Idea No. 88

1 gale force rainstorm
1 on-its-last-legs umbrella
1 pair of embroidery scissors
1 flower pot filled with a vine of some sort (e.g., Morning Glory, Moonflower, Sweetpea, etc.)

Upon arriving home soaking wet, use embroidery scissors to remove the remnants of tattered silk from  abovementioned umbrella.  Stick the skeletal remains into a large flower pot, handle first.  Train vines to climb up the umbrella handle and along the metal spokes.  [Explaining to the neighbors what you were thinking is optional.]

15 November 2011

A stitch in time [Part Deux]

I thought it might be time to update the Knitting, Sewing and Crocheting projects list I posted last winter:

- The Civil War era bed socks were finished but in heather brown rather than olive green

- The multi-colored socks (lavender, grey and yellow) were finished in time to be an Easter gift

- A few more bookmarks were made, though not as many as I'd hoped.  So this shall remain on the "TO DO" list. 

I also managed to complete several unexpected items that were not on my original list, thanks to the discovery of several new pattern books at the library which led me astray:

- A pair of multi-colored ankle socks (burgundy, midnight blue, olive green, muddy brown) with cabled cuffs

- A pair of multi-colored basket-weave tube socks (deep turquoise, mustard yellow, french red) with turquoise cuffs and heels

- A pair of olive green tube socks with a long traditional cuff and then twisted cables that reach to the toe

- A pair of cream tweed tube socks entirely cabled to the toe

[Methinks the ladye doth overly love her toobe sokke pattern.]

Okay, so that's the good news.  Now for my list of shortcomings:
  • The grey wool scarf with a very thin metallic thread running through it?  This never got off the ground because I couldn't find the right kind of metallic thread.  Still searching.
  • The test run at knitting frost flowers? This ended in a brief but unnerving bout of clinical insanity. [Our heroine will try this again in the dead of winter when her mind tends to be more calm.]
  • The tea cosy? This still languishes in my sewing basket.  I'm setting a deadine of December for this one, with a secondary deadline of March. The hope is that I will give it to my friend either at Christmas OR on her birthday.  Stay tuned.
  • The Entrelac scarf I'd hoped to knit for myself? As is the case with most knitters, for whom the mantra is always GIFTS COME FIRST, I have stitched ansolutely nothing on this, despite having been given a generous gift of additional yarn by a friend.
All in all not an unproductive season. If only I could prevent my mind from leaping out of bounds and getting caught up in new projects when there are so many old ones to finish. 

08 November 2011

A room of one's own

I could be happy here.

When we last left our heroine

The campus bookstore underwent a facelift not too long ago, including a cafe at one end of the ground floor and a bank of upholstered chairs and tables by the front windows at the other end. The addition of the reading area means that I have a new place to roost each morning since I'm usually on campus nearly 45 minutes before the workday begins. A nice alternative to cooling my heels at my desk. My routine when I arrive is always the same: remove my jacket, get out my reading glasses and settle down with a book for 30 minutes or so.  

But this idyllic scenario begs the question:  Whose book should I be reading?  One I bring from home?  One I purloin from a shelf in the store?  And if the latter, how much am I allowed to read?  A few sample pages, to see if it's something I'd like to purchase and own?  (And I won't even get into the issue of whether or not one should be reading unpaid-for books whilst eating a scone with buttery fingers.)

For awhile, the thought of taking down new books from the store's shelves and curling up to enjoy them was too guilt-laden, and so I would trundle back and forth from home with whatever book I was reading at the time.  This worked well for the smallish volumes, but occasionally I would be in the middle of some mighty tome.  (Think "Mary Chestnut's Civil War Diary".  I mean it did go on for four years, after all.)  And there was the issue of how to comport myself when it came time to pack up and leave.  Do they think I'm stealing this book?  Do they know I brought it from home?  I decided not to worry about this, my copies being sufficiently dog-eared to pass muster should I be frisked for any reason. (And who in their right mind would be cheeky enough to have their own bookplate in a book if it wasn't their own?)

Several months passed and one morning I was "between books" -- a place a voracious reader hates and loves all at once -- and I plucked up the courage to wander through the store's shelves to see if there was something there I might like to peruse.  I was immediately drawn to a book I'd actually hoped to purchase one day: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight.  I stood, somewhat guiltily, reading through the opening pages, not even allowing myself the luxury of sitting to read it.  As luck would have it, I was enchanted by the author's style and topic -- and by the sale price, a mere $4.99 -- and so I brought it to the counter and purchased it.  So far so good.  I had used their generous reading policy for the purpose of being tempted to buy something. 

The next step down the slippery slope was inevitable: finding a book on their shelves that I had wanted to read for some time but wasn't that keen on buying, at least not at full price.  I began by reading the first chapter one morning, slipping it dutifully back onto the shelf when it came time to leave. The following morning I read a bit more, managing to get through all of Chapter Two. I am now on Chapter Nine. The reading is slow going, thanks to the prisoner-like allotment of 30 min. each morning, and in my advancing years I sometimes have to go back and absorb the last paragraph of the previous chapter to refresh my memory of what came before.  

And then yesterday a new crisis of conscience:  a chapter was too long to finish in the allotted time, and I knew I would never remember where I'd left off when I came in this morning to pick it up again.  After rustling about in my bag, I tore a small scrap of white paper from a shopping list and sureptitiously placed it between the pages.

Now the anxiety really begins: will someone buy the book before I finish?  It's the only copy on the shelves. Should I hide it?

From bring-your-own-book to placing page markers in books that don't belong to me. In less than a 4 months.

Why is it so hot in here, and why am I sitting in a handbasket?