Thursday, February 16, 2017
Hi friends. Checking in for the first time in a while. The past few months seem to be full of things I never thought I would see or do. Or not see and not do, as the case may be. For one, my attention span is shot, so I haven't been reading books much. (Brief pause to let that sink in for a moment.) But about a week ago I had a change of heart, or we could call it an attitude adjustment. And I needed one, because despite attempts to the contrary, I found myself focusing more on difficulties and problems and not enough on bright sides and solutions. One thing I did read, merely a tiny sniglet of a factoid, helped me turn a corner in that regard. I read that the population of the United States is only a little more than 4% of the world's population. 4%!! I don't know why I thought it was much more than that, all these years, but I did. So I examined why I thought that, and concluded that I am just as susceptible to propaganda and patriotism as the next person, and had thus bought in to the idea that this country is somehow the biggest and perhaps even the best (despite evidence to the contrary). And, in my comfy bubble, I have also been sadly ignorant about what's happening in countries besides this one, other than the most basic facts, and sometimes not even those. Another egotistical insular American, that's me! In my own defense, the news in this country has truly been fascinating and disturbing, and right now it is mighty hard to look away from, for any length of time. In fact that's mostly what I've been reading, and watching.
Another turning point that assisted me in my attitude adjustment has come from the massive response to the inauguration of the current president, and its aftermath - from environmental groups, social justice groups, concerned citizenry, elected officials at all levels of government, the free press, other countries - the list goes on and on and so do the protests and actions, for the foreseeable future. So I am taking heart because I now know that good people are working on all levels, in so many ways, however they are able to. For my tiny part, I have been writing to our congresspeople from Maine. Regularly. About all kinds of issues, people, and concerns. Something I have never felt I needed to do before, except regarding a few particularly egregious happenings in our recent history. Again this realization made me examine my own biases, and conclude that as a white, middle-class resident of a quiet rural town in a beautiful state and a free country, I have had it pretty damn good in this life. So far, I have been bumbling along, doing what I wanted to do, loving life for the most part. Even when our country was at war, for god's sake, when I should have been more active, I haven't felt that I needed to protest, or contact elected officials, much, or donate money to causes that were already supported by so many other people. Or worry about the fate of our country and democracy in general, beyond the usual. I always voted, and thought that was somehow enough. Perhaps it once was. But now, what an upheaval! Clash of the zeitgeists! Can you have more than one zeitgeist? Or rather a new zeitgeist, a very vocal active one, in opposition to a different zeitgeist, a quieter, stonewalling one? Both seem to be in full swing. Progressive and conservative. Tree hugger and... not. The majority of citizens in this country and the Republicans currently in the driver's seat. I don't need to name names - and frankly I can't even type one particular name without a strong feeling of physical revulsion, so I won't - but I will say that the latter is systematically chipping away at so many things I care about. Not to mention at the fate of us all, on this planet we share. Where this will lead, I can't imagine. This is not a drill. This is not a cold-war spy novel. I remember writing a long report about Watergate, for a class in high school. I was fascinated then, and remain so now, with how everything unraveled, slowly but surely, for those in positions of great power. Today, I am feeling relatively cheerful about the distinct possibility that something similar will happen again, and soon. Meanwhile, upheaval and chaos.
Here is an upheaval of a different kind. Although, when I think about it, not really:
It's a literal upheaval. Because when I last saw it, a month before this photograph was taken, the big rock I am sitting on was ten feet behind me and ten feet up, and was still attached to the ledgy area right behind me. What happened...? The ocean came in, the water came down, the ice worked in the cracks, the January thaw was particularly warm this year, a few tides were incredibly high, and BOOM - one stormy day set it free. I wish I had been there to hear and see it happening, but it was enough to come around the corner and see the new version of things, a few weeks ago (that's snow next to me, by the way - this was not a warm day!). I have been sitting on this particular rock, on and off, for several years. It's one of my favorite places to paint - a small corner of Acadia National Park. One rocky ledge - I know it well and have spent some very happy days with it. And now - things have changed. The Gulf of Maine is warming and acidifying. The sea level is rising. The shorelines are eroding. Many species are in trouble. And things we thought would last forever - seemingly impervious ledges among them (not to mention democracy) - are in flux. In the months ahead I'm still going to sit on this rock, to paint and gaze out to sea, and watch sea ducks. It's just that, along with so much else lately, my perspective and my viewpoint will be different. As I question myself, educate myself, work for the greater good, and support those who are doing likewise.
I do want to mention one book I managed to read recently. It took me a while to get through, but the drought hasn't been total: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries From a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben (Greystone Books 2016). This interview with the author gives a taste of what the book contains. Read it, and the book, and be amazed, if not stunned, at how much there is still to learn about this home of ours and everything in it. Gives me hope, and brings wonderment, too. Which in turn helps me keep things in perspective, and helps me keep my face to the sun, even when it seems difficult to do so.
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
clear, bright, and life-enhancing
This winter finds me with no long-term winter reading project in mind. And not even a hint of what one might be or entail. In fact until now I completely forgot that I usually have such a thing at all. I think I'm still stunned by the election and its aftermath, and recent family events, and may remain so indefinitely. I'm doing my level best to stave off despair and frankly I would love nothing more than to devote myself to some worthy and sublime reading goal. But I'm not sure I have it in me, this year.
However, last night I did finally feel caught up enough with everything else to at least start to address my current stack of to-be-read books, which have been patiently awaiting attention throughout November and December. I may have even overheard or at least imagined a quiet clearing of throats, coming from their direction - Ahem, me next, please - and so picked up the largest and most comforting-looking of the bunch. The Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate 2012). I have wanted this book ever since savoring the first volume some years back, and in a splurgey moment of largesse this fall, I ordered volumes II and III (Fourth Estate 2015). They are beautiful to look at and a pleasure to hold in the hand. I bought the U.K. editions, so I don't even have to worry about whether or not I need to make any of the recipes within, since the recipe amounts are all in mysterious (to American me) notations such as g, kg, and ml. So I read the prose and study the recipes and let the worrisome feeling of I-really-should-try-this-recipe (no shoulds, please, let's just banish them from this new year) slide right on by.
I've written about Nigel Slater before, a few times, but for anyone who might be asking, Who is this Nigel Slater? One of the only people I regularly read on Twitter, that's who. He has written a food column for two decades and his recipes and cookery books and tv shows make me think about food (and life) in wonderful ways. Many of his recipes are simple, with few ingredients. And his books all have the kind of around-the-recipe commentary that I love. They remind me in a funny way of the Mrs. Appleyard books that mean so much to me - wry, gentle, smart, autobiographical. About cookery, yes, but really about everything. Nigel Slater describes himself this way:
"I am not a chef and never have been. I am a home cook who writes about food. Not even a passionate cook (whatever one of those is), just a quietly enthusiastic and slightly greedy one." (p.xi)
And, specifically about beginning The Kitchen Diaries II, right now: the lovely thing about starting to read someone else's diary in early January is that the diary in question also begins in early January. So the reading feels in harmony with daily life around here, not just pleasantly unfolding on the page of someone else's faraway life, at any old time. A few examples:
"The day that precedes Twelfth Night is often the darkest in my calendar. The sadness of taking down The Tree, packing up the mercury glass decorations in tissue and cardboard and rolling up the strings of tiny lights has long made my heart sink. Today I descend further than usual.
The rain is torrential and continuous. I clean the bedroom cupboards, make neat piles of books and untidy ones of clothes ready for the charity shop.... You would think that this day of darkness would be predictable enough for me to organise something to lift the spirits..." (p.12)
"My energy and curiosity may be renewed but the larder isn't. There is probably less food in the house than there ever has been. I trudge out to buy a few chicken pieces and a bag of winter greens to make a soup with the spices and noodles I have in the cupboard. What ends up as dinner is clear, bright and life-enhancing. It has vitality (that's the greens), warmth (ginger, cinnamon) and it is economical and sustaining too. I suddenly feel ready for anything the New Year might throw at me." (p.13)
The soup recipe follows and looks easy and frankly fantastic. No measurements needed, even, if you are comfortable estimating and tasting as you go. His generosity and his readiness for the year ahead lifts me in turn. I hope, so very much, that I will be able to meet the challenges ahead. I will start the way I always do, with today.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
On this quiet Christmas Eve our house is filled with the scent of gingerbread, as batch number two is nearly ready to come out of the oven. Rain is falling lightly outside but doesn't seem strong enough to melt the snow from earlier this week. Presents are wrapped. Blessings are being counted. Christmas books are being re-read and loved anew. Like this one:
The diminutive, paperbound Christmas Verse (Oxford University Press 1945, 34 pp). Designed by John Begg, this is a bibelot of high order. Each selection is presented in calligraphy or typeface appropriate to the time period of the verse in question. Typefaces and letter families (I think I just made that term up) include those used by Caxton, a few in the Aldine tradition, and Bembo, Bell, Caslon, Scotch Roman, Cheltenham, and Times New Roman. The text selections range from the twelfth century to the twentieth. A peek inside:
And a few more, showing examples of titles, initials, and fleurons, in blue, red, and black inks:
The little pottery dish is four inches across, and was made by the M.A. Hadley company in Louisville, Kentucky. My family has always kept some Hadleyware around the house and this was a recent antiques shop find. It's such cheerful stuff I can seldom resist it if I come across it. (Makes a good book weight, too, as is evident.) One more picture, with a locally-made pottery wren peeking in, for good measure:
All that is to say - here's to tradition, and cozy holidays, and tears in our eyes while listening this morning to the Choir of King's College, Cambridge working their magic on the radio, with A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. During this year's broadcast, this haunting carol was the one that got me where I live, here on a country hillside, in the snow, near an ancient apple tree. Joyeux Noël and Peace on Earth in the new year, and far beyond.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
the elephant in the room
Politics. Not to disparage elephants, but it's the elephant in the room, right now, in so many ways. It doesn't feel possible to not talk about what's happening in our world. But it's also so overwhelming and the noise is already so great, that on this blog I'm going to continue conversing about books, mostly. Because my heart isn't made to maintain the permanent state of outrage and fear that the current political climate and the climate-climate is so loudly calling for. The internet and media in general is exploding with directives for resistance against fascism and racism and sexism and you name it. I take this all very seriously, and am educating myself as best I can, and as I mentioned earlier this week, I'm taking small active steps in the fields of engagement I believe in, while still attempting to maintain and further the quiet life I love so much. Because the loud shouts have so often drowned out the quieter voices, and yet, here we still are, working away at what I hope and believe is the good. And besides, the quieter voices often make history by writing books, not by shouting. With that in mind, here are some of the books I'm into at the moment - as always they feel like little life preservers, helping me keep my head and my heart above water. My reading of the immediate past, present day, and immediate future:
I just finished Born to Run last night, I am in the middle of the Nora Ephron essays and Irving Sandler's memoir A Sweeper-Up After Artists and the final published volumes of the diaries of Frances Partridge. I am dithering about whether to read Nigel Slater or Alan Bennett or Patrick Leigh Fermor next. Or the memoir of Frances Partridge's early days. Or the other books pictured here. What a great problem to have! In writing this I notice that these books reflect my current, pressing concerns and interests, besides just generally being the kinds of books I want to read at any given time. The authors of these books lived through wars of all kinds and faced (and continue to face) social problems that plague us, in the arenas of art, culture, nature, family, sexuality, race, and class. For someone who just said she isn't going to write about politics much, this post seems to be concerned with exactly that. Hm. Is there no getting away? I suppose not. Pesky elephant.
Tuesday, December 06, 2016
cheerful, despite all
Wow, a lot has happened in a month. And you know what, I've decided to be of good cheer. When the apocalypse arrives, and world war three starts, and the oceans rise high enough to engulf us all, and whatever daily disaster sucks all the air out of the room yet again - whenever I turn on my computer and gaze at the news with fascinated horror - when all that happens, and in spite of all of that, I will continue to be of good cheer. Because I am actively counting my blessings, not least of which are that yesterday I was able to spend six hours painting in my studio, for the first time in several weeks, then after a lovely supper with my husband Ryan and some time in front of the woodstove with Hodge the cat, I spent two hours making significant headway in Bruce Springsteen's autobiography Born to Run (Simon & Schuster 2016). Any day I have painted and read something this fantastic is, in my book, a freaking awesome day. Sometimes I think, selfishly, If world war three is starting, will I have time to make just a few more paintings and read another book or two...? Before I have to throw myself on the barricades...? I write letters to elected officials, I donate money to needful causes, and I will do whatever I need to do, whenever I need to do it, but OH how I love a quiet peaceful day with art and books. What can I say. I am essentially a dormouse. Back to the present moment, though, and another blessing - yesterday Ryan picked up the handmade quilt he just won at the local historical society raffle. We bought raffle tickets weeks ago at the town office, right after casting our votes on election day. It's a beautiful quilt, with deep red and cream floral and figurative patches, backed with a subtle cream and white floral print, quilted all over with stars, and it's hanging over the rocking chair in our dining room as I write this. It's so American! Like a flag, multicolored and festive and antique, yet also brand new. It even feels redemptive. I look over at it and am so grateful for the many gifts of this life. Sometimes you know they are coming, sometimes you can earn them or get them for yourself, and sometimes they fall out of the sky unexpectedly, like grace notes from a favorite carol. Thank you, historical society!
And speaking of thanks, I wanted to write here, as I usually do, for Thanksgiving. But at that time I was in a place beyond regular words - a lot was happening and it was happening quickly and intensively. I had few words to spare. In fact I think I was already using all I had. Because I spent the week of Thanksgiving with my family, gathered together in a hospital in southern Maine. We had one of the most unexpected and truly thankful Thanksgivings I've ever experienced - by Thanksgiving Day itself, you see, we knew that our beloved family member was going to not only survive his heart attack but be able to recover almost completely, after an initial diagnosis of heart failure (and even after thinking the worst, for a difficult day or two). Four of us had Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital cafeteria, and the cafeteria food was... cafeteria food, but it was all there and so were we - turkey, stuffing, pie, the works - and I ate it and gave thanks from the bottom of my heart. And now, back home, picking up the strands of daily life once again, accompanied by our first real snow of the year fresh on the ground from last night, I just put two balsam wreaths up. I love to lean right into them and breathe in - that cold, spicy, wintery scent is all the Christmases I've ever known and all the ones still to come. Yes, counting my blessings. Because I'm feeling, even in this dark time, as if the light is very close. I know it is. I welcome it and I plan on adding to it, in any way I am able, even in those ways I can't foresee. That is why I am of good cheer, and will remain so.
Monday, November 07, 2016
i'm with her
We define ourselves and each other in so many different ways - mother, father, husband, wife, child, adult - by gender, orientation, race, profession, nationality, community, and so forth. I won't speak for anyone else, but I believe that no one fits easily into any kind of a box or wears only a few labels. Human beings are too complex for that, and I think most of us only get hints of our abilities and potential, and are happiest living on continuums of experience rather than being pigeonholed. I know this is true for me, and yet I am wordy and I do like definitions, so here are a few of mine. I keep these on my blog banner and I enjoy identifying with them: painter, reader, writer, bookseller. On facebook and on my painting blog I add one more to that list: generally happy person. I am also: an idealist, daydreamer, romantic, sister, daughter, wife, aunt, niece, cousin, friend, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, property owner, small business owner, nature lover, peace lover, cat lover, tree hugger, pantheist, feminist, liberal. Democrat. Mainer. American.
And tomorrow, another: I am a VOTER. Please, be one too! Please vote! It's so important!
I am voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
One last definition: I am Sarah Faragher, and I approved this message.
Monday, October 24, 2016
spending money on books
Again! Help! It keeps happening. And I let it. A brief break from Lees-Milne and Frances Partridge and diaries in general to speak instead of recent book purchases. This weekend we visited a few local antiques shops, where used books are also known to lurk. I bought some interesting but common books to browse in then resell, one inexpensive art book to read and keep, and one other, to read and treasure. The last of these is this little item:
A hardcover first U.S. edition of one of Vita Sackville-West's books of poetry - King's Daughter (Doubleday, Doran 1930). Black cloth covers, paper label on the front cover, with a lovely little device of two birds in a potted plant, which is repeated on the title page, and of course has me thinking something along the lines of A book in the hand is worth two in... the shop? Back to the shop - we had circled the place, both floors, without finding anything we needed or wanted, then on our way out, in a glass case near the entrance, Ryan spotted this. The only book in the case. With a little flag that said signed by author. I asked to see it, held it, wanted it, pined even. Then I said I'd think about it, and handed it back to the proprietor. We left the shop. I was of course furiously thinking about it. We got in the car and Ryan, prince that he is, immediately said, "I can't believe you're not going to buy that book!" I looked straight ahead and said, to myself as much as to him, "I really should buy that book." He said, "Get it, get it!" So I walked back into the shop and said, "I thought about it. I'll take it." I wrote a check for a hundred and twenty bucks and we brought the book home to stay.
Sackville-West's travel and gardening books all survived the big book room sort/divestation of last month. I love her travel narratives Twelve Days and Passenger to Teheran, and own a first U.S. edition of the former and a reprint of the latter. Until now I had only seen her handwriting reproduced in other books, but here it is now, up close, in our very own home:
I am attempting not to gloat (it's not an attractive trait, is it? but still, justified sometimes...?). Signed on the front free endpaper, inscribed to a student at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts when Sackville-West was speaking there. On the pastedown Ms. Allen tipped in her bookplate, the glue of which has registered a faint ghost, but nothing major. Bought and read on Saturday, admired on Sunday, and re-read on Monday. I have a very long convoluted story, involving several books, a few people, and a certain place, about why Vita Sackville-West means a lot to me, above and beyond her writing, but I will save that for another day. Meanwhile, I'm simply enjoying this new addition to the book room. It's very thin and small, too, so it hardly takes up any shelf space.
But I almost forgot to mention the text itself, the contents! The book contains poems mostly from a he to a she, or a she to a she, that point isn't specified. Love poems they certainly are, however, and darkly sweet. A taste (p.24):
"Onyx is counted black, and marble white;
Peaches that ripening hang on a sunny wall
Are counted soft and downy to their fall.
So may they be, yet I will not compare
Her heart to onyx, throat to marble fair;
Nor say, 'Beside her skin, are peaches rough.'
She is herself, and that shall be enough."
So, a bit of advice, for when you are hesitating, book in hand, thinking, This is self-indulgent, I don't need this book, I own so many already, and the money, o the money, what to do, what to do... Give in. Spending money is for spending. BUY THE BOOK.