Saturday, December 13


I was trying to read some book from somewhere, and it just wasn't grabbing me.  Can't even remember what it was, but it was tedious.  So I put it down and picked up another second-hand Penelope Lively find, Judgement Day.  The change was like leaving the listless warm South Carolina ocean of late August and jumping into a bracing New England pond in June.  Precise, economical writing, well-defined and sympathetic characters, and immediate psychological suspense.  It's just a story of a sophisticated London woman finding engagement in her new home in the seemingly narrow-minded suburbs, trying to help out the local church with its historical pageant.  There's an ineffectual parish minister, who is captured at once by Lively's description:

      He spent several years as a curate in North London, where he found himself out of his depth, made to feel a lackluster figure both by his more racy colleagues and the parishioners.  He was no good at Youth Clubs and disturbed black teenagers.  They made rings around him, as did the jaunty young vicar and his jeaned, chain-smoking wife and her brisk, emphatic community-worker friends.  When the Laddenham living came up he fled with relief.

The village' folk are drawn sympathetically but with a cool eye.  Most of the suspense built up is of a quiet kind: will Clare find a meaningful place in the community? Will the rector break out and do something amazing? What of the quiet, widowed Sydney Porter?  Is Clare's marriage truly happy?  Nothing is predictable.  And neither, says Lively, is modern life, in a village any more than in the city.  While the novel lacks the darkness of McEwen's fiction, villate life is not all tea and flowers.  Accident intrudes cruelly, and wanton human behavior. In a McEwen novel, Clare's child would not have been spared the accident that happens to another.  But it still strikes near her, and she and we are aware that none of us is safe, but that we have to go on and try to live by our lights.

Thursday, December 11

How to Spend a Pleasant Evening

The early part of it, anyway, prime time maybe around 7 p.m.....

A thousand thanks to the wonderful people who put this up.  The puppies are no longer blond balls of fur, and there are just three left, but oh, joy abounding! And a thousand thanks to Roger Sutton, from whom I first heard of this.

Sunday, November 30

Arcane Knowledge Department: Those Nifty Stamp Books!

Did you know that some postage stamp sets are meant to be made into little booklets? I learned this once from a friendly postmistress. Here is a tutorial:

Wednesday, November 26

Tater on the High Range

Tater often walks up and down the keys, quite deliberately, I'm sure. It's hard to catch him with the camera, but in this clip, he finally did a descending scale, with a nice resolution -- and then one more note.Posted by Picasa
He is accompanied this evening by the radio.
Of course, I can't prove to you that he is doing this deliberately. But why else would he walk down the 88 keys, thunderously, then up again, during certain wakeful periods. Of course, you say, he wants to go out! Just open the door!
But because he's a cat he can be perverse and apparently "indecisive." I doubt that a cat is indecisive at all. He's just weighing the odds that, given the cheddar cheese aroma lingering on your fingers from your snack, you will lead him to the kitchen for his own portion. rather than not.
Tater seems to walk deliberately down and up the keyboard. Sweet Pea, on the other hand, steps nimbly and soundlessly along the narrow edge of wood.

Monday, November 17

Yellow Cat Democrat

For I will consider my cat Tater...

My old yellow cat Tater loves to sit on my lap and read the newspaper, but he also enjoys reading the bits and bytes of news at  This evening we discovered that the "A-V Booth" at Truthdig gives us non-cable-TV households access to some very excellent content, such as this "60 Minutes" program interview with Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.  Tater and I, though we don't go about shouting our our excitements, are thrilled about the election and are very happy that Senator Obama will be the 44th President of the United States. I can't speak for Tater's early enthusiasm, because he missed the momentous speech the senator gave at the Democratic convention four years ago, but I was lucky to be in Rhode Island that week, in a household with cable access, and when Obama made his amazing appearance on the national scene, I thought to myself, this man could be president some day.  I truly didn't think it could happen so soon, but now that it has I am deeply thrilled and joyous and optimistic about the future of this country.  The First-Lady-To-Be is an equally impressive a person, and the idea of those wonderful children in the White House is delightful.  I know there are no instant miracles, and his road will be difficult and potentially dangerous for him, but I hope that the majority of citizens are responding with hope and confidence to the fresh air that is invigorating our country.  And I truly believe that this is not a triumph of "liberals" over "conservatives," because it was clear to me from his first appearance that he is deeply conservative in the values that matter and wise and intelligent enough to govern well and to create an energetic consensus. Please visit the link to see this "60 Minutes" program.

Sunday, November 16

November in the Mountains

It's not mild Portland, Oregon, nor is it the colder southern New England, and there are thousands of microclimates here in the southern Appalachians, depending on elevation and aspect.  In my little yard in town I have differing zones..  Here's some of what's going on in the sunnier areas these days. In this region we plant fall pansies. They are colorful in the fall and hunker down for the winter then come into their own in the spring.

This One's for Members of the Club

Huzzah! Hurray! Long live Honda!
I got in my car this afternoon and noticed this (the picture is after I got home, so subtract a few).  It's hard to read, but Club Members will Get It.
When the wonderful Impala reached 100,000, we were on the way to folk dancing on the Kingsport to Johnson City highway and stopped, as I remember, to celebrate the event.  That was a good old car for its day, but it didn't make it to 200K. My friend Barbara in Massachusetts says she had a Honda that went 300K.  That would be just fine with me.

The mark in the lower left is the ubiquitous pine sap, though how it got INSIDE I don't know.

Sunday, November 9

Reading Catchup

Blame the absence on work, or laziness, or the fact that the cats always try to sit on the keyboard.  It's hard to type when you have to balance the laptop on the edge of your knee.  It's much easier to just READ.  And once in a while I read to the cats. (They love it.) So here are a few booknotes, first on children's books I've read recently.  Now that it's a new school year it's time to read this year's Battle of the Books choices. The most recent is Christopher Paul Curtis's Elijah of Buxton. Curtis has been winning awards for his fine historical fiction, and it's not clear why this one was only a Newbery Honor Book, not THE winner.  It's also a Coretta Scott King winner. 

Elijah is the first freeborn child in the Canadian settlement of Buxton, a real place started by a white Presbyterian minister for free blacks, just over the border from Michigan.  The time is the 1850s, and each family in the settlement has a house and a plot of land. There's an excellent school for the children, who learn Latin and Greek and everything an educated white child would be learning at the time.  When a newly freed or rescued ex-slave arrives in the community, the Liberty Bell (cast in Philadelphia) is tolled ten times in welcome.  Many residents bear marks of slavery, but 11-year old Elijah doesn't really know much about what slavery really was like.  The first half of the novel consists of episodes of everyday life.  Told in the first person in a dialect that's easy to get used to and believe in, the tales of school l and daily life and very funny escapades of Elijah and his friend Cooter constitute a typical children's story, and for a while it seems as though there will be no plot.  But in the second half, the book darkens and becomes a breathtaking coming-of-age story as Elijah travels over the border into to Michigan to right a wrong.  Slave catchers and ruthless people are everywhere, and Elijah becomes involved in a dangerous situation.  Since this is a children's book, the outcome is eventually joyous, but not before Elijah witnesses misery and death first-hand and learns some of the reality of slavery.  His final act before returning home is stunning, and I finished the book in tears.

Tuesday, September 30

Trail of Crumbs

Kim Sunee's memoir, Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home, appeared by chance on my lap.  Kate found it at the Mars Hill Library and passed it on to me.  It's the true story of a young (30-something) woman, born in Korea and abandoned at age three in a market, who is eventually adopted by a New Orleans couple and who, at the time of writing, has ended a domestic relationship with a wealthy Frenchman and is still searching for her true identity and her home.  The book is as captivating as a novel because the author writes so well and has a tale to tell.  Because Kim  or "Keem" --(I call her that because she is so referred to by the people in her life  AND because I can't manage the diacritical marks for her family name) loves to cook, the memoir is also suffused with recipes French, Asian, and New Orleanian.  

    Because there are people in my family who were adopted from other countries at an early age, Kim's story has extra meaning.  We all seek our identity, our place in the world, and for the adopted person there is the extra question of who and why.
  Kim Sunee writes beautifully, for the most part: I could have skipped a few of the more intimate amorous scenes.  But her story is important and engaging, and I recommend this book to everyone.

Saturday, September 27

"Dead rock stars are singin' for me and the boys on the Rivet Line tonight. Hendrix. Morrison. Zeppelin. The Dead Rock Star catalogue churnin' outa Hogjaw's homemade boom box. There's Joplin and Brian Jones and plenty of Lynyrd Skynyrd Dead Rock Stars full of malice and sweet confusion. Tonight and every night they bawl. The Dead Rock Stars yowling at us as we kick out the quota."

This is how Ben Hamper's Rivethead. opens. This is as fine a piece of writing as you'll find anywhere.

Here's another opening (with slight apologies to the writer for not asking) that grabs your ear and imagination right away:

"Like spirits they came, over the hills. They came in pairs, always in pairs.... They still come now, somewhere in the part [of] my mind that takes reality and stores it and replays it. They were light and diaphanous. Each a star, a pair of stars, holding hands."

Good writing's good writing, whether it's Alana Nash's wonderful reviews in Stereo Review during the 70s or Thoreau or LeGuin or wherever.
The title of the story quoted above is "March of the Dead." Check it out. Or ask.

Tuesday, August 26


This sign was an important part of my childhood and signified a milestone you passed at about age eight, though in that in between stage it helped you grab the rings.

Thursday, August 21

"Headin' down south, to the land of the pine..."

What makes a great song, or even a really good one? I'm talking about popular music here, not art songs. Folk, rock and roll, whatever. This summer I fell in love with a song, as happens every now and then. I mean to the point where I listened to the song over and over for several weeks. Since the band members are all young, the age of my children, I wondered if I was just wishing I were young again, with that feeling of freedom and optimism that seems to fade away. But now I really thing that some songs are just "classics" and bound to last. (The song is "Wagon Wheel [Rock Me, Mama] by the Old Crow Medicine Show.)

Here are a few things that I think make a great song, whether it's Woody Guthrie's "Let's Go Riding in the Car, Car." Libba Cotten singing "Freight Train," or Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," or any other classic. Melody, of course -- it's hard to define what makes a melody fine, but the really good ones are engaging and more inevitable than they are original -- by which I mean that the progression of the melody just flows naturally, like a stream, but not in a predictable or hackneyed way. You want to sing or hum along with it. The "sound devices" of poetry play in, too, things like assonance and alliteration, good (again neither predictable nor too oddly original, but inevitably right) rhyme and such.

And then the words. Listening for the umpteenth time to "Wagon Wheel" and then visiting the band's fansite and reading several comments by people who said things like "I can really relate to what they're saying about freedom, I feel that way too" and thinking about these comments, I realized that the best songs are just particular enough and just general enough that they touch almost everyone in a powerful way. A lot of singers write songs that are so full of particulars that the universal is lost and the song becomes boring, irrelevant or outdated after a few listenings. Too general, and it's like a typical teenage love poem, full of angst but no images. The best songs create just a few images (see the header for this post), enough to make the scene real, and touch universal themes -- of yearning, sorrow, desire, joy, or whatever, and they do it artfully. Maybe that's what it all comes down to, giving life to a universal theme through art.

Note: I think I'm talking about "lyric" songs here, as in lyric poetry -- not odes or memoriams, or ballads, or protest songs, though they all are created with artfulness or not. (And, of course, we DON'T all necessarily like the same songs. Some of us like Plovakian music, some prefer punk, some [shudder] barbershop singing....

Sunday, August 3

Spooky Picture

I can't say what this is. I won't say. But I have to post it, at last, somewhere. I may put a slightly differently- detailed picture elsewhere. Stay tuned. (It's not a happy story.)

Tuesday, July 29

I read non-fiction too

Who woulda thunk it, two non-fiction books and one to go! And only one is required reading. For a note on Nathaniel's Philbrick's wonderful history, Mayflower, look over at St. Dunstan's Notes one of my library spots.

Wednesday, July 2

The Child and the Lorikeet

At the Oregon Zoo in Portland (accessible by rapid transit from downtown and the suburbs) a child can experience close up creatures of different species. For the city child or for any modern child who doesn't live in the country, such encounters are usually with dogs, cats, minor rodent "pets" that live in little plastic worlds, and if the child is lucky enough an Uncle Milton's Ant Farm. it doesn't take a lot of occasional encounters to let the child know that she shares the air and earth and water with other, interesting creatures.
The Lorikeet exhibit at the Portland Zoo is an outdoor enclosed habitat with double doorways to ensure that the birds stay in. In the anteroom you can buy a cup of nectar for a dollar, and then you walk into the sunny preserve with flowery areas and a path bordered with wooden railings. If you are smart and have listened to the guide (or your parent has listened and passed this wisdom along to you), you stand still by a portion of fence, rest your forearm on the railing, and hold the little cup even and steady. Then you take a deep breath and hold still and wait. Soon a brilliantly colored bird lands on the rail (or on your wrist, if you're tall enough to rest your arm on the railing), holds tight with its feet, little foreclaws and backclaws, looks at you, then bobs its head into your cup. It drinks and drinks, and you hold very still and stare at the bird with wonder.
It doesn't take a lot to make a person aware, but someone needs to create the setting or provide the opportunity -- for the child, and for the child-in-us and for everyone.

Tuesday, July 1

Red 7

Happy July 1. Mid summer, midyear. The Old Farmer's Almanac says it's Canada Day. It feels like a Canadian summer day today, a breezy gift of Aeolus and Sol, The butterfly bushes are reaching to the clouds, and bumblebees feed on the coneflowers. "The Garden Year" says this:

Hot July brings cooling showers,

Apricots and gilly-flowers.

Those days will come, but right now it's hotter in Portland, Oregon than it is here. Too nice a day to sit inside by the computer, however breezy the back porch is, where you feel you're perching in the trees, right by the blue jays. I have a friend who once lived in an apartment in Kingsport, Tennesee, a modest apartent in a modest neighborhood,. His living room had a door that opened out onto a flat rook, at tree top level. He put two chairs chairs out there, and a little side table. If you sat very still you could see birds come to the trees, warblers and others that never come down below roof level, The sunlight and wind filtered through the leaves and you were in a forest, far removed from the town just beyond on the other side of the house.

I read today of another high person brought low, a typical tawdry sex scandal -- except that oops, it was really crime, because the girls involved were underage -- having too much free time right now, I read the story and imagined the life of a man from the city -- Coney Island -- who became very wealthy and could live as he chose. What he chose was a Caribbean island and all the joys of isolation -- oh, and underage girls. The typical tawdry story. But he was interviewed as he faced moving from there to a prison. Other than the question of underage girls, and that's a deal-breaker, his life was otherwise okay -- he gave money away to worthy causes and minded his business. The thing I envied about his luxury was not the island, not the sand and sun and beaches and sunrises and sunsets (his house is on a promontory that overlooks both the Atlantic and the Caribbean), but this: he said he never went to meetings, "I don't ever have to be anywhere."

To me, that would be the best part (besides never worrying about money), never having to be anywhere. Days like that a a luxury, and this midsummer breezy lull before the hot days and back to work is to be savored. I'm on my little island.

Saturday, June 28

Color: a Side Trip

See this wonderful blogpost from showing transportation maps of the world. If you love the MBTA map or the NY City system (which I have on a mug,) you'll love this.

Here's my mug again, and a couple of other things around the house:

Friday, June 27


Quick: Whaddya think of FIRST when you think of cowboys?

. . .

[tick tick tick tick tick tick . . . ]

. . .

Now =

****Here's the text, in case the link doesn't work, but it won't have the special effects:

"What is Sass?

he Single Action Shooting Society is an international organization created to preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting™. SASS endorses

regional matches conducted by affiliated clubs, stages END of TRAIL The World Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, promulgates rules and procedures to ensure safety and consistency in Cowboy Action Shooting matches, and seeks to protect its members' 2nd Amendment rights. SASS members share a common interest in preserving the history of the Old West and competitive shooting.
Click here to
learn more about SASS Mounted Shooting. Click here for a brief history.


I think about cowboys every now and then, when I see a horse and a saddle or hear a pistol or see a boy of crayons . .

So I was surprised and not surprised to get this link (above) today in an email from a friend who moved out west. He's in a cowboy group, pictured somewhere at the link. I'm so glad that Ted is doing this! We'd never agree on who to vote for, but we get along just great, and I'm glad he likes playing cowboy, It's certainly a long time fantasy life of mine. But I have to email him and ask all the rest of the cowboy dream questions: do you sleep out under the stars, do you sing to the dogies, do you even ride horses????? I think that politics aside, we as being of different genders, have a differnt idea of cowboys.

Coming up: Wilson Wakes Up!

Also, Horse Encounters in Fairview

Crayola Factory


Clearly, there's more to find out. Until then, I have crayons and colored pencils, but I don't have the right coloring book. Ahhhl I DO have a Dover Indians of North American coloring book. Lemme go check it out. Get yourself something to drink and make yourself comfortable. I'll be back.

Wednesday, June 25

64 Different Brilliant Colors

When I was a child I colored. I also painted and cut paper and glued and pasted and sometimes taped it together into creations. They were ephemerals, and I've always been since those days the fan but never the artist. I love crayons and colors and hues and intensities and color names and blending and the tactile nature of doing it on paper or whatever -- experiment!. The smell of Crayola crayons is important to my childhood, right up there with pine needles and beach air and low tide and fish parts drying on docks and wood fires. And it's still there, folks. Some visitor asked during my recent visit to the Crayola Factory (which see further on), "Uhh, where does the smell come from?" And the guy said brightly, "Paraffin wax and pigment!" and most of the people were satisfied and went on the the next question. I still don't know where the smell comes from (or maybe how).

I could write every day about crayons. I could have entries for at least a month. They would be alt of fun for me to write, and they would quickly get very boring for my faithful reader(s). But I'll do it anyway, because I like to. Better formatting than handwriting.

The song "64 Different Brilliant Colors" is a brilliant and colorful song with shades and shadows, performed by a pair of young women a decade or two ago. My copy of the original album is on tape.

If you feel like coloring and have a printer nearby, here's a real gem. It gives me a frisson from my childhood, when we could buy a coloring book and if we wanted to duplicate a picture we could trace it with tracing paper (probably produced by Crayola, oh yeah!).

Tuesday, June 24

Old Tater's Almanac

June 24

Nativity of St. John the Baptist~~Midsummer Day

For one week now the length of the days has been 14 hrs. 24 mins., the longest days of 2008. But the sun will continue to set at its latest until July 6, so Tater says, Stretch, breathe, watch the bees and enjoy midsummer.

From William Cullen Bryant:

Go forth under the open sky/And list to nature's teachings.

Or observe from your back porch. Tater's Quick Quiz: What do you see in both of these pictures? Look closely.

Jupiter is appearing earlier at night, and the hot humid weather of earlier in the month have gone away, and the days are sunny and showery and nights are cool.

"Perhaps you have felt [the truth of your essential goodness] on some rare day in early summer, when you have been alone in a wood on a blue-bell carpet, and your eyes, wandering to the hedge-wall, have seen it white with may; all around you there has been a silence--a silence that strikes like a blow; and suddenly it ceases to be silence for the birds are singing, and you wonder how long that music has been there without your noticing it. You are right away from the world...."

Ernest Raymond, Through Literature to Life: an Enthusiasm and an Anthology, 1928

Tater will work on his crossword puzzle now, while Star Cat watches for jays.

Friday, June 20

Summer Books

Summer's the great time for reading, at least until those early evenings of winter which my friend Steve Cooper likes, because then you can settle into your chair by 8 or so and read. I decided it was silly to have a separate reading blog and will just note things here. Here are highlights from May and June:

Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers: The divine Mrs. W. at her most lyrical. I first saw parts of the TV adaptation, then read the book. The period is fascinating to me, as are the glimpses of society life in America and Europe, young lads and lasses on the make. Will the girl get the right guy? Will the cad win her heart? Not a dull moment here, and of course the lovely scenes of Newport and life in its summer "cottages." I went to college with Beryl Slocum, whose family owned one of the houses on Ocean Drive, and I once toured Rosecliff with Kate and Zack when they were little. Rosecliff was used for parts of the movie of The Great Gatsby, while, jarringly to a native, Long Island Sound was substituted for the lively Atlantic coast.

Daniel Pink's The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: the Last Career Guide You've Ever Need. Doug Johnson of the Blue Skunk Blog says that every high school library needs a copy of this book by Pink, the author of A Whole new Mind, a book already in my school library. So I bought it and then was delighted to find that our new academic dean was giving each of us a copy of WNM for our summer reading. i thought I'd start with johnny, as it's a quick, graphic novel study of pink's six rules. It's a little late in the game for me, but as I continue to work and think about my work and as the school and library continue to evolve in interesting ways, I'm glad to have these tools.

Tuesday, June 17


In Oregon salmon are everywhere. At the Bonneville Dam and the zoo and the airport, in murals and polished granite floor mosaics, bronze fish leap and live salmon swim up ladders and rivers. Children and adults in Portland and the region are reminded in public spaces by murals, mosaics, sculpture, viewing places, friendly interpreters of the natural world in which we humans still live despite our sometime attempts to pave it all over or rush by.

Oregon seems to invest a lot more of its resources than usual to projects which connect people to nature. From the Bonneville Dam to the Oregon Zoo, in the railway station and on the waterfront you can walk on images of the rivers and trace their courses on walls and imagine the journey of the salmon from the ocean to breeding places where the eggs hatch into young salmon that then return to the ocean.
I don't know enough to know whether the balance of protection of wildlife and use of the river to generate power is an ideal one, but I liked the Bonneville Dam, where the salmon ladder and the hydroelectric generators are both on display, and where if you are lucky and go on a quiet day you might get invited into the fish counting room, to see the fish pass the window, and then you might be entertained who volunteers at the dam information desk by "MacPherson's Retreat" or Dave Mallett's "Inch by Inch [The Garden Song]" and you can sing along if you like.

Finale: Eating Salmon. Right past this counter at Pike's Place in Seattle I picked out a piece of smoked salmon for my cat-sitter, but I don't have a picture of the fish nor of the poached salmon a couple of weeks later at Jacob's Bar Mitzvah in Allentown, Pa.

Wednesday, June 11

Bird Cloud, Oregon Dunes

I have many images from my trip to the Pacific Northwest, but in cleaning up my library today I found a scrap of yellow paper on which I'd written this, and it will suffice for tonight:
Nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same.
-- R.W. Emerson
The picture doesn't quite capture the birdness of this cloud over the Oregon Dunes, but the real thing made me think of Lionel Feininger's "Bird Cloud," one of my favorite paintings when I was in college and discovering paintings.
I'm frustrated by the temporary loss of a second set of pictures and hope to find them soon, to show the prevalence of the idea of Salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
This is a shard.

Wednesday, May 28

The Pacific Northwest: the Confluence Project

I'm visiting Zack in Portland for a roomy two weeks, and there's so much to show and tell. Today I want to mention Maya Lin's Confluence Project, a series of installations along the Columbia River, ending at the mouth of the river, where it flows into the Pacific at Ilwaco. Lin agreed to do this project for the 200th anniversary celebration of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Her intention was to show the chosen sites not just as they are now, but in a way that makes the visitor simultaneously inhabit past, present and future. Like the work of the archaeologist or fossil hunter, who draws our attention to the life that has been in a place before us and thereby makes us aware of the continuum of time in landscape, Lin's work here recreates past eras in a living way. These sites are not at all like the "living history" exhibits we can see at the Mayflower replica in Plymouth, Mass., nor even at Washington and Cape Disappointment State Park.Plimouth Plantation, nor the recreations at Old Sturbridge Village or Colonial Williamsburg. Those places have their use in giving us an image of human life in a particular landscape and try as best they can to show what life was like back then. But Lin's goal is more subtle: to show the continuity of human life in a specific location. In preparation for the work at the Cape Disappointment site, work was dune on reclaiming some of the dunes and natural features, and Lin's projects, created out of natural materials simply and subtly show that continuity. Her fish-cleaning table, above, was made out of a slab of basalt, which abounds here, and both reminds us of the Chinook's reliance on fish and provides a working space for fishermen now.
This is what we saw in the bay right off the end of the table.

Here's the site where you can read about the project and see a video of Lin talking about it:
Note: The Chinooks, like so many tribes, were nearly decimated by the arrival of the whites, and were about to gain recognition once more as a tribe at the end of Clinton's presidency. But when Bush came in he denied them this courtesy. I hope that the thinking of the people who commissioned this project and others like it and who encourage similar projects in the schools will prevail in the years to come.

Sunday, May 11

So much depends upon...

... a giant spider
passing over the city of Paris,
egg sac hanging below *

Giant spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, in the Jardin des Tuileries, in a photo of a picture torn from the New York Times and hanging on my fridge

Like the giant polar bear that used to grace my daily commute, this spider delights my soul. I hope she will come to the US. I might go to see her if she does. She's been to London, so maybe D.C.? Unless the President is an arachnophobe...

* in case you expected a wheelbarrow and a chicken, just wait -- they're coming soon.

Saturday, May 10

My Grandmother and Edith Wharton

Posted by PicasaTaking pictures of pictures isn't the greatest way to show them, but it sure is fun. This one is from a thin black album over a century old. Some of the photos are dated 1912, before my mother was born. The pictures of my grandmother, Evelyn Langley Manchester, and her sisters and friends remind me of the world of Henry James and Edith Wharton, a world I return to time and again in my reading. Edith Wharton was a summer visitor to Newport and might have passed my grandmother on the street or on Bellevue Avenue or Ocean Drive. I think my grandmother is more beautiful than Mrs. Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones.

In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer is in Newport at the same time as his forbidden love, Ellen Olenska. He goes out to a farm in Middletown to see some race horses, and sees Ellen down on the shore. My grandfather, David Coggeshall Simmons, was part of a Middletown family whose large farm on the East Main Road is now a land trust and while it no longer has dairy cattle is run by the youngest generation as a demonstration organic farm. You can still stop at the farm stand in the summer and buy fresh produce. It can't be too far from the farm that Archer visited. This man and horse are in my family album, not Newland Archer's.

Literature stands by itself as a deep source of pleasure, but that enjoyment is even greater when the place evoked is known to the reader. Last summer as I drove with my mother along Ocean Drive and some of the side roads, I looked for Wharton's summer cottage. I found one that looked promising, but I need to do a little more research. And I need to find out who the man is. Later: more 1912 photos.