Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When The Circle Is Broken

I don't remember when I started making wreaths for friends homes and the graves of family members. Certainly, some time ago.  A longstanding friend lost her husband this year.  He had gone from physically fit with regular sports activities to sitting in a recliner staring blankly into space.  Dementia.  Early onset.  Her living room was full of gifts for her family, but she hadn't decorated her house.  As she told me, "Who will be here to see it?" and now she's starting to notice that her family is moving away and involved in their own lives.  One grandchild is at Oxford. Another in Vermont.
I'm glad we did this today, because it's supposed to grow bitterly cold as soon as Thursday. My friend asked for a John Deere "Gator" ride out to the grave. It's up on a hill and far from the road. She had twisted her ankle the last time she went out there. I drove and walked the hill behind them. They were talking during the ride, and my friend learned that Pat was also from New York. Earlier, in the Visitor's Center, my friend ...solemnly turned to me and said, "I want apples on my wreath because of New York. The Big Apple." I told her that if she pre-deceased me, it would be done. I told Pat this story when they were getting out of the Gator, and she laughed and said, "She really believes in being pre-prepared, doesn't she?"
We both talked to her husband while we were standing there. I had cut some non-invasive dwarft nandina fronds from the shrub at their home, and while we were talking I was tucking these in. They had gone a rosy copper and matched everything perfectly.
My friend noticed the figures and said, "Oh! There are cherubs in there," and I told her "yes," for the two of them. She said, "Look, Honey. Just like when we first met. Naked all of the time."
I looked across to where her parents are buried. I glanced to the right where my parents are. I was thinking about how I used to take my parents to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland to see the geese (and snow geese) migrating from Canada. They would stop there for a few days on their Southern migration path and had done so for a long time. Now? They are in that cemetery and all over the D.C. area, including golf courses. Anywhere there are large swaths of grass.
Oddly, I didn't see one goose that day, and normally there are swarms of them.

The next wreath was for a family I've known since diapers.  The husband was the chief elder in the church.  The wife was my primary sunday school superintendent.  Their daughter was a dear friend (she died last year) and their son is my attorney.  The wreath is for him, and we go out to a civil war cemetery where his family is buried and take pictures, then he walks around and shows me all of his clients that have died in the past year.  That sounds like a queer thing to do, but some of the stories are over the top, as life can be.

This was a larger wreath, so more to fill in.  I had a bag of pine cones, and I admit I used liquid glitter eye shadow to fix them up on the tips.  I also had cut and dried my hydrangeas, and I shoved one in the wreath for filler.  It worked out fine.

 This bit was from one of my decorator boxes.  I was loathe to give it up, but I needed additional filler.
I won't make the mistake of using live eucalyptus again.  It's resin sticky so that when you cut it, you get black goop all over your fingers and it's hard to remove.  Dried is fine, you just don't get that lovely menthol scent.

This will probably go out to the cemetery tomorrow.  Also tomorrow--I need to finally get to me and make the wreath for my front door.  It was my mother that started with wreaths.  The tradition continues.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Tió De Nadal, or Nothing Says Christmas Like A Poop Log...If You Are In Spain

Tió de Nadal, a “pooping” Christmas log, is an obsession among the kids in Catalunya for a few weeks leading into the holidays.  It usually starts on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.   Part of the ancient tradition of burning a Yule log in the hearth at Christmastime, these days it is a short trunk of wood propped up by two front legs, with a smile, pug nose, and floppy red felt Catalan hat called a Barretina.  Wrapped in a blanket and placed beside the fireplace.  Every night it is “fed” Clementine and potato peels until the evening of the 23rd or 24th of December.  Sometimes, the logs are hollowed out (via the face) and candies are put inside for future treats.  Tootsie rolls?
The tió does not drop larger objects, as those are considered to be brought by the Three Wise Men.  It does leave candies, nuts and torrons.  Depending on the region of Catalonia, it may also give out dried figs. When nothing is left to "shit", it drops a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it "urinates" by leaving a bowl of water. What comes out of the Tió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by everyone there.

On that night, the family gathers around and the kids whack the log with a stick while chanting at the top of their voices, "Ca-ga-ti-o, Ca-ga-ti- o!" (Poop log!  Poop log!") and singing a short song about poopiing torro (almond and honey nougat called turron in Sapnish) and oranges instead of salted herring or charcoal.  They then reach under the blanket and find pieces of torro (and often a small present) that has been "pooped out."   
 Around Catalunya, homes resound with chanting versions of the song.  Schools have an enormous Tió that kids bring scraps from home to feed.  The offerings look like rich mounds of compost.  Sometimes Tió is whacked so vigorously that the sticks are broken and have to be replaced. 
To make the log defecate, one beats the tió with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.  There are many versions of the Tió song, but the standard one goes like this:
Cago tió   (Poop log)
Tió de Nadal   (Trunk of Christmas)
No caguis arengades   (Don’t poop herring)
Que són salades  (Which are salty)
Caga torrons   (Poop nougat)
Que són més bons   (Which are much tastier)
Caga taronges   (Poop oranges)
Que són Ben Dolces  (that are very sweet)
There are several versions of this ditty.  And if you’ve been around kids, you know how they love saying “poop.”  Another version goes:
Poop log, log of Christmas
We will put the pork in salt
The hen at the trough
And the chick on top of the pine tree
Play, play Valentine
Oxen and cows pass
Hens with shoes
And roosters with big shoes (*blink*)
Run, run children
Because the aunty is making nougat
The Vicar has tasted them
And he says they are a bit salty
Oh the donkey, oh the pig
Oh the face, face, face
Of the donkey, oh the pig
Oh the face of a pepper.
….and sometimes, for good measure they add:
Trunk of Christmas
Poop neules (a rolled wafer biscuit) and nougat
And piss champagne…”I pixa xampany!”  Don’t we all?


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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Drink A Bite To Eat

On this day, the first Dr. Pepper was served in Waco, Texas in 1885.  Like many soft drinks of that era, it started in a pharmacy, and a kindly old country doctor, wearing a monocle and top hat became the first visual image for the product.  Personally, I think he's more of an evil cross between the Monopoly guy and Mr. Peanut.  While it is reputed that the signature ingredient is prune juice, you might think the 10, 2 and 4 slogan refers to "regularity." 

The 10, 2 and 4 slogan actually began sometime during the 1920's when it was believed that consuming sugar gave you energy (in a positive way.) The official slogan was "Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4" to reinforce the peppy belief of the beverage. Coca Cola had cocaine. Seven-Up had lithium, but Dr. Pepper only had sugar...and maybe some prunes.
A copyright drawing for an early bottle design.  Invariably, because of the "10, 2 and 4" you would often see clocks in Dr. Pepper commercials, or even clocks made using the Dr. Pepper logo.

Further proof the the subtle genius of Lux Interior of The Cramps, where he wrote a song called "Bop Pills" in which he describes the doctor prescribing "take three Bop Pills at 10, 2 and 4."  It's just past four, so here's to you....

"Drink A Bite To Eat"

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Inka Dinka Doo. I Like Ink. Do You?

Has anyone ever been unhappy shopping for art supplies?  I went to an art supply store the other day.  It's in an old enough building, the floors creak while you walk the aisles.  My goal was to find a new color of ink to use with a fountain pen that hadn't been active in a while.  So many art supplies shops that were present in my youth up until now are gone.  I truly mourn the loss of Pearl Art (still in New York) that we had for a while.  I could spend hours in there looking at paint and colored pencils and all of the beautiful handmade papers.
I studied the inks and decided I wanted to focus on the line made by Winsor & Newton, a company based in London, England, but the ink is made in France.  I also like using Pelikan ink which is made in Germany.  I've never settled on just one color of ink when I'm using a fountain pen.  My mother always used a navy that was then universally called "blue-black."   Even though I was writing thank you notes and letters as soon as I could write, I didn't begin with a fountain pen until I was about 11, and my first color choice was a turquoise then called "Peacock Blue."  I probably remained loyal to that color for two years, then played around a bit more, even using ink colors seasonally (red for Christmas, etc.) which I still do.

Sometime in my early 20's it was all about a mahogany brown that I used with a cream stationery, the envelopes lined with a reproduction of an antique browned map of the world.  My first time in London I went to Smythson's and fell in love with color bordered papers (they even made mourning paper--something I had first read about in "Brideshead Revisited," by Evelyn Waugh.  Sebastian Flyte writes to his friend Charles on his parent's Victorian mourning paper, because he's bored and wants company after breaking his foot in an alcohol fueled fall--and I've always been loyal to Crane paper, started by Stephen Crane in Boston in 1770.
I chose a sanguine red, called "Deep Red" that looks rather like dried blood, and I'm using it for my Moore fountain pen, Moore being a defunct pen company out of Boston.  I bought the pen several years ago from a fountain pen specialist in Somerville, just a short distance from Harvard.  It's nothing fancy, a real workhorse of a pen and it has sentimental value.  I tend to use one color of ink with each pen so that hues don't muddied and not reflect their true shade.  I photographed a recent pen I bought that has a silver and checkerboard effect that I use for emerald ink, and probably for the longest period of my fountain pen existence, I've been writing with green inks. 
You have to slow down and think when writing with ink.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pomegranate Porno: Taste of Persia

 Taste of Persia:  A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Kurdistan by Naomi Duguid. 
Such an unusual cookbook covering the author's travels and recipes from the Persian regions.  Saffron water, mint oil, rhubarb syrup, tons of flat breads and meals using "greens" (herbs.) A real work of love in this book. I had to share the section where the author teaches you to eat a pomegranate "nomad style." The author was taught this technique by a Khamseh nomad man in the mountains east of Shiraz, Iran.  

 Here is his method:  Pomegranates are full of juicy seeds held in place by bitter pith.  When the fruits are ripe and fresh, sucking the juice is the easiest and best way to eat them.  Start by holding the pomegranate in your hands and squeezing it all over, pressing on it with your fingertips all over until it goes from being a tight-skinned fruit to feeling very soft.  Feel for any firm places and press on them.   
Poke a small hole in the fruit and immediately put your mouth over the hole and start swallowing the juice (it will spurt out if you're not careful.)  Suck and swallow some more.  Keep pressing on the fruit as you suck and keep rotating it around.  The pressing breaks up the seeds, releasing the juice.  As you continue to suck, the fruit will get more and more like a basketball that has host its air, with dents and hollows and softness.  Eventually, when it is very saggy, you can break the pomegranate open.  Inside, the seeds will be a pale pink, having had their juice pressed and sucked out of them.  There may be the odd renegade still red seed or two, those you can eat one by one.  At the end of the process, your pucker muscles will be a little tired, but you'll have had a delicious drink of fresh pomegranate juice without having had to deal with the messiness of the seeds and pits and membranes. 
HA!  I wonder, after writing this out, if I can market it as porn!

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Little Demon In The City of Light: Guest Blogger Michael

Little Demon in the City of Light--Steven Levingston
On this day, 125 years ago in 1889, a well-heeled, silk-hatted boulevardier named Toussaint-Augustin Gouffé was murdered by Michel Eyraud and his accomplice, Gabriellle Bompard in Paris.  Gouffé was lured to his death by the beguiling young Gabrielle to the scene of the crime set like a theater piece, fully in keeping with the spirit of the Belle Epoque city. (I would add the month of his death, Gouffé had already slept with 20 different women. Il a obtenu environ.) 
This small murder mystery was to become a sensation in the City of Light.  It started with a lost, gamine girl of 21 who was a remarkable hypnotic subject and became an international man and woman hunt, ending at the Bois de Justice and Monsieur Guillotine.  This case evolved into an early tabloid fueled celebrity murder (concurrent with Jack the Ripper activity in London) and had bouche et des oreilles buzzing.  It was an early example of a "hypnotic" defense as well as the emerging sciences of forensics and neurology. 
Cube is currently reading Cesare Lombroso's The Female Offender from the late 1800's.  A text given serious use for it's time, and a huge piece of misogynist clap trap. According to Lombroso, men steal from basic need, women from the desire to gain material wealth.
As the Little Demon crime carousel revolves, it passes The International Exposition with it's gallery of machines to usher in The Industrial, erection of The Eiffel Tower.  Sigmund Freud, The Moulin Rouge, electric lights, telegraphs, while café society and Toulouse-Lautrec sipping absinthe...the green fairy.

Toussaint-Augustin Gouffé and a real lady killer until a lady killed him.
All of this and more in a new book called Little Demon in the City of Light by Washington Post journalist Steven Levingston, the story of murder and mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris. This story would make a great movie or HBO series.  I've already fantasy casted Gerard Depardieu as Marie-Francois Goron, the mustachioed head of the Paris Sûreté.  A man who stubbornly refused to give up the chase until the suspects were in custody. 
Michel Eyraud

 The Little Demon
Gabrielle Bompard
The traveling coffin and infamous trunk

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Apocalypse Now: Why We Really Love Zombies

Who's Your Stylist?

I have questions about zombies after watching World War Z last night:

 What happens when everybody becomes a zombie (an apparent zombie goal) or do they not even have a goal…are they just zombies?   They don't seem very organized.

What is worse: having a zombie on the plane, or snakes on the plane? If zombies are on the plane, can you ask for their peanuts since they won’t be eating them--just you?

This harkens back to the question, "What if everyone is now a zombie?"  It seems when people become zombies, they have a radical weight loss and are wearing rags. So if everyone is a zombie, THEN what do they do…just stagger around…or open Zombies R’ Us? Zombie toys. “The flesh tears away in a realistic manner.” Zombie boutiques. A zombie buying a McDonald’s franchise and calling it McDead?

The zombie glass where you will drink...what else...Zombie cocktails!

 Zombies are dead so they can’t die. So what happens if everyone is now a zombie and there is a lack of living flesh? Do they starve? They can’t die. They can’t reproduce and having tiny zombie babies. But. If there were zombie babies, the zombies could open milk bars and call them “First and Last Latch.”

Just what the heck are zombies so pissed off about anyway? Being undead? Get over it. 

 I remember reading that Brad Pitt had a difficult time with studio heads in selling the idea of this movie, and consequently, getting funded for it. A studio executive argues, “World wide domination of zombies? Think of what that would cost to cast, or the special effects?” Would Brad Pitt counter with, “Zombies are a growth industry.”

The new Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday

 How could Brad Pitt work at the United Nations with that hair and be taken seriously?  His boss, even though he was fighting a world war zombie epidemic, had on a suit and tie the entire time. What is Brad Pitt going to say? “I need time off for low lights?” (For zombies: that’s a hair highlighting technique.)

 One zombie survived the plane crash and was twisting and snarling held in by his seat belt. If he can’t open the seat belt, and Brad Pitt doesn’t help him, which he didn't,  does that mean he spends eternity stuck in seat 12A?

 Brad Pitt figures out we need an inoculation of viruses and bacteria to camouflage us from zombie interest, but don’t we carry those things around in our bodies anyway?   And…would this be a productive counter argument to those parents who are anti-innoculators. “Your child will become a zombie.” 

 Why don’t the zombies like Nova Scotia and Wales? What do they know that we don’t know.  At one point, looking for a safe destination, it was said, "India?  Forget it.  It's a black hole."  I thought, "Whoa. Calcutta, maybe." I heard the populace of India yelling "HEY!"

 In the book “The Last Myth,” by Matthew Barrett and Mile Gilles, the authors postulate that allowing the challenges of the 21st century to be high jacked by the apocalyptic story line, we find ourselves awaiting a moment of clarity when the problems we must confront will become apparent to all—or when those challenges will magically disappear, like other failed prophecies about the end of the world. 

The real challenges we must face are not future events that we imagine or dismiss through apocalyptic scenarios of collapse—they are existing trends. Collapse of the economy, the arrival of peak oil, global warming and resource wars. The evidence suggests much of what we fear in the future has already begun. We can wait forever while the world unravels before our eyes,  or we can wait for an apocalypse that won’t come.

You think this is bad?  Bring on the zombies!

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