A blog about my photos, my artwork, quotations, ideas, collections, passions, England, authors, handwork of all kinds, rusty bits, buffalo, and architectural detail...for starters. And the occasional rant.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Milton’s Cottage

I get a daily email newsletter from “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keiller” which offers a daily poem as well as literary and historic notes relating to the date.  You may have heard him reading this on NPR radio.  When I read the daily entry I can hear his mellow tones in my head -  “It’s the birthday of…” or “On this date…”

December 9th was the birthday of the poet John Milton, born in London in 1608, and the subject of that day’s email.   I was especially interested because his cottage still exists in Chalfont St Giles – one of those wonderful English villages worth visiting just for the name.  In 1997 we went there to see Milton’s Cottage and hopefully find a restaurant.  Milton’s best known work, “Paradise Lost”, was dictated here (he was blind), but I wanted to see the cottage based on several of my postcards.  We were too late to go into the cottage, although we peeked over the hedge into the garden, but we did have a lovely dinner just across the street.

What I found most interesting about the Milton entry was this:  Milton coined more than 600 words, including the adjectives dreary, flowery, jubilant, satanic, saintly, terrific, ethereal, sublime, impassive, unprincipled, dismissive, and feverish; as well as the nouns fragrance, adventurer, anarchy, and many more.

We all know how many words and phrases we owe to Shakespeare, but I had no idea that Milton was responsible for all this.  I have never been able to read “Paradise Lost”, although I have tried several times, tempted by the illustrations of William Blake or Gustave Dore.  Maybe I should give it another try.

So spake th' Apostate Angel, though in pain,
Vaunting aloud, but rackt with deep despare:
And him thus answer'd soon his bold Compeer.

And then again, maybe not……

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Send them to Starbucks

I have a friend who called me one morning about three months after her husband retired.  She said, “If that man opens one more kitchen cupboard and asks me why I keep whatever is in there in that particular cupboard, I will kill him!”  At the moment, I think she meant it.  Having thirty-five years of reasoned and practical organization questioned by a man who can’t make scrambled eggs with less than three pans and a measuring cup is more than any woman can handle.

The anguish of living with a newly retired husband is well documented.  And for those living in the suburbs, it seems to be at least partially solved.  The husbands are sent off to the local Starbucks.

Several months ago I started a small self-improvement project that required about a half hour of careful thought and I found the distractions at home were just too intrusive – check my e-mail, make a cup of tea, straighten the rug by the door, put in a load of clothes…that sort of thing.  So I decided to take the project to my Starbucks.  No distractions, no one disturbing you, and pleasant music in the background.

I am an early riser, as are most men who have headed off to work in the AM for forty years.  We all wound up at Starbucks together.  Well over half of the people in my Starbucks between 7: and 9: are men between 60 and 75.  I was amazed.  Eventually I puzzled out that these were all retired men who had been kicked out of the house by their wives.  So they head out every morning just like they have for so many years.  Instead of standing around the water-cooler (do any offices still have water-coolers?) they sit in the comfy chairs and discuss ‘the game’, the weather, and their plumbing (both kinds).

 As a single woman of retirement age, I felt like I had stumbled into a chocolate factory – lots of opportunity but none of it good for you.  Besides, they had taken all the comfy chairs.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Soup du Jour

Another excerpt from our 1986 England Journal  We had struggled to find a B&B that evening and we were tired and hungry as we started off walking into downtown Yeovil.

It was indeed a lengthy walk into town and I was very grateful that I had had the presence of mind earlier in the day to have that big piece of chocolate walnut torte.  We walked through the equivalents of Auto Row, low-income housing, Aurora Avenue and more before we finally got into the town center.  The Tudor Restaurant, recommended to us by our B&B hostess, just happened to be the first one we found, for which we were grateful.

It was a weeknight and the restaurant was quite small so we were the only customers for the first half hour.  We were seated with many flourishes and a passable “buena sera” by the proprietor.  We soon realized that we were to be guinea pigs for the bar boy’s first attempt at waiting table.  He was very shy and quite unsure of himself, he rattled glasses and dropped silverware, he couldn’t even look Amy in the eye.  We were very patient and kind to him and we were trying very hard not to laugh.  It was a lost cause however when I asked him what the soup du jour was and he replied quite innocently, “I don’t know, it changes every day.”  That set us off with an attack of furtive giggles that lasted all night.

Although the restaurant is no longer there (it is now Cheong's Chinese Takeaway) , I feel I should say that it was a lovely meal, and the walk home was much cheerier and shorter than the walk there had been.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I am NOT a Hoarder...

Is a collection something you work at, or something that just happens as a result of your interests, affections, inheritances, or personal quirks?  I think it can be any of these things or a combination thereof and I suspect there are other reasons that have simply not occurred to me.  What about collections where you have lost all interest in collecting further, but still appreciate what you have accumulated? What about the collection you have inherited from your Mom or great aunt – something you are not remotely interested in but which for you hold a great fondness because of the previous owner?

I started reading a book once about people who collect, I thought I might find some insights about myself.  By the end of Chapter One I had rejected the premise that I had had a deprived childhood, that I was wreaking revenge on one of my parents for God-knows-what, or that I needed psychiatric help.  While these may all apply to a greater or lesser degree to the type of hoarder which reality TV has recently embraced, I am sure there are a great many collectors who quite simply collect because they are drawn, for whatever reason, to a certain type of object.

Yes, we sometimes overspend on our collections (I gather by now you have figured out I am a collector).  Personally I confess to a penchant for things that are numbered – things which have a finite number and a list I can gleefully check off as my collection grows.

When I was a very little girl my mother started a collection for me of little shoes – china, glass, etc.  I don’t know why she didn’t just collect them herself, but I expect she had been raised to think there was something wrong in spending money on something so patently useless, so in classic parental self-deceit she started buying me shoes.  In the interest of complete disclosure, I confess to starting a collection of small heart boxes for my daughter.  I have absolutely no idea what possessed me.  My daughter never actually collected heart boxes on her own and I never actually collected shoes.  But after disposing of the majority of the collection when I was in my forties, I now have a small collection of shoes which I treasure.

An undusted collection of citrus juicers
My house is afflicted with a lot of collections, some of which I began determinedly and with much enthusiasm.  Some just seemed to happen…they happen like this: you see (or are given) something which pleases you immensely.  You set it out where you can enjoy it.  One day you are walking through a shop and you see something similar which pleases you as much as the original, so you buy it.  Here is where it gets a little tricky.  Everyone knows that two items do not display as artistically as three so it is just a matter of time until you find the third and voila! you have a collection.  Pretty soon people notice you seem to have a fondness for Minnie Mouse, or Brown Betty teapots, or glass paperweights and come your next birthday you realize you couldn’t stop this collection if you wanted to.

Cornishware - named after the blue skies and white cob houses of Cornwall

I expect to share most of my collections with you at some point – with information, photos, and rationalizations.  But it has to be said here and now that if you think collections are just “clutter” you may find it disturbing.  I refer you to a blog I have been following for most of this year: A Collection a Day, 2010 by artist Lisa Congdon.  I see a lot of items I grew up with, and quite a few that sit in some of my collections. 

This is my studio bathroom wall inspired by Lisa Congdon
The important thing about a collection for me is having at least parts of it out where I see it everyday.  I think, for the most part, I am inspired to collect visually…antique postcards, or books by certain illustrators. 

We won’t talk about the numbered, listed thing – that might actually require a few visits with a shrink.  But I promise, I have no collections of plastic margerine tubs or old newspapers...and I can still walk anywhere I want to.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor Day

Today, December 7th, was my parents wedding anniversary.  I always found it hilarious that President Roosevelt referred to this as a "day that will live in infamy".

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Long Climb - Porthcurno

I am in the process of transcribing a journal I wrote on my first trip to England in 1986.  It has been a very long time since I read through it and I certainly have become a more experienced traveler since then.  Everything was so new and exciting on this trip for both my daughter and myself.   So as I go through it, I will share some of the bits that I find amusing, interesting, or embarrassing with you.

Porthcurno is close to Land’s End in Cornwall and home of the famous Minack Theatre (which is another entry altogether).  This is the entry, only slightly edited, as we made our way there for the first of what would eventually be three visits.

We passed by famous Land’s End with only a glimpse from the top of the road.  We just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for it and so went straight on into Porthcurno and began looking for the Minack Theatre.  We had already discovered, to our great disappointment, that we were in the middle of the two day layover between productions, but we wanted to see the theatre itself regardless.

At this point we did what has become something of a joke for us; that is, take a path or a road or a carpark when we arrive someplace, only to find there is another one (or two) which is  much shorter, closer, or less steep.  We took the “Coast Path” up to the theatre, not realizing we could have driven right up the land side of the hill to a carpark within mere feet of the ticket booth.  We rather suspected we were taking an alternate path when we began because of the sign posted warning against use by the aged or the infirm.  I can tell you firsthand that if you weren’t aged or infirm when you began the climb, you were by the time you reached the top.  The path took us up the cliff – I’m not stretching it at all when I call it a cliff – to a viewpoint overlooking the lovely sand beach across Porthcurno Bay.  At that point the path divided, we took what we hoped was the less challenging of the two with survival in mind.  When we finally made it to the top we labeled a new category of experience: ’ I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now or I wouldn’t have done what I’m glad I did.’  This applies most often to long climbs necessary to get somewhere and it seems there is a long climb necessary to get anywhere in England, so the list is growing fast.

What made the climb more than worthwhile was the breathtaking (no pun intended) vistas every time you stopped for a minute.  It was at this point that it occurred to me for the first time that I was looking at the Atlantic Ocean.  My rather limited experience with oceans had allowed me to subconsciously think of any body of water that extended beyond the horizon as the Pacific Ocean.  Obviously, this path was used only  just often enough to keep it visible in the grass, because there was not a single piece of litter to be seen and the wildflowers grew and were blooming everywhere.  It was a memorable experience.

The path went up the right side of this photo, somewhat above what can be seen here.
Photo by Oliver Beattie

And just for the record, we walked back to the carpark down the regular road.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Call it Magic – if you like

As much as I love the art and photography in my postcard collection, I am often touched by the occasional message on the back.  Over half of the postcards have never been sent, and over half of those that have bear the usual “Having a wonderful time, wish you were here” sort of message.  Since most of my cards are from England, it is often more like “Rained all week but having a wonderful time anyway.”

When I log any new postcards I have a standard process.  I clean them (erase prices) and determine locations, then I add them to my Excel spreadsheet (those who know me are chuckling at this point).  My favorite bit, just before I file them away, is to turn them over and read the back.

In the early 1900’s postcards were often used to mail ads and some of them are wonderful.  Rheumatism is an older term, used to describe any of a number of painful conditions of muscles, tendons, joints, and bones.  Anyone over fifty knows what it means.  Because it was such a general term, countless cures were sold everywhere from High Street to the back of a Gypsy caravan.

Thomas Armitage & Son’s shop is long gone, but I’ll bet someone somewhere is still selling the rings.