Digging in

For me, fall always comes with a feeling of settling down to work, learning, and digging in.

shawlyarnTo that end, I’m knitting a lace triangular shawl in a yarn that could double for Indian corn (this photo doesn’t do justice to the play of colors). It’s Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light, in colorway “Stephen Loves Tosh” (named, I believe, for knit designer Stephen West).  The pattern is the Alexandra shawl by Dee O’Keefe. The pattern is extremely well-written and I quickly found I had nothing to fear from the multiple charts and diagrams.  Shawl construction means that the pattern is always adjusting to the growing size (it’s knit from the top center out). In my opinion, this makes it much more interesting than a lace blanket or scarf which simply repeats ad nauseum.  I wasn’t sure that I’d actually wear a “shawl” but I plan to treat it just like a big scarf.  I hope it’s actually done during the fall!

I’m also taking a 4-week course at Lighthouse in sci-fi/fantasy writing with the fantastic Jason Heller.  It’s so much fun to geek out with others, as I grew up reading my fair share of fantasy and love sci-fi television.  I’ve been re-reading the Belgariad by David Eddings as a side project and while I can see some flaws that  I missed when I was a kid, it’s still mostly enjoyable.  I’m not sure I have a burning desire to write sci-fi/fantasy, but to the extent any of my stuff strays into magical realism, it’s worth having a better grounding.

In non sci-fi/fantasy reading, I’ve run into the name Patrick Leigh Fermor for the past several years.time of gifts I finally checked out the library’s copy of A Time of Gifts, his legendary account of his walk across Europe to Constantinople (well, the first part of the journey, anyway).  Although only an introduction and 25 pages in, I think I’m really going to enjoy it.  The writing is very lucid, firmly based in a classical education the likes of which exist no more, and full of interesting asides.  I understand that the long-awaited conclusion to the trilogy will be released this fall, taken from Leigh Fermor’s earlier notes for the project.  Having just been to Istanbul, I’ll be delighted to read an account of how it was in the 1930s, but for now, I’m back in Holland, slowly exploring the canal paths in the snow.


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A Toe Into the Textiles of Turkey

As we recently learned during our trip, the delights of Turkey are many. The friendly people, the incredibly delicious food, the surprisingly enjoyable wine, and mainly, the  history/architectural wonders/amazing sense of cultural presence. All of these could be   the subject of numerous posts (and hopefully I can get to a post on the incredible tilework in the near future). But I came back from Turkey really inspired by the variety of beautiful textile arts.


Carpet weaving tends to be the main textile associated with Turkey and other areas of Central Asia.  The carpets to the left and the right are beautiful examples from the Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans for centuries.  Indeed, even before we arrived, I had carpet lust and resolved to at least try and acquire my own piece of amazing color and craftmanship.  Seeing these works of art and the hundreds of beautiful carpets hanging in the many, many, many stores of Istanbul only strengthened that resolve.  However, as we had another 1.5 weeks of travel before we returned to Istanbul, I did not even step foot into a carpet shop during those first few days.  What a great plan (even if not intentional) because it freed up my focus to explore other textiles.



287439 Amazing Ottoman embroidery delights awaited me at the Sadberk Hanim museum near Sariyer, up the Bosphorus from Istanbul.  (It is well worth the visit even if you’re not into textiles – they have an incredibly impressive archaeological collection, dating back to 6,000 B.C., as well as a very impressive Turkish-Islamic collection with some fantastic tile and ceramic work).  The not-so-great picture on the left (taken surreptitiously when the guard wasn’t looking) shows some wonderful examples of embroidered borders.  Unfortunately, the detail just can’t be seen at this photo scale.  The photo on the right is taken from the museum’s website and provides a much better detail on the stitch definition, colors, and the linen plainweave in the background.  The exhibit was breathtakingly wonderful – I’m sorry I couldn’t get more pictures to share.  There were many diaromas of 18th century rooms demonstrating exactly how different embroidered cloths would have been used in the household.  The elaborateness of the daily ritual was astounding – coffee service trays would get their own richly-embroidered cover that was held around the tray like a skirt when serving coffee.  One other interesting thing we learned is that since a girl (and her household) would spend much time embroidering items for her trousseau, it was customary to have a party before the wedding where all the finely-embroidered items were shown off to guests, so they could admire the work.

After leaving Istanbul and discovering the fascinating Greek and Roman ruins around Miletus, Priene, and Ephesus, we made a different type of textile discovery in Sirince, a hilltop town above Selcuk/Ephesus known for its historic Greek population and fruit wines.  The wine house/historic school in the center of town had a “museum” and a shop selling felted items, the brainchild of a young man who billed himself “The Last of the Great Felt Warriors.”  There was a (very) small exhibit of some historic felt rugs, tents, and saddlecloths, with some explanation of their uses and the all natural plant dyes used to make these items.  The shop items included wall hangings, small rugs, and other felt items with traditional folk motifs.  All the dyes are natural and the entire felting process is done by hand, starting with about 4 feet of felt to shrink down to 1-2″ for a rug.  After much deliberation, I selected the following 2 x 3 little rug for our own.  IMG_0927

Of course, this did not satisfy my need for a “carpet” (wholly justifiable because they are two entirely different techniques, right?!)  Upon our return to Istanbul, I went to the Troy Rug Store in the Arasta Bazaar, after reading several favorable reviews from people who really enjoyed dealing with Mustafa Cesur.  I also had a wonderful experience – Mustafa is genuine, honest, and not a big haggler.  Even though I started out looking for a big name region I’d heard of, after looking through many rugs, my eye and heart ended up with a 50-60 year old Kurdish carpet, for the patina, the subtlety, and the richness of color.   After we completed that purchase, Mustafa spent another 20 minutes with me, showing me different kilims, grain bags, and saddle bags.  All beautiful.  But alas, I’d spent enough for one trip and will have to save such purchases for when I return to Turkey, for return I shall.  But for now, here is our little bit of Turkey at home.1003084_10151699071799375_2105195992_n

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Max’s study

I recently came across a photo of Max (Beerbohm) that I hadn’t seen.  Given his age and that the room seems tailored to Max’s interests (including at least one of his own caricatures – hard to make out whether some of the other pictures are his as well), I assume this is in Rapallo.

max beerbohm photo

The bowtie is no surprise – Max remained a dandy from his Oxford days onwards.  The hat also fits in with Max’s style, although it is not the “stiff straw hat set at a rakish angle” in which S.N. Behrman first met him, on the eve of Max’s eightieth birthday.

I dearly wish I could make out the titles of the books encircling his head.  Does anyone know whether Max’s library was catalogued anywhere?  Actually, as I type this inquiry, I recall that Behrman may provide a partial answer.  On his third visit, he describes a conversation on Max’s terrace at the Villino, before moving back inside to Max’s study, which had some of his caricatures (check).  “Three of the walls were lined, halfway up, with plain white-painted wooden bookshelves.” (check).  On Behrman’s further snooping (and who wouldn’t?), he reports that the books were “mostly presentation copies of books by Max’s contemporaries – George Moore, Arnold Bennett, Oscar Wilde, F.S. Street, George Meredith, Herbert Trench, Edmund Gosse, Siegfried Sassoon, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, G.M. Trevelyan, Henry Arthur Jones, Richard Le Gallienne, Stephen Phillips.”  Hmm, hardly my cup of reading tea, except maybe Wilde.  Too earnest, too dated.

However, according to Behrman, “[f]or many of these books, Max had amused himself by drawing what he called Misleading Frontispieces.  They are mostly in color, and they do mislead you.  If you believed, for example, Max’s title page for George Moore’s Memoirs of My Dead Life, you would think you were in for the reminiscences of a hero of the cricket field.”  There’s the Max we know – always mischievous.  Behrman goes on to describe his inspection of  More Leaves from the Journal of a Life in the Highlands by Queen Victoria, which included “Max’s forgeries, scattered all through the book in the Queen’s handwriting.”  Max also forged on the flyleaf the Queen copying out “Some Opinions of the Press” on her book, including this one:

“Not a book to leave lying about on the drawing-room table nor one to place indiscriminately in the hands of young men and maidens. . . Will be engrossing to those of mature years. – Spectator.”

Oh Max.

For more such entertaining reminiscenes of Max, including a captivating insight into his two favorite photos (p. 69-70), please do read S.N. Behrman’s Portrait of Max.  It is harder to find these days, but delightful and superb, and includes many of Max’s caricatures and a wonderful photo of Max.

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When an acquaintance remarked that I hadn’t updated this since 2011, I must admit I’d nearly forgotten this blog. I’d started it with the goal of polishing an essayistic, conversational-like writing voice (a shade of the incomparable Max), but abandoned it in a nihilistic funk about the futility of adding my voice to the internet detritus.  However, the reminder comes at a fortuitous time when I’ve been casting about for a new, or renewed, challenge in my life.  A mid-30’s crisis, if such things can be admitted to with a straight face.  So perhaps the way to approach said blog is simply for my own amusement and sanity and with utter disregard for where it lands in the hierarchy of internet specks and motes.

It’s been so long that there’s no way to catalog the many delights since the last post (highlights – kitchen beautiful and functional, great small explorations, an amazing longer trip to Croatia/Slovenia, family & friend blessings, and many good reads – a few great ones).  I could catalogue my last good read – “A High Wind in Jamaica” by Richard Hughes (do go read it), but as it’s on those Top 100 Books of the 20th Century lists, I can rest easy without hawking it.


The book I most need to recommend is one you’ll surely never encounter unless you are a social science professor (and even then, you may not know of the sideline of your esteemed colleague), an esoteric linguist, or a devotee of Michael Dirda’s recommendations.  (Fascinating in-depth post here at Library Without Walls – read them all, don’t be snobbish because its on the Barnes & Nobles website).  It was my best read of 2012, by far.  I can only otsogle the wonderful piece of wit, scholarship, and Shandean digression that constitutes “On the Shoulders of Giants” by Robert K. Merton (“OTSOG” to fans, with all the various word formations thereof).

Merton was a brilliant man who happened to be at the forefront of the social science field as it developed through the 20th century.  Such training gave him the research skills and the meticulous mind to analyze connections in literary thought, but his humour and wit make the book sparkle.  His book, arising from a lengthy epistolary joke, is an homage to Tristram Shandy, one of my favorites, but also ranges through Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (now by my bedside, still mostly uncracked) and a dizzying array of centuries and sources, trying to trace the true origin of Newton’s aphorism, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  It is certainly broadening, as you meet not only those sources involved with the aphorism over the years (whether they conveyed, butchered, or enhanced the notion), but run into delightful asides concerning Aubrey, Ogden Nash, Swift and Pope, and Elia’s savoury “Dissertation on a Roast Pig,” to namecheck just a few.  It is the type of essay or book I’d most like to write – erudite yet laughing, warm yet wise.  I adore the rambling fashion, as this book is truly just about luxuriating in each chapter.  Oh, to be Bud Bailyn and have had such a wonderful pen pal!

I declare myself forever to be an otsogfidian and hope one day to find my own otsogurient.  

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Ants marching

We are redoing our kitchen.  Or I should say, my husband is single-handedly redoing the kitchen.  I am super-proud of him and know he’ll do a great job.  And I’m very excited to have a new kitchen in a few months.   This post is not about that.  Rather, about the human compulsion to keep “doing” and “redoing” our surroundings.  Why the compulsion to take something that’s completely functional and fine, gut it, and replace it with better?  In the process, causing ourselves discomfort and most of our savings?  The image I cannot shake is one of busy little ants, completing cycles of tasks throughout our lives.  We need new work and goals to keep us interested and fulfilled.  To the extent we don’t find those elsewhere, we create them ourselves.  It fulfills us in the short and near term, but a long-term view seems to show them in a less meaningful light.  It’s just picking up this bread crumb, marching along with said crumb, and then depositing it in a different pile.   









Well, here’s our pile of crumbs.

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I heart Boswell

I’m about 120 pages into Boswell’s “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides,” the companion piece to Johnson’s journal of the same trip.  Boswell’s is much more entertaining (and more educational, as I can’t read it far away from the internet due to the need to lookup multiple references to writers of the day and Latin phrases).  However, it’s Boswell’s cheeky yet solicitous attitude that amuses the most.  Almost a month into the trip, after Dr. Johnson has had a quiet evening and goes early to bed, Boswell records:

I was in a cordial humour and promoted a cheerful glass.  The punch was excellent.  Honest Mr. M’Queen observed that I was in high glee, ‘my governour being gone to bed.’ . . . However, nothing but what was good was present, and I pleased myself in thinking that so spirited a man should be well everywhere. [p. 245, Dover Edition,2008]

Sounds like an amusing companion – no wonder Johnson was fond of him.  I’m going to have to try to work in the phrase “promote a cheerful glass” in today’s world – it has such a wonderful ring.

a cheerful glass of Boswell’s excellent punch




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words can refresh as well as wear

I had to miss the beginning poetry class last week due to trial in California, so tonight was my first class.  Although I’m sure my few attempts to date are bad, poetry is surprisingly fun and freeing, in a way that I didn’t find fiction to be.  Of course, it’s also much shorter, but I’m sure you can put the same amount of hours in for rewriting, editing, etc., if you so choose.  Sometimes I think that I am so tired of words, after using them all day in my job, but when you’re in the loop process of choosing words and then following where those words lead you, it’s very refreshing.

We had to bring a “favorite” poem to class.  I don’t have a longstanding favorite, but did connect with this e.e. cummings poem over the weekend.

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


I since read that this is only the first stanza, but I love the resolution and spirit of the last line so much that I want it to be the last line of the entire poem.  So here, it will be.  You’ll have to look elsewhere for the rest!

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