Thursday, September 30, 2010


An eccentric's delight

A few more notes of interest from Patience Gray's unclassifiable book (though it does have recipes, so, a cookbook, sort of, but not really), Honey from a Weed:

"Artists have something in common with shepherds in that their means of livelihood is not apparent - they work for long periods with no prospect of gain, and others regard this as disreputable." (p.18)

"Failure as a source of discovery is an encouraging thought." (p.36)

Those words might be cause for despair, and yet they have the opposite effect on me.

Lastly, my very favorite:

"Eccentricity: living according to priorities established by one's own experience." (p.111).

I want to give this book to several people I know. But I want to keep it for myself. What to do.

Monday, September 27, 2010


A change of pace

Every time I consider writing here lately, I turn away and do something more literal instead. Go off and paint or draw outside. Make soup. Lug wood. Write in my journal with a fountain pen. Move stacks of books around in the book room. Move stacks of paintings around in the painting room. Invite a friend over. Toss toy mice around with the cat. Real life is particularly sweet at this moment and I think, yes, I will continue to post here from time to time, but after nearly five years I find myself winding down and so will keep posts shorter and simpler than in the past. In fact, much more like what I began doing in the first place, before I apparently tried to write my life story. There are so many good book blogs now, discussing so many great books old and new (and don't get me started on the art blogs), we could do nothing but read and try to keep caught up, all day long. And miss what's happening away from the small glowing screen.

So in the spirit of my more streamlined posts of the future, as I imagine them, a new favorite quote from what I thought was a cookery book when I began reading it, but what turned out to be about everything, as all good books are, Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades, and Apulia by Patience Gray (Harper 1987):

"...I was reading the landscape and its flora with as much attention as one gives to an absorbing book." (p.189)

That speaks to me as a painter, walker, gardener, reader, and I could go on and on - this book has wonderful sections on foraging, antiquarian booksellers, fishermen, anarchy, sculpture, and oh, glorious food - but perhaps it's enough just to mention these things, and move on.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Fall is not in the air

What a strange year. Month after month of glorious weather, starting early this spring. Around here the blueberries flowered weeks early and the bees weren't ready to pollinate them all, so the blueberry harvest was down 25 to 30%. Blackberries are weeks early. Apples as well. The ocean is warm and this is very confusing to the local lobsters. 96 degrees yesterday and the maple tree that always drops its leaves first is doing just that, despite the heat wave. So strange to see the breeze taking the orange leaves away even though the air is sweltering. What I call flat cat weather (poor Hodge). Too hot to read, my hands stick to the books. Too hot to paint, I can't be outside trying to concentrate. Too hot to write in my journal or sketch, because the ink smears if I touch it by accident, which always happens. Too hot to garden, though when the late afternoon shadows finally reached the vegetable beds I managed to dig some potatoes and pull up the onions so they could start curing. Too hot to cook, so I've been eating strange and delicious sandwiches with whatever's cool and handy. Avocado, tomato, cucumber, and cheese is a current favorite.

August sped by too quickly, as it always does. I painted outside quite a bit early in the month, prepared and hung a show at a cafe in the southern part of the state, bought books at a few small library sales, had several groups of people come over to purchase paintings, spent some time with my family, and read a great big stack of books to boot. Sad to say that some of the titles on my bedside table are still there since the last time we talked about the contents of that stack (the venerable Bede, for example, languishes), but I did construct and demolish several other stacks in the course of my meandering summer reading. A few highlights:

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson (Random House 2010). Yes, I know it's hard to believe that I actually read a novel, a best-selling novel, while it is still a best-seller. Not five or ten years from now. Of course I only read it because I found a copy at a library book sale for two dollars. But still. I needed an intelligent romantic novel and this really fit the bill. I loved the major, his unsuitable romance, and his quiet observations as seen from "...a nice dry spit of land known as the moral high ground." (p.175)

My Life in France - Julia Child (Knopf 2006). A lovely memoir by one of the all-time great lovers of life. I read this after my sister told me she'd read it twice. Lip-smacking and full of pleasure.

Old Herbaceous: A Novel of the Garden - Reginald Arkell (Modern Library reprint). A quiet short novel about an English head gardener and the Lady he comes to work for. The Secret Garden for grown-ups. In tone it also reminded me of Akenfield and The Remains of the Day, showing a country way of living now gone, a servant and a master and the delicate life-long relationship between them. I remember crying at the end of The Remains of the Day, and I cried at the end of Old Herbaceous, too, for different yet oddly similar reasons. Read it in one sitting. Highly recommended.

Speaking of tales of English country life, I finally read my first Barbara Pym book - her first novel, Some Tame Gazelle. I've been successfully skirting around Barbara Pym for a few decades now (her and Anita Brookner both, after reading Hotel du Lac twenty years ago), but a reprint of this fell into my lap recently, and it was so attractive and looked so like a Miss Read novel with more teeth to it, that I tried it. I also tried the first of E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels, Queen Lucia, having come across a pleasingly fat hardcover anthology of the whole series. Finished the Pym, liked it, but didn't love it. Couldn't finish the Benson, I'm sad to say, because I know people can be fanatical about this series and its characters. His satire seemed mean somehow, in a subtle way that left a bitter taste in my mouth. So often I seem to want the authors of books to love the characters they create - a failing of mine that keeps me from reading all kinds of great things, I suppose. Perhaps these characters mellow through the various books, but I don't know if I will ever find out.

I guess that's enough for now, though I've got many more books to mention. Soon. Too hot to blog.

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