Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Visit to Old Sturbridge Village

The Fenno Barn and pasture

On the Fourth of July, family members and I drove the nearly 90 miles down to the heart of Massachusetts to Old Sturbridge Village, listed as "an 1830's working village and farm with costumed artisans and farmers." With plenty of sunshine and just-right temperatures, it was a perfect day.  A fife and drum ensemble tootled along various byways over the course of the day. A crowd gathered late morning to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence plus patriotic poetry followed by a naturalization ceremony welcoming new American citizens who had chosen to be sworn in on that particular day and in that particular place.  And at 1:00, militia fired a cannon in celebration of the Fourth.

Our little party, in the meantime, was busy taking a gander at the turkeys plus spring lambs and chicks ... with a peek inside the Fenno House where one woman was carding wool, another twisting it into yarn, and a third wrapping it on a measuring rod.  Though not all shown everyday, OSV demonstrations include dying wool, weaving, blacksmithing, operating the sawmill, making soup over an open fire (and bread in a brick oven), grinding corn, making pots, shoes, and brooms, plus firing that cannon on special occasions.  All great fun.

We also discovered what is called the game of graces (from the French le jeu des graces), an early 19th century lawn game played with small hoops and sticks that young girls enjoyed and that supposedly helped them become graceful.  Basically, it involved tossing and catching a small hoop with the use of two sticks, one in each hand.

Here are some photos of our day.

Spring lambs

Coach ride

Center Meetinghouse

Friends Meetinghouse

Wrapping twisted yarn

Style of the day

Wallpaper in the Towne House

The Towne House dining room

A bedroom in the Towne House

Part of the Towne House kitchen

One of many flyers outside the general store

Tending one of the gardens

Making pea soup (right-hand pot) in the Bixby House

Carding Mill (in front) and Grist Mill

Inside the Carding Mill

Militia getting ready to fire the cannon

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

18th Century Version

I don't know about you, but whenever I run into the term, "Revolutionary War patriot," I waft through a few visions including Mel Gibson yelling, fighting, making a big fuss in the movie, Patriot, which, in fact, I never saw.  (Who needs more bloodshed!)  Or, I envision our F. Fathers in their 18th century attire doing Their Thing to Make Things Right.  Patriots, all.  All, of course, done with fervor, for flag and country.

So, when I came upon a piece from that day requiring every male to take an oath, I realized it had been less fervor and more livelihood.  That or else leave the country, please.  All this came up when I was working on my genealogy bit last year and found several antecedents with a little subscript note to the effect that they had "taken the oath."

That meant, at least in their state of Maryland, that all free males over 18 were required to go to the magistrate of their county by a certain date and take an oath renouncing the king of England and supporting the new revolutionary government.  Or else.  If they didn't, they would have to pay triple their annual taxes on real and personal property.  They would be prohibited from practicing their trade or profession including medicine, pharmacy, law, education, church.  They could not vote or hold any civil or military office.  And then the magistrates had to submit the proper paper work or be fined 500 pounds.   Hmmm ... why did I imagine the whole thing was more voluntary than that?

So one, then, became a patriot or remained a loyalist, royalist, or Tory and skedaddled off to Canada or returned to Albion unless he didn't care about his job or could afford to triple his tax rate.  One family antecedent, finding himself in Boston in 1775, decided things were heating up so got himself north of the border where that branch of the family remains.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why Not Start Your Own Travel Sketch Book?

From a friend's garden in California

I've been using the same book now for 20 years to make sketches of places I visit, whether it's up the road or across the ocean.  (I had a duplicate book strictly for home scenes for many years ... until I filled it up.  Petunias in my garden, newly dyed Easter eggs, rainbow chard from the farmers' market.  That sort of thing.)

Besides being able to review my various trips, I find my travel sketch book a wonderful diary.  What year was it I went off to Scotland, I ask myself?  And there it is: 1998.  Or I simply browse through the pages and enjoy such renderings as a calm morning sea in Maine, a celadon bowl in a D.C. museum. The book is small, easy to carry, with an attached pen-holder.  As well, I keep a few stubs of colored pencils in a tiny tin box that fits into my pocket. There's little to carry, nothing to weigh me down.

Here she is in all her glory.

Except for the little tin box with lid on the right, everything else stays home.

It's all great fun and, as I say, a lovely reminder of just where and when I went and what I saw.

Provence, France

Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey

Diamond Head, Waikiki

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Ubud, Bali

Harbin Hot Springs, California ... with statues on the lawn.  In 2015 all of Harbin Hot Springs and half the neighboring town of Middletown were reduced to ash and rubble in the Valley Fire.

Entry to Sena Plaza, Santa Fe

National Portrait Gallery, D.C. ... Gertrude Stein statue made to look like a seated Buddha

Regent's Park, London

Friend at Groton Long Point, Connecticut

Friday, June 2, 2017

My All-Time Favorite Books: Memoir

I'm particularly partial to memoir and autobiography.  (The two words are often used interchangeably, though autobiography supposedly deals more with the chronology of one's life up to the point of writing and memoir with one aspect of one's life.)  I like them because I like to learn how others handle their lives.  Fiction I love, yes, but I also figure it's fabricated, so the author can have the characters do whatever he/she wants. But with memoir, real life gets in there and works itself around in the author's life so that one's choices, attitudes, and approaches are paramount. Here are some of the books I've read over the years and have kept rather than passing along to various library sales.  I go back and look at them from time to time, even re-read them.  (Or re-re-read them, as Out of Africa.)

1.  Emily Carles.  A Life of Her Own, The Transformation of a Countrywoman in Twentieth-Century France.   Set in France.

2.  Emily Carr.  1)  Growing Pains, An Autobiography.  2) Hundreds and Thousands, The Journals of an Artist.  3) The House of All Sorts.  Set on Vancouver Island plus England and France.

3.  Jill Ker Conway.  The Road From Coorain.  Set in Australia.

4.  Isak Dinesen.  Out of Africa.  Set in British East Africa (Kenya).

5.  Rumer Godden.  1) Two Under the Indian Sun (with Jon Godden).  2) A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep.  3)  A House With Four Rooms.  Set in England and India.

6.  M.F.K. Fisher.  1) Among Friends.  2) Long Ago in France, The Years in Dijon.  3) Last House:  Reflections, Dreams, and Observations 1943-1991.  Set in California and France.

7.  Elspeth Huxley.  1) The Flame Trees of Thika, Memories of an African Childhood.  2)  The Mottled Lizard.  Set in British East Africa (Kenya).

8.  Penelope Lively.  Oleander, Jacaranda:  A Childhood Perceived.  Set in Cairo and England.

9.  Mable Dodge Luhan.  Edge of Taos Desert, An Escape to Reality.  Set in New Mexico. 

10.  Beryl Markham.  West With the Night.  Set in British East Africa (Kenya) plus her flight to North America.

11.  Henry Miller.  The Colossus of Maroussi.  Set in Greece.

12.  Dervla Murphy.  1)  Full Tilt, Ireland to India With a Bicycle.  2)Where the Indus is Young, A Winter in Baltistan.  Set in Ireland, India, and Pakistan.

13.  Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  Cross Creek.  Set in rural Florida.

14.  Leonard Woolf.  1) Sowing.  2) Growing.  3) Running Again.  4) Downhill All the Way. 5) The Journey Not the Arrival Matters.  Set in England and Ceylon.

15.  Virginia Woolf.  A Writer's Diary.  Set in England.

These aren't necessarily the only memoirs by these writers.  Dervla Murphy, for instance, has many autobiographical pieces detailing her ever-interesting travels. Pick up just about any book by M.F.K. Fisher and you'll find her works on food and France suffused with her own autobiographical details. Dinesen's Shadows on the Grass is a companion to Out of Africa.  Godden's Kingfishers Catch Fire is a fictionalized version of her life in Kashmir with her two young daughters.  Penelope Lively recently wrote Dancing Fish and Ammonites with reflections on old age.  I list all five books of Leonard Woolf's autobiography because they are a unit.

To add?  1.  Funny in Farsi:  A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas.  (Laugh-out-loud funny.)  2.  My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme.  (Good old Julia.)  3. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller.  (Knocks your socks off.) 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Gallery of Photos: By Design

Vermont ... river on a cold and windy day

Bali ... as the rain poured down

Florence ... looking from the Uffizi Gallery through a construction curtain

Samarkand ... timbers and mud brick construction

New York State ... conifers

Toronto ... looking from the CN Tower

Toronto ... looking from the CN Tower into the rail yard

Paris ... looking down from the Montparnasse Tower

Friday, April 28, 2017

This Town, "The One and Only"

Our annual Strolling of the Heifers (to distinguish it from that event in Spain) recognizes "conscious" food--local farming families, organic produce, and such lovelies as the best fruit pies around. 


This town is called "The One and Only" because there is no place else--in the world--that is named Brattleboro ... named for William Brattle, Jr., who never actually got here but who was one of the Boston-based owners of this area's land-grant charter and who, incidentally, was a loyalist who fled to Nova Scotia where he died in 1776.  Before all that, this was Abenaki territory, but then the town's antecedent, Fort Dummer, became Vermont's first permanent English settlement.  (Its site is now underwater--flooded by the construction of a dam on the Connecticut River.)

The town lies in the southeastern corner of Vermont with Interstate 91 shooting right through it on one side, the Connecticut River (and New Hampshire) bordering it on the other, and the attractive West River angling through from its Vermont source northwest of here.  The population is 12,000 which makes it the 7th largest town in the state, the first being Burlington, off near the Quebec border.

Our beautiful West River

Back when I first moved here, now 22 years ago, I looked around and took for granted several amenities.  For one thing, I found three favorite bookstores here--good for browsing at any time.  A fourth wasn't bad but always smelled musty and carried a lot of environmentally-correct books which I applauded but didn't buy.  Then, as the years went by, bookstore #1 suffered severe water damage from a fire and closed.  (The store there now sells odd lamps and earrings.)  Bookstore #2 (that later added a pleasant coffee bar) went the way when the owner couldn't put up the funds for the coffee bar addition.  (That space is now occupied by a microbrewery--nice for beer drinkers but I'm not a beer drinker.) Bookstore #3 (actually in the next village over) went the way when it turned out Amazon was taking a lot of its trade.  Alas.  Bookstore #4, the musty one, is now the only one in town selling new books. They're good for ordering books but a bit limited in space for general browsing.

There were also 3 video stores in town.  #1 had a fabulous collection of art films but put the place up for sale one day. #2 was independently owned but put the place up for sale one day.  #3, part of a national line, simply closed its doors.  Now, if you want to see a video/DVD, you have to go to the library but their supply seems geared toward old TV series.  Back then, too, there were two or three movie channels on TV.  Those have now switched and are showing repeats of Gladiator or The Walking Dead.  Yes, I belong to Netflix and get one a week. I'm fussy about what I order, so they have to be good. But there are other times when I'd like to watch a movie on the spur of the moment, not planned weeks ahead of time and put in my queue. 

Then the nice walking trail down by the West River has been taken over by construction crews for the past 4 or 5 years while they're replacing a high spanned interstate bridge over that same river.

The parking meters have gone from taking pennies to gulping quarters.

The store that sold Indian bedspreads, tablecloths, incense, and nice little chutney dishes closed not long after Hurricane Irene flooded it out.  A kitchen goods place took over but then closed.

On the plus side, the little local art museum (where the train station used to be) is doing well and coming up with small but well-received exhibits.

Then there's the splendid family-run hardware store in the middle of town with old creaky-wooden floors and personal service where someone is always ready to lead you off into the maze of aisles to show you where to find that particular light bulb or battery you need.  The nice thing (besides the service) is that the store never changes.  No renovations, no re-organizing, no moving door mats or brooms or nails or tea kettles to some new spot. They just leave things as and where they are.  Since it works, why change! (That philosophy goes over well here.)

After getting a bequest, the local library has re-opened Thursday mornings and spiffed itself up.

Our old food coop was torn down and replaced by a new one that is bigger, even more organic than before, and good about labeling non-GMO, so that's a plus.
Tea selection at our local food coop

A good number of restaurants have come and gone.  The local hemp store closed when the owner died.  A popular bakery nearly closed until people made a Big Fuss, so it stayed open.  Little giftie-type shops come and go.  A new attractive art gallery has opened up.

A circus arts school has found new digs in town and seems to be thriving. Ditto the local music school. Ditto the local (small) arts school.

My druthers?  Another great bookstore, please.  A Greek restaurant.  A walking path beside the Connecticut River (except Amtrak has taken over that space).  An Indian restaurant to replace the one that closed.  A quality women's clothing store to replace the one that closed.  No more chotchkies.

Just thought I'd pass that along.

A Main Street store sidewalk display

Main Street

"The Meadows" where the West River becomes a water meadow just before flowing into the Connecticut