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

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Shift From Winter to Spring

Around here, the shift from winter to spring is a big deal.  It's THE topic of casual conversation.  For me, it occurs ....

1.  When I crack open my bedroom window for the first time.
2.  When I hear the first peepers down in the woods below my house--those small "chorus frogs."
3.  When I call my yard guy and we talk about when he'll come, take my pots, garden furniture, and hoses back outside, and mulch the peonies.
4.  When the first robins, cardinals, and chickadees appear.
5.  When the snowdrops bloom out under my azalea.
6.  When the first crocuses come up ... and with them, the first daffodil shoots.
7.  When we can make plans without some snow storm disrupting things.
8.  When I don't have to wear several layers at once.  Or my snow boots.
9.  When I put away my winter comforter.
10.  When I take my snow shovel off the porch and put it back in the garage.
11.  When all my snow has melted.  (That happened yesterday, Easter Sunday.)  And I can finally get out in the yard and tidy things up.
12.  When the crew calls to schedule its annual oil furnace cleaning.
13.  When the local farm stand opens (after closing Thanksgiving) ... with its display of pansies galore!

This First Sign of Spring thing is something I never paid any attention to growing up in southern California.  About all I did was stop wearing my brown tie-up shoes and get out my white sandals. Since we had blossoms year around, there was no such thing as "spring's first flower."  Here, of course, it's the snowdrop, followed by the crocus, followed by the daffodil.  Then, we're off and running!

Friday, April 7, 2017

No Comment ... or, Shifting the Language Around

Okay, I'll admit that it's easier to say "re-gifting" than "taking something someone has given me that I really don't want and giving it to someone else." But there are other newish words that disagree with me.  And "gifting" is one of them.  To my ears, it sounds phony.  What's the matter with "giving a gift."

Then there's "to table" meaning "to sit at a table."  "They will be tabling on Friday ... join them in the store for conversation."  Huh?

And "source" has become a verb meaning "to locate."  "High quality fruit they carefully source."

And the term, "to partner with someone."  I never heard that until maybe 30 years ago.  We used to talk about becoming one's partner.  Or taking a partner.  

"The big reveal."  A "disconnect."  I guess verbs are often turned into nouns.  So it seems "revelation" has turned into "reveal."  And "disconnection" into "disconnect."

He said "lude things."  I saw that written in the media by someone who couldn't spell "lewd."  Spell check just now wanted to change it to "dude."

And I also saw, "I was pretty discussed."  Think he meant "disgusted"?

Then there's one I've been wondering about for some time ... and that is "attitude."  "He's got attitude," is something you hear a lot.  It used to be that "attitude" required an adjective.  "He's got a lousy attitude," that sort of thing.  Now it seems to stand on its own.

Of course, there's the p.c. switching off of gender nouns.  "Postman" turned into "carrier" long ago.  Are there any "postmistresses" any more?  Probably not, but it's a lovely word and very precise in its meaning. "Chairman," of course, became "chair" or "chair person." Then there's that annual ceremony where they give out awards to the best female actor.  Secret whisper here: there's a great word for that:  it's "actress."  "Waitress" is gone and so is "stewardess."  And certainly "aviatrix" seems dark-ages old fashioned.  As does "shepherdess."  Are "hero and heroine" still used?  At least we do still speak of "prince and princess."  (We don't yet talk about Female Prince Diana.)

Then I recently saw this written out:  "per say" for "per se."  And "Whose behind it" ... whose behind, indeed!  (That made me laugh.)  And "Who say's."  And "her's."  And "People's castle's and chariot's."  And "Regardless of who get's put in office."  And "Your in the middle of a baking project when you realize you have no eggs."

And then there's that habit I've mentioned before of putting "I" and "me" in the wrong places, as in this, from HGTV:  "It has two separate bedrooms for Dave and I." As I wrote many postings ago, such speech is, to quote a New Yorker copywriter, "One of the most barbaric habits in contemporary usage."

"Weed it and reap" as someone I know used to say.