I am busy, busy getting ready for my trip to New York. Things not to forget: train tickets, umbrella, camera, notebook and pen, books for the trip, Dee’s birthday present, and perhaps the most important of all—chocolate chip cookies, which will travel in a tin layered between the clothes in my suitcase.
Dee is a cookie monster, and she has said, more than once, that chocolate chip cookies are my speciality. Well, everyone needs a speciality.
Last year for her birthday, I brought her homemade spiced pecans. She was happy enough to get them, but I could tell she was disappointed that I didn’t bring chocolate chip cookies.
This year, no such mistake will be made.
On a more serious note…Ebola has reared its ugly head in New York City. A doctor who worked with Ebola patients in West Africa has contracted the disease and is being treated in a New York hospital. As someone whose middle name should be “worry,” I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t admit that Ebola is on my mind. However, it won’t stop me from visiting my daughter. In Texas, none of Thomas Duncan’s friends and relatives caught it, and they were in very close contact with him. I figure my chances of getting Ebola are very small indeed.
On Saturday, I’ll be going to New York City to visit Dee. Just visiting with her is reason enough to go, but there are so many wonderful things to do in New York City, and some of them are even free or don’t cost much at all.
One prime example is the New York Public Library, which has “88 neighborhood branches and four scholarly research centers.” (Surprise, surprise that I would think of visiting a library.) At the Schwarzman building—often considered the main branch, with those famous lions guarding the entrance—there are two exhibitions that I’m interested in.
The first is Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind. This description from the New York Public Library’s website explains it best: “Drawing from collections across The New York Public Library, Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind explores the manner in which public relations, propaganda, and mass media in its many forms were used to shape and control public opinion about the war while also noting social and political issues that continue to resonate, such as freedom of speech and the press, xenophobia, and domestic espionage. “
I must admit I don’t know much about World War I. For me, World War II, Hitler, the death camps, and the atomic bomb overshadow that earlier war, and it will be interesting to see how the mass media functioned as a propaganda device in the early 1900s. (I certainly will never forget how the media—even the excellent New York Times—backed Bush and the war in Iraq.)
The second exhibit—Sublime: The Prints of J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Moran—will be a little lighter. As with World War I, I don’t know that much about Turner except that he was a British painter in the 1800s and painted in an impressionistic style before Monet and Renoir made it popular. (I also know that Timothy Spall will be portraying him in the upcoming Mike Leigh bio-pic.) I know absolutely nothing about Thomas Moran. According to the blurb on the library’s website, Moran was an American painter who was greatly influenced by Turner’s work.
After seeing both this exhibits, I should know much more about WWI and the works of Turner and Moran than I do now. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s always good to learn new things.
At the Hudson Park Library, there is an exhibition called Here and There: An Exhibit of Paintings by Elliot Gilbert. So as not to ruin my perfect record of ignorance as expressed in this post, I also have to confess that I am completely unacquainted with the works of Gilbert, who is a landscape artist and an illustrator of children’s books.
Dee and I will also tuck in a movie or two and get Chinese food from a place just down the street from her apartment. We’ve talked about getting donuts from the fabulous Doughnut Plant. (I can taste a donut right now.) And perhaps slide in a trip to the Strand bookstore. Then there are cannolis from that Italian shop not far from where Dee lives.
Always so much to do and see and eat in New York City.
Yesterday, Shannon and Mike, along with their dogs Holly and Samara came over for a visit. The apartment above them was being sprayed for flea eradication, and they wanted to be away for the worst of it.
How nice it was to have a midweek visit from Shannon and Mike. They helped me move some heavy pots off the steps, and we stayed in the backyard until the damp and the rain drove us inside.
I made apple crisp for our tea, and as we sat around the dining room table on a gray day, we all decided that this was a pretty fine way to spend the afternoon. Whenever we get together, there is always movie talk and book talk. Recently, on Public Radio, I had heard a discussion about books, where The Great Gatsby was pronounced “overrated” as well as “vapid,” and Jane Austen was dismissed as delightful but not difficult. One of the guests, who shall remain unnamed, questioned whether Jane Austen was even great. Jane Austen was, perhaps, too entertaining.
I am a huge fan of both The Great Gatsby and Jane Austen, and I told Mike and Shannon that by the time the show was over, I was ready to put sticks in my ears. What was so disappointing about this show was how glib and dismissive the comments were. Certainly, with any book—no matter how beloved—there is a place for thoughtful, intelligent criticism, but the comments I heard indicated that the guests, as well as the show’s host, had just skimmed over the books and had missed the essential elements that do in fact make these books great.
Mike, Shannon, and I spent a fair amount of time discussing the show and the books. Mike commented on how it didn’t matter if Daisy and Gatsby were vapid, and that might even be the point. I spoke of how the role of money, crushing capitalism, and inequality are themes that thrum through the book. What could be more relevant today?
Essayist and critic Maureen Corrigan, who has just written a book about The Great Gatsby-–So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why it Endures—perhaps comes closest to getting to the essence of this admittedly offbeat novel. In an interview, Corrigan notes, “It’s not character driven nor especially plot driven; rather, it’s that oddest of literary animals—a voice-driven novel.” That voice being Nick Carraway, the narrator. Corrigan also notes: “Gatsby celebrates the doomed beauty of trying in ordinary American language made unearthly by Fitzgerald’s great poetic gifts.”
Then Shannon, Mike, and I moved on to Jane Austen. Shannon observed that all too often, Jane Austen’s novels are considered light reading. “It’s not fair at all,” Shannon said. “There’s a lot going on, a lot of shrewd, social commentary and a lot about the relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, siblings, and friends.” Class, of course, is a huge concern in all of Austen’s novel, and “It’s not like we don’t have class issues today,” Shannon went on to say. We certainly do.
I suggested that Jane Austen was in the vanguard of the modern novel and that she led the way for those who came after her—the Brontës, George Elliot, and Thomas Hardy, to name a few. Who comes before Jane Austen? Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Jonathan Swift, all brilliant in their own, often strange ways, but none of them were such keen observers of human nature, of families and society, as Jane Austen was.
Is it fair to say that Jane Austen was the godmother of the modern novel? I think it might be. Merely entertaining indeed!
The leaves have come tumbling down, and it’s time to make a serious effort to clean them up. Yesterday, I raked/brushed some of the driveway, and I felt as though I were in a lake of leaves. However, the trees by the driveway are pretty bare, and I think my Sisyphean task of keeping the driveway clear seems to be coming to an end.
There are also gardens to clip down, garden ornaments to bring in, and the bird bath to clean and store down cellar. Clif has been hauling wood, and on both Saturday and Sunday, we worked on our various projects.
Now, I never thought I would be writing this, but here goes: On Saturday, the weather was so warm and muggy—in the 70s—that it actually made me feel lethargic and a little off. I like warm weather very much, but by mid-October there is supposed to be a chill in the air, and to have it be so warm felt just plain weird. In fact, as I noted in a previous post, October so far has been freakishly warm, and a strong emphasis must placed on freakish. But perhaps this warm weather in autumn isn’t freakish at all. Perhaps it’s the new normal. We’ve had this weather pattern for several years in a row, and while it is never good to jump to conclusions, this does seem to be a trend.
But on Saturday night a strong rain came, driving away the warm weather, and Sunday was as crisp and fine and blowy as an October day in Maine should be. Swish, swish, swish went the rake and broom. Thump went the wood as Clif loaded into the cart. After we were finished, we came in for our tea, and it was cozy to take our tea in the snug living room after a chilly time spent outside.
After tea, I made a chicken galette with leftover chicken, potatoes, carrots, and broth from a previous meal. There is enough of the mixture left to make chicken pot pies when Mike and Shannon come over on Tuesday.
Today is as chilly as it was yesterday. I’ll be doing more chores outside, and I hope the weather continues to be seasonably crisp.
Yesterday was a rainy day, too wet to work in the gardens. Between showers, the dog and I walked to the Narrows, beautiful in any weather. On the way to the Narrows, I saw a stick studded with some kind of fungi. Unfortunately, I am very ignorant when it comes to identifying fungi, but I loved the pattern of the tan on the dark stick. Also, I liked how the leaves complemented the color of the fungi.
At the Narrows, the bright leaves punctuated the gray sky and water. This time, it was the contrast that caught my attention.
We stayed at the Narrows for a little while, admiring the gray water and bright leaves. On the way back, I saw more fungi, this time on dead trees by the water’s edge.
Then, my fanciful side took over. The fungi reminded me of noses, and I imagined that the trees weren’t dead at all. In fact, they were sentinels—Mr. Straight and Mr. Lean—standing guard over a watery kingdom, and they were at the ready to sniff out danger.
“Who goes there?,” I imagined Mr. Straight asking, as the nostrils flared in the various noses.
“I smells a dog. ‘e’s not far off.” Mr. Lean added. “And a ‘uman as well.”
“We’re friends,” I said. “We mean you no harm.”
By now all the nostrils were flaring, but I could see them relax as they sniffed out the truth.
“Well, go on with you then.”
Now why in the world did these Maine sentinels have a Cockney accent? Too much British television, too many English fantasy novels. No, instead the exchange should have gone something like this.
“Who’s that going by?” Mr. Straight asked. “I smell a dog and a human.”
“Ayuh,” Mr. Lean replied. “What are you doing heeya, sistah? You and that dog?”
“We’re just walking,” I answered. “And looking at the water.”
“Well, make sure that’s all you do,” Mr. Lean said.
“We don’t want no funny business around heeya,” Mr. Straight put in.
“No funny business,” I promised.
“Well, all right then.”
The dog and I passed the sentinels and walked home. Just as we got inside, it started pouring. What good timing!
And I thought of Mr. Straight and Mr. Lean down by the Lower Narrows, guarding the water from any funny business.
We are half way through October, which has been very warm, almost freakishly warm. Good for the heating bills but odd nonetheless to this native Mainer who is used to crisp autumn weather in October. Clif and I still spend a little time on the patio when he gets home from work, and we keep saying, “We won’t be able to do this much longer.”
I have a friend whose birthday is on October 24, and she maintains that by then it is always too cold to sit on the patio or deck. In the old Maine, she was right. Clif and I are wondering if she’ll be right this year.
Warm or not, October is a month of beauty, of red, orange, and yellow leaves, of bright blue skies. The light is especially fine—golden and at a slant.
Slowly, I am getting the gardens cut back. Once or twice a week I sweep the driveway, but it is a fool’s errand. Several hours later, more leaves have fallen. I have emptied and scrubbed some flower pots, but we still haven’t had a hard frost, and the coleus remains untouched.
Here are some October pictures of the yard at the little house in the big woods:
Last Saturday, Clif and I went to Readfield to visit Dragonfly Studio, which was participating in Maine Craft Weekend and was therefore hosting an open studio. Tom and Christine Higgins—a painter and paper maker, respectively—share the studio near their home in Readfield. Dragonfly Studio is tucked into the woods and overlooks a distant, glimmering Torsey Lake. A studio with a view, that’s for sure.
First we looked at Tom’s paintings—vibrant landscapes, some of which were painted right outside Dragonfly Studio. Clif and I both liked Tom’s work very much, and if our budget were bigger, then there is a high chance a painting would have come home with us. There was one, in particular, that really caught my attention—an autumn painting with a bright blue sky and brilliant flashes of fall leaves. (We did, however, buy a pack of Chris’s lovely cards, one of which will be used for a wedding card this week.)
Then we looked at Chris’s work—prints, fiber containers, sculpture, and paper on panels. After we admired her work—earthy yet snappy and appealing—she asked, “Do you want to make some paper?”
Why not? I’ve never made paper before. We went outside where Chris had a large pan of water with floating fiber that had been ground in a big machine she keeps in a nearby storage shed. The main fiber was sweet Annie, but Chris had something else mixed with it. Unfortunately, I foolishly didn’t take notes, and I don’t remember what else was used.
I donned a big plastic apron, and with my hands, I swished the fibers back forth, as instructed. When the water was sufficiently churned, a screen was dipped to catch the fibers and strain the water. I lifted the screen, and by gum, I could see the birth of paper unfold before my admiring eyes.
The newborn paper was tapped onto newspaper and blotted. (In one sense, it remind me a bit of working with pie dough.) And given to me, still wet, to take home.
“What am I going to do with it?” I mused, not wanting this beautiful, fragrant paper to be stored on a back shelf and forgotten.
“You could write on it or cut into shapes,” Chris suggested.
I could. Or I could try to make a fiber container. I really admired Chris’s, which were filled with dried flowers.
“I could mould it over a plant pot,” I said.
“There’s not enough paper,” Chris said. She gave me two small plastic cups. “Try these.”
And that’s exactly what I did when I got home. I wrapped the wet paper around the cups, crimped the edges a bit, and tied a bit of twine around the bottom, both for looks and to hold its shape. Even wet, my little fiber container looked really good. Perhaps not as good as one of Chris’s, but good enough for me, especially on my first try.
Over the next day or two, I diligently checked my little fiber container as though it were an incubating egg. (It was in the guest bedroom, with the door closed to keep out curious cats.) Every so often, I would touch the container gently, to see if it was dry. When it seemed dry enough, out came the plastic cups, and there was my fiber container, just the right shape and just waiting for a small bottle with some dried clippings from the garden.
Not only was I very, very pleased with how my container came out, but I started thinking of ways to make them on my own, not from scratch, the way Chris does, but in a more streamlined way with pretty paper and paper mache. Clif even suggested using brown paper bags.
We’ll see. In the meantime, thanks to Chris’s generosity, I have my own fiber container, and every time I go by, I gently touch it and admire it.
(The blog formerly known as A Good Eater) Nature, community, the environment, food, and living in place.