Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stained Glass Jewels

Marc Chagall's America Windows

On my winter train trip to Santa Fe, during the lay-over at Chicago's Union Station, I went off to the Art Institute of Chicago--several blocks (but still walking distance) from the train station.  It's a jewel of a place with a jewel of a collection.  And, this trip, I found one jewel I hadn't seen before:  Marc Chagall's America Windows installed in 1977 in commemoration of the American bicentennial.  (And in memory of Mayor Richard J. Daley who'd encouraged Chicago's strong tradition of public art.)

There are six stained glass panels in all, each commemorating one of the arts.  Each is eight feet high.  Taken together, they are some thirty-two feet wide.

In 2005, the windows were taken down for five years so that they would not be compromised during the construction of a new Modern Wing.  Once down, they were given a good cleaning.  Now they are back in a new spot with even better lighting, the rich cobalt blues sparkling.

The Art Institute of Chicago is very generous in allowing the public to photograph their work.  Here, then, are my shots of the panels from left to right.  Since they commemorate our bicentennial, I decided to post them in honor of our upcoming July 4th celebration.

Panels # 1 and #2

Panels #3 and #4
Panels #5 and #6

Here is an excellent link that gives a brief history of the project, Chagall's artistic technique, and the subsequent conservation.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Going, Going, Gone the Way ...

As a spin-off from last week's Cursive Lament, here are some more on my endangered list.

*  Shoe polish and shoe repair shops
*  Wrapped gifts (now replaced by little gift bags with loose tissue paper plopped on top)
*  Film
*  "Hi" (now, "Hey")
*  Onion-skin paper, carbon paper, typewriter erasers
*  Typewriters
*  Adverbs (more on that another time)
*  Charge accounts
*  The non-invasive clicking/whirring sound of a hand-pushed lawn mower
*  Ship travel across the Atlantic
*  Kids toys made out of wood
*  Telephone booths
*  Receiving prints of family/friends photos that you can stick in a photo album
*  Understanding clockwise.  (A friend was telling his students about a geographic force that rotated clockwise over the northern hemisphere.  "What's clockwise?" a student asked.  The friend noticed that the student was wearing a watch so went over to point it out on his dial.  It turned out to be a digital watch.)
*  Happy car trips with young 'uns.  Now junior car seats not only keep families small, they also make long family car trips impossible.  After all, children need space to fidgit.  (Not that I'm advocating it, but our daughter spent a portion of one car trip to the West Coast standing on her head in the back seat.)
*  Having a live person answer the phone
*  Looking nice.  Looking nice in a grocery store.  Looking nice when traveling on an airplane.  Even--hey--looking nice when walking down the street.
*  Men's shirts and trousers that fit
*  Skirts and dresses
*  Shoes that look as if they're made out of something besides recycled tires or bottles
*  An attendant who pumps gas and washes your car windows
*  Going into a store, dentist's office, car dealership, anyplace and finding it peacefully quiet without some sort of "music" in the background
*  Finding a personal letter in the mail

A file of personal letters once found in the mail.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Is It Bye Bye, Cursive?

Remember in the early grades, when we school children practiced the Palmer Method to get ready to write cursive?  We'd already learned to print both capital and lower case letters.  As we'd already learned not to arbitrarily mix the two.  (As can now occur when someone wants to trade-mark a name.)  So, as the Palmer Method instructed, we children sat at our desks with paper and pencil making continuous ovals over and over--not stopping--in order to get the arm and shoulder muscles appropriately tuned up so that we could then join the letters into cursive script.  Then, as a special refinement, we sometimes drew a line down the middle of each letter as a test to see if the lines were parallel and the letters were thus all angled in the same direction. 

Here's my recreation of what it looked like.

Making the ovals ... then writing the script so that it all angled in the same direction

Learning to write cursive was simply part of our preparation for joining the adult world.  There was no question as to whether or not we learned it.  We all learned it.  So I had a bit of a set-back not long ago when I took my written list of movies to the local video store and asked the young man if he had any of them.  He looked at the list, handed it back, and said, "I don't read handwriting."  (My penmanship would take no prizes, but it is legible and neat.)  So I stood at the counter and printed everything out for him.

But as I did, I also grumbled to myself about how one could consider oneself to be an educated person if one could not write or read cursive?  (He probably never gave it a second thought.)  I also wondered about a school system that allowed anyone to graduate without that basic knowledge.  Of course, I realized that keyboarding--what we used to call typing--has taken over.  And I've subsequently heard that cursive is no longer being taught in some schools.  What a pity!  Don't we still need a degree of refined as well as practical skills?  

Of course, someone always comes up with new methods to take over the old.  I don't know what method has replaced the Palmer Method (or if the whole thing has totally collapsed), but sometime in the 1890's, it took over from the Spencerian which was considered too full of flourishes to be practical.  The Palmer Method was faster; it didn't require lifting the pen off the paper.  Now, of course, there is no pen and paper.

On thinking about it, I also realized that a lot of "handwriting" these days is simply printing.  And this seems particularly true for men.  The men of my generation (educated by the Palmer Method) can write a very readable cursive ... but younger men all seem to print.  Have you noticed? (Perhaps those oval-practicing drills did more to establish good cursive neural pathways than we realized.)

I suppose hand-written thank you notes, condolence notes, bread-and-butter letters will all go the way.  Maybe meditative journals, too.  Save your old ones.  They may become curiosities and go for big bucks--that quaint old custom of putting pen to paper.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How Flowers Grow When No One's Looking


I was standing at my easel one day painting flowers.  Rather than using watercolor, as with most of my other flower paintings, I was using oils which I was mixing with wax the consistency of butter.  Rather than paper or canvas, I was using a masonite panel.  And rather than working from life, I was working from a watercolor painting I'd already made--elaborating on that, expanding my interpretation to produce something playful and loose.


I did four in all.  But as I was working on one of the early ones, a thought came to me that I was painting what the flowers looked like when no one was looking at them.  When they were their own magical, private little selves.  When they could spin their own tales, live their own secret lives, and dress however they liked ...  of course, to promptly "switch back on" if anyone so much as glanced their way.

I interrupted my work to sit down and write this:

How Flowers Grow When No One's Looking

They sing Lena Horne songs
They paraphrase Wallace Stevens
They sway to Benny Goodman

They practice posing for calendar shots
They enter relationships with passing bees
They let butterfly wings caress their corolla

They recite quatrains to the night
They breathe in the molecules of morning
They sass the wind

They drip, languish, melt, refine, define

They hand down recipes for scarlet petals
They trade in colors bent by prisms
They try on fin de siècle jewelry

They bow to the rain
They meditate within their sangha
And practice dying using their ribs and veins to tell time



Saturday, June 2, 2012

The French Way vs. Our Way of Eating

Happiness is having my bedside book-stand filled with books.  In fact, I've been on something of a book-buying spree lately.  We used to have so many books, we contemplated getting rid of one for every one we bought.  We didn't follow through, but these days, rather than adding more, I (mostly) go to the library.  But when I was in our region's best bookstore the other day--off in another town--I had a good time picking out several to add to my bedside pile ... with a few more later from our local store.

One was Karen Le Billon's French Kids Eat Everything, How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters.  I dug right into it when I got home and finished it the following evening.  There is something about those French, who know so well who they are, that captivated me.  The author, a Canadian academic married to a French academic, writes of the year their family, including two young children, spent in Brittany, her husband's home.  The book describes their efforts to adopt French ways of eating, finding them to be healthier and more sensible than the North American which can lead to obesity and picky eating.

In order to have their flavor-appreciation expanded, French babies and toddlers are repeatedly given new tastes to try.  These might start out as a bit of pureed veggies in their milk and then go on to soups or inviting little soupçons.  (A small amount of whatever the parent is eating.)  If the child rejects it, he/she will be offered it another time ... and another.  Simply to taste.  In fact, the author says that the French figure it can take up to eleven tastings to bring someone around to liking something.  Nor are children forced to eat it.  (Nor is food used as a punishment nor as a bribe.  And it certainly is not allowed to become a plaything.)  But (and I thought this important) the child will not be given a substitute food.  If little Pierre turns up his nose at fish, his maman doesn't go back to the kitchen and make him a burger. 

As well, food is only eaten at meal-times, lunch being a hot meal and the most important of the day.  (Even the schools serve hot, freshly-prepared lunches--something, in fact, I remember from my school days before fast-food and packaging came along.)  In France, shops close for lunch so that people can go home, cook, eat, rest.  To use the author's examples, a traditional lunch consists of a first course (such as paté with pickles), a main course (say, beef with potatoes), a salad/cheese course, and a dessert which can be fruit, yogurt, chocolate.

Except for children who have a goûter between lunch and dinner, there is no snacking.  (The goûter is part of the school routine and might include carrot sticks or a vegetable puree.)  Parents (and this goes for bottle- or breast-fed babies) follow specific meal times.  (As we did here in this country before Dr. Spock came along.)  No eating between meals.  In fact, the author indicates that no one seems to even think of snacking.  For one thing, it disrupts one's appetite.  One will not be hungry by meal-time (which implies being cheated out of sitting down with convivial company and enjoying delicious food).  If someone is hungry before, say, supper, it is suggested that next time, he/she eat more lunch ... or that he/she will thus really enjoy the soon-to-be-served supper.

The mentality, then, is that the child is not in charge; the parent is.  (I hope it goes without saying that, of course, all this is done in a gentle, loving fashion.)  Simply, French parents know they are in charge and that's that.  It's just part of the routine, part of the national mentality.  As a comparison, children in this country do not have a say as to whether or not they will sit in a car-seat.

And, yes, the French prefer quality over quantity.  A little of something good over a lot of something not so good--called la mal bouffe, or "bad grub."  The author relates how once, when in the car, one of her children suggested stopping off at a fast-food place.  No, the French grandparents said--the food isn't good.  But, it's fast, the child said.  Which is why it isn't good, the grandparents replied.  Then on getting home, the grandmother made (from scratch) some pommes frites, those fabulous pencil-thin fries, to prove how exquisite the real things are.

Certainly, the French prefer fresh food--freshly grown, freshly bought, freshly prepared.  Enjoying different tastes, they strive for a variety with different foods each day (except for bread).  Meals are looked forward to with pleasure.  As such, they are savored both in taste and in time.  In fact, the French feel that the longer the meal--with the food eaten appropriately slowly, mind you--the brain will then have time to realize that the stomach is satisfied and doesn't need anything more.

As well as eating a wide variety of fresh food, the French adjust the size of their portions.  Once when eating a luscious dessert, the French grandmother said, "A little portion is all I need.  Otherwise, I won't enjoy it as much."

I'll end with this little bit of research that the author quotes:  When shown the picture of a cake, the French said, "celebration."  The North Americans said, "guilt."  Simply, for the French, food is not fuel or something to be broken down into calories or nutrients as it is for us ... for the French, food is pleasure.

A shop window in Paris