Friday, November 30, 2007

Home again

Glasgow was wonderful, full of good food and friendly people, and it only rained on us two days out of five. There was some decent perfume shopping, too. Who'd have guessed?

Unfortunately, I woke up on the day of departure (my birthday) in the grip of some truly nasty bug, so I was sick as a dog on the flight back and I'm only just starting to recover after a day home in bed. I'll do a full post on the trip tonight or tomorrow--as soon as I can focus long enough without going all woozy--and give you the details. I was thrilled to find samps of Anya's new scents waiting for me when we got back, so I'll be sniffing those and reporting here as soon as my nose is up to the task.

I hope all the Thanksgivers had a nice holiday. It's good to be back.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Good-bye for a bit

I'm shutting up shop here while Dave and I go to Glasgow for a few days. The weather's supposed to be cold, rainy and windy while we're there, so I'm sure we'll come back with lots of exciting stories about sitting around in pubs. I know y'all can't wait.

I'm turning on the comment filter to head off any spam that might land in my absence, but feel free to chime in and I'll post everything as soon as I get back. Dave will have his magic Blackberry, so you can email me via the link at my Blogger profile.

I can hear Chaya saying, "What about the dogs?" Fear not, our champion house/dog sitter will be in residence, catering to every canine whim. The pack is never that thrilled to see us return, to be honest.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate. Wish me a happy birthday--I'll turn 46 while we're gone.

Here's Dave's favorite farewell song from the inimitable Ella. Enjoy, and I'll be back soon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Messages from on high

A squirrel crapped on my head this morning. I was just traipsing along, minding my own nature-loving business when something bigger than a raindrop but smaller than an acorn landed on my head. I saw the culprit just before he struck. He was munching on a piece of tree bark, doing that innocent woodland creature thing, but I know better. That bombing was no accident. We were out in the middle of the woods, I was in motion, he was a good 15 feet up a tree, and yet he landed a direct hit. What are the odds?

Last year on my birthday a squirrel peed on me. I don't want to be paranoid or anything, but this is beginning to look like a conspiracy. I just can't figure out why the squirrels have it in for me. I've always been a friend of Sciurus carolinensis. I preach against squirrel-proof birdfeeders, and I've risked my life countless times braking for the little dudes when they do those kamikaze runs across the highway. I did shoot at a squirrel once, but I was a kid and my dad was aiming the gun for me. And anyway, we missed. Is that any reason hold a grudge all these years?

Then again, maybe it's bigger than squirrels. I was once walking along with a friend when a bird crapped on her head, and she said "It's like being shit on by God." At the time I thought she was being a little melodramatic, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe manna isn't the only thing that falls from heaven, and Yahweh is trying to tell me something.

Not that I have any intention of listening. I've put in decades of blasphemy, and broken seven of the ten commandments. If my punishment is a single squirrel turd in my hair, then the jealous God isn't half as tough as he's cracked up to be. But I'm still gonna keep an eye out for those squirrels.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, November 18, 2007

One sentence perfume review: Black Orchid, Tom Ford

Is it just me, or did somebody drag a cat through this fruit salad?

Notes per Neiman-Marcus: Black Truffle, Ylang-Ylang, Bergamot, Black Currant, Florals and rich Fruit Accords, Lotus Wood, Patchouli, Incense, Vetiver, Vanilla Tears, Balsam and Sandalwood.

Photo from Cosmetics Business

Lonnie Johnson

Here's another extraordinary guitar man, blues and jazz virtuoso Lonnie Johnson, who played with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, among others. This clip shows him near the end of his life, still a brilliant player with a beautiful voice. Click here for his page at The Red Hot Jazz Archive, which has a brief bio and a bunch of audio clips you can listen to.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"To infinity, and beyond!"

I don't even like Toy Story, but that Buzz Lightyear line got stuck in my head, and now I invariably think of it whenever I hear anything about space travel or astronauts. I couldn't help imagining Lisa Nowak chanting it to herself as she drove across the country to kidnap her rival.

It also tends to pop up during more sublime moments, such as last night when I looked up at a star-filled sky. We're not exactly in a dark sky preserve here, but there's still little enough artificial light that we can see plenty of stars on a clear night, and we get a glimpse of the Milky Way every now and then. Last night was spectacularly clear, and tonight should be almost as good. I hope it holds for the weekend, when the Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak. One of my favorite memories of our time here is standing in the front yard in the wee hours of the morning, watching the Leonid meteors before heading off on a trip to San Francisco. I remember feeling incredibly lucky to be out of Chicago (much as I love it), where the stars are always muted by the lights of the city.

After watching the star show last night I went to bed, and just as I was dozing off a pair of coyotes started calling very near the house. My dogs stirred but didn't bark, so I could really listen that eerie crying, primal and earthbound. It was like a counterpoint to the sense of--yes--infinity that the stars inspired. I thought about how that moment in my head, of the coyotes meeting the heavens, pretty much sums up the essence of being human. We're earthly animals ourselves, incapable of transcending our instincts or the limits of our bodies; and yet we can conceive of transcendence, we can comprehend a reality that we cannot perceive directly.

That's our blessing and our curse; and, I'd argue, the source of our principle pleasure, too. We love to wander around the territory where the abstract meets the concrete. It's the birthplace of the big three--art, religion and politics. We're forever trying to force the two ways of knowing into transaction. We give cash prizes for art, we try to make God explain the earth, we construct elaborate ideologies around the most mundane human behavior.

The shotgun marriage goes bad a lot of the time: case in point, the War on Terror, in which the pet ideals of freedom and democracy have gotten hitched to old-fashioned blood lust. But most of the time, it's good clean fun. It gives us the concept of the holiday, when we share earthly pleasures with our gods. If you're a Christian, it gives you transubstantiation, and if you're a Hindu, it gives you Tantric sex. (Nobody said life was fair, Christians.)

And I guess it gave me this post. Somehow I got from the tag line of a mindless cartoon to an idea about the nature of human existence--puny though it may be. I'm sure you've made that trip, too, probably arriving someplace more profound. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go look at the stars...

Photo from Science@NASA

Thursday, November 15, 2007

There's always tomorrow

BitterGrace is tired, and just needs to go dream about the forest, the starlit sky, and her neglected violin. She'll be back later.

Drawing by Franz von Bayros (1866-1942) from The Museum of Bestial Art

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No bikes please, we're Scottish

Okay, I'm still psyched for our trip to Glasgow next week, but I have to say that this story from the BBC gives me pause. What kind of country gives a man 3 years probation and puts him on a sex offender registry just for having a tender moment with his bike? Behind a locked door, no less. I've always thought of the UK as fetish-friendly, to say the least, but apparently Scotland is trying to establish some sort of kink-free zone.

I promised myself I wouldn't blog about this

... but I just can't help it. I've been obsessing for days about last week's segment on the NPR show On the Media about the great waterboarding debate: Is it torture, or just a party game popular during the Spanish Inquisition? Click here to listen.

I know what I think about waterboarding, and I bet you know what you think, too, yet this shameful discussion just goes on and on--thanks in no small part to the absolutely craven corporate media. Honestly, when I heard the guy from the Trib spluttering about dictionaries and style policies, I had to check the calendar to make sure I wasn't listening to an April Fool's parody. If that's what constitutes responsible journalism, then bring on the wingnuts and moonbats. They at least declare an agenda and tell the truth as they see it.

Fortunately, there are still lots of sane people in the world--for now. Just take a look at the comments to the show, especially n. 11 and n. 7.

Don't miss this beautiful post

No, not mine, but one from Lee (aka Leopoldo) over at Perfume Posse. It's all about fog and the mysteries of memory--perfume has a mere cameo. This essay will make you fall in love with Lee, but scads of us already have, so be prepared to stand in line. Click here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One sentence perfume review: Japan Noir, Tom Ford Private Blend

Sitting in the meditation garden, sipping ginger tea from a cedar cup and smoking a joint--I'd be lost in my bliss if somebody would put out that damn peach incense.

Notes (just guessing): Ginger, yuzu, peach, vetiver, oakmoss, woody accord, benzoin

Photo from The Bridgeman Art Library

Monday, November 12, 2007

All together now

So, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue (could that name be more perfect?) is gonna gather a slew of god-lovers tomorrow to pray for rain. The ideologically godless plan to show up and protest this mating of church and state. Click here for details from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Seeing as how I am fond of using phrases like "Christian Taliban," you'd think I be firmly on the side of the Atlanta Freethought Society, whoever they are. Actually, I think they're missing the point, as well as an opportunity.

As bad as the drought has been here, it's been much worse in Georgia. People really are suffering, and there's no end in sight. It's going to have to rain a lot before their water situation gets back to anything like normal. Communal rituals in such a crisis are a good thing, even a necessary thing. I think Perdue sees this as a serious ceremony, but there will inevitably be a touch of whimsy about tomorrow's proceedings, and that's perfect. It'll acknowledge the depth of people's concern, and at the same time give them a chance to joke about it.

Yes, the fact that Perdue is going to lead this prayer is technically a violation of the separation of church and state, but trying to stop it is the wrong strategy. Since Sonny is the governor of all the people of Georgia, they should damn well all show up and demand inclusion. Pagans, Satanists and New Age astral travelers should be there with bells on. Atheists can send up a prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or just spend a moment in quiet contemplation of His Climatic Holiness Al Gore.

Why? Because sooner or later it's gonna rain, and you don't want Jehovah getting all the credit. This is a perfect opportunity to put a boot in the ass of Christian hegemony.

I believe as strongly in the separation of church and state as anybody, but pick your battles, people. It's the fanatics making policy, not the ones praying in the park, who are a threat to us all. If only we could keep all the religious nuts in the government busy with public prayer, we wouldn't have to worry about the stealth Christianity that is invading our lives, in everything from dwindling reproductive rights to the idiotic Character Counts curriculum--not to mention the obscene War on Terror, which is a Christian crusade by another name, official denials notwithstanding.

Pray on, Georgians. I hope you get some rain.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sebastiao Salgado, "Genesis"

The BBC site has posted some incredibly beautiful photographs by Sebastiao Salgado. To see them, click here.

UPDATE: Click here for more from the same series, via the archives of The Guardian.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Guitar men

Dave sent me a lyric from a Doc Watson song, something about a muskrat stinking up the farmer's house and eating up his food. I believe this may be what passes for a love note when you've been married for 20 years. I couldn't find a video of the muskrat song, but here's the man doing Deep River Blues

In the course of cruising around Youtube, I also found great video of Pete Townshend playing a song inspired by Marty Robbins. It's a very mystical song, but Townshend can pull that off, and I love the fact that he messes up a couple of times. Everything we hear these days is so tweaked and perfect, it's a pleasure to hear a great musician sound like a human being. The embedding on the video has been disabled, so to see it, click here.

I had no idea Townshend admired Marty Robbins. Robbins had the most amazing effect on people. My mother, who is a singer herself and a rather finicky listener, absolutely adored Marty Robbins. She grieved when he died, and she is not the hysterical fan type. Jim MacGuire, the photographer I blogged about a while back, always speaks of Robbins as one of the great gentlemen of the country music world, as well as a great performer. Here's a video of early Marty, singing a pretty ballad.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Pogany does Odysseus

"The Princess threw the ball, and the girl whose turn it was to catch missed it. The ball went into the river and was carried down the stream. At that they all raised a cry. It was this cry that woke up Odysseus who, covered over with leaves, was then sleeping in the shelter of the two olive trees.

He crept out from under the thicket, covering his nakedness with leafy boughs that he broke off the trees. And when he saw the girls in the meadow he wanted to go to them to beg for their help. But when they looked on him they were terribly frightened and they ran this way and that way and hid themselves. Only Nausicaa stood still, for Pallas Athene had taken fear from her mind."

From The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy** by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogany (MacMillan, 1918) via Project Gutenberg.

Pogany also did the illustrations for the edition of The Songs of Bilitis I blogged about recently. All the drawings for the Colum book are beautiful, and I've included a couple more below. To see them all without paging through the text at Project Gutenberg, click here. Colum, by the way, is an interesting fellow. Read his Wikipedia page here.

(**If this link takes you to a catalog page at Project Gutenberg, just go to the box headed "Download this ebook for free" and click on either the "main site" or "mirror sites" links at the first HTML entry. Ignore the Plucker option.)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Merlyn as antiwar libertarian

"The gross immorality of warfare is, as I mentioned before, an oddity in nature. We sit down, therefore, relieved by this fortunate coincidence of a bundle of data which might have proved too bulky, and we examine the special peculiarities of those species which do engage in hostilities. What do we find? Do we find, as badger's famous communists would postulate, that it is the species which owns individual property that fights? On the contrary, we find that the warfaring animals are the very ones which tend to limit or to banish individual possessions. It is the ants and bees, with their communal stomachs and territories, and the men, with their national property, who slit each other's throats; while it is the birds, with their private wives, nests and hunting grounds, the rabbits with their own burrows and stomachs, the minnows with their individual homesteads, and the lyre-birds with their personal treasure houses and ornamental pleasure-grounds, who remain at peace. You must not despise mere nests and hunting grounds as forms of property: they are as much a form of property to the animals as a home and business is to man. And the important thing is that they are private property. The owners of private property in nature are pacific, while those who have invented public property go to war. This, you will observe, is exactly the opposite of the totalist doctrine."

From The Book of Merlyn by T.H. White (University of Texas Press, 1977), 98-99.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Quotes of the Day

"I get a flood of e-mail. And quite a lot of it, many letters a day, comes from very sincere, honest people saying, "Tell me what I can do." These e-mails are almost always from wealthy, privileged sectors. Not the super-wealthy, but from people who are privileged enough to sit down in the evening and write a letter to someone. In a third world country, people don't say, "Tell me what to do," they tell you what they're doing. But in a place where people have a very high level of freedom by comparative standards, people always ask, "What can I do?"

Noam Chomsky from What We Say Goes: Conversations On U.S. Power In A Changing World. Interviews with David Barsamian (Metropolitan Books, 2007), 39

"Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives."

Eugene V. Debs in a speech to a Socialist Party convention on June 16, 1918. Text from The Memory Hole, via a wonderful blog, wood s lot

" banners are invariably idiots..."

Pat Conroy, in a letter to The Charleston Gazette, October 24, 2007.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

That nasty music

Friend of the Blog Margaret sent me this article from today's New York Times about a study to determine whether hip-hop makes teenagers lose their minds and have sex. Conclusion: No, teenagers lose their minds and have sex whether they listen to hip-hop or not. It's alcohol, drugs and "peer pressure"--God, how I hate that phrase--that bring the boys and girls together.

Feature that, as my grandmother used to say. (Translation for children of the 20th century: Duh.) Who pays for these idiotic studies? And who decides they need this kind of coverage in the Times? The fact that the study pretty much exonerates hip-hop as a destroyer of youth seems almost painful for the writer to admit, so she hauls in a different study that examines "whether hip-hop’s explicit lyrics encourage early sex." The conclusion here is that degrading images of women, rather than happy sex talk, leads to mind loss and getting busy at a young age. In that case, I say we should immediately ban the Bible, which is just chock full of nasty girls: Eve, Jezebel, Salome, Bathsheba. Think of all the damage it's doing to innocent youth here in the Homeland.

I know our collective memory is short, but honestly, how many times do we have to have this silly ritual of demonizing pop music before everybody gets over it? We've always had nasty music, and we always will. People were loving it long before the hip-hop industry was a gleam in Russell Simmons' eye.

Here's Jimmie Rodgers, "the father of country music," singing T for Texas. I'm not sure when this film was made, but Jimmy died in 1933. Let's see--Lust? Misogyny? Violence? Drugs? Yep, all there. Some things never change. Enjoy.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A goddess by any other name ...

... is still a goddess, and feeds our collective hunger for divinity. Here's an email exchange I had with Dave today--

Dave wrote: Here's a headline I saw on Yahoo: "Oprah wept at learning of school assault." That woman is fetishized in the weirdest way. This is like some sort of archetype or mythological figure. She exists through a narrative of gestures strung together.

I wrote: No, not some sort of archetype--a very specific one: "Jesus wept."

Dave wrote: That was my first thought, and then I started to think of other possibilities, like some myth you haven't heard but would sound familiar when you were told about it -- when Great Mother saw what had happened to her children, she wept, and where each tear fell it grew and formed a kettle pond...

Very perceptive, that Dave. I knew he was a keeper. He's got Oprah right, of course. She is our mother goddess. She is absolutely an icon of maternal wisdom, strength and generosity. The fact that she has no children of her own only perfects her status as a goddess. She couldn't be the mother of us all if she had actual bratty offspring running around making her look too human.

I'm sure this observation has been made before; in fact, it wouldn't shock me if Oprah herself makes it on a regular basis. The important question is whether we think Oprah as Great Mother is a bad, good or indifferent thing. My own inclination is to think it's a good thing, or at least an inevitable thing. People will have their gods and goddesses, and they want to keep them close by--like, say, inside their televisions. The church and the mosque offer grand manifestations of holiness, but they don't provide the intimacy with divinity that humans crave. You can't count on the Virgin Mary showing up in your living room Monday through Friday at 4.

This is why Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. should stop wasting their time and ours preaching against religion. Humans are hardwired to seek a god, and trying to talk that away is about as likely to succeed as the endless clerical campaigns against fornication. True, some people do seem to be completely free of the need for gods. Some are completely free of lust, too, but it's not currently fashionable to run around bragging about it. The spiritually frigid person is as freakish in his way as the relentless prude, just as the god-obsessed fanatic is as abnormal as the sex addict.

Sex and religion are both potentially dangerous. Pretty much every pleasure is, here on planet Earth. I don't know why that's so, but if you don't like it, emigrate or take it up with Oprah. Meanwhile, indulge responsibly.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, November 4, 2007

More Starhawk

"So I speak of the Goddess as weaver, as spider, and I begin to pay attention to the spiders who build their webs in my corners. I experience the web as a rhythm of strands and spaces. I see that there are points of connection and openings, and that this interplay of stuff and space gives the whole web a tension that is taut, yet elastic; that springs. I meditate on the web and it is the feel of that tautness that I take in, that I savor until I know it, can call it forth at will. I search in my own life for those points of connection, for those spaces--in words, in relationships--and knowing the feel of the web gives me the power to be able to feel for that same tautness in the knots and spaces of my life."

From Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics, Fifteenth Anniversary Edition by Starhawk (Beacon Press, 1997).

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Malachi Ritscher

Today is the anniversary of the death of Malachi Ritscher. Those of you who read my old POL blog may remember my posts about him. Ritscher was a supporter and chronicler of the Chicago free jazz scene, and a fierce opponent of the war in Iraq. He committed suicide by self-immolation as a gesture of protest. His death was largely ignored by the media, though commentary from bloggers eventually led to some press discussion.

There's a Wikipedia page on Ritscher, which you can see here. There are a number of interesting links at the bottom of that page, including one to his self-written obituary, and another to a suicide note he called a "mission statement." Some of his musician friends--including Jim Baker, who was featured in a recent post here--are giving a "Concert for Malachi" in his memory this weekend.

I didn't know the man, but his death is incredibly sad to me. I think of him as another casualty of the war. I'm glad his friends are remembering him in a way he would have appreciated.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Fig for a Kiss

Artist unknown, early 20th century. Image from The Erotica Bibliophile

One sentence perfume review: Voodoo Love, Bourbon French Parfums

She's a sheep in wolf's clothing, a teddy bear in a G-string, Caspar in a Freddy Krueger mask, etc.

Notes per yours truly (Bourbon French isn't telling): Powdery, mossy notes with hints of pepper, vetiver, heliotrope, jasmine, vanilla, patchouli, and musk.

Image from Bourbon French Parfums

**I hate to violate the spirit of the one sentence review, but I can't resist sending you to this great review of Voodoo Love from Cognoscented.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


There are plenty of enthusiastic naturalists, even some serious birders, who absolutely refuse to learn to identify the vast array of small sparrows. They just refer to all of them as "LBB," short for Little Brown Bird. I have to admit I feel much the same way. I know it's important to appreciate biological diversity and all, but really, life is too short to spend it sorting out every eye stripe and wing bar.

I do, however, have a favorite identifiable LBB, the chipping sparrow. They're common as dirt. You've almost certainly seen them if you live anywhere in the US, but you might not have taken notice. They're tiny ground foragers, and even though they often move around in sizeable flocks, they're easy to overlook.

I ran into a group of them today, and I just stood for a while and watched them. It was a busy bird day--lots of wren and titmouse action, and the nuthatches were everywhere--but there is something especially engaging about the itty-bitty chipping sparrows. The Cornell page I linked to above says they are 5-6 inches in size, but they're actually often smaller than that, so their little copper-colored heads bob up out of the grass or leaves like jumping beans. And they have a sweet, twittery song that somehow matches their dainty appearance. They're one of the few wild birds I can imagine keeping as a pet--not that I ever would.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Samhain report

Mine was quiet. Dave was on the road, so it was just me and my little friends, doing our thing. I've decided that's the best way for me to celebrate.


Wednesday morning I was out in the park very early. The stars were still shining, and the moon was so bright that the trees cast clear shadows on the trail. I walked for a long time, and as the sun came up I met a couple of pileated woodpeckers who were playing in the tree tops. One of them--the male, I think--was very talkative, and yacked away wildly as he flew from tree to tree. The female eventually joined in, and they sang a duet, something I've never heard before. They weren't just responding to each other, but actually singing together in harmony. I couldn't find an example on the bird sites, but you can listen to some pileated chatter here. The Cornell page has a good song, too. Just imagine it in stereo. Click here for a nice little family clip from Bird Cinema.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons