Monday, December 31, 2007

The Late, Great Harley ...

... has dropped in from wherever kitty souls go to wish you all a happy New Year. POLers may remember my tribute to our little kickass Manx stumpy when she passed away back in 2006. Dave just unearthed this picture, and I couldn't resist sharing it. This was Harley in her prime, when her motto was Don't Fuck With Me. She got fragile and senile as she aged, but I prefer to remember her young and scary.

Harley's ghost seems like good company for saying goodbye to 2007. I don't know about you, but I could use a little extra fighting spirit to help me shake off the pall of this past year and stir up some enthusiasm for the next. It's not easy to stomach the fact that the best case scenario for 2008 is Hillary Rodham Clinton as president, a mild recession, and a war that doesn't re-escalate. The worst case is something I don't even want to think about, but I'll say this: If Rudy Giuliani wins the election, I'm gonna round up all the witches I know and do a mass spell to send every ferocious housecat on the planet to take care of him. Harley will come back from the dead to lead them. (Okay, serious Pagans, I'm just kidding. I know that kind of thing is Not Done. But I can dream, can't I?)

Enough negativity. What were some things I liked this year? Perfume-wise, there was Alice in Wonderland (Parfums d'Imperfiction), Kaffir (Anya's Garden), Moss (Ava-Luxe) and Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens). Lots of others, too, but those especially stand out. Many, many thanks to Chaya, Leo, Besotted, Ruby, Renee, Jen and all the other delightful perfume freaks who shared their collections with me.

It was a weird year for books, in that I read a number of things I admired but didn't really enjoy. There were a few titles I found myself waving obnoxiously at friends, including Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton, Apollo's Fire by Michael Sims, Intifada: The Long Day of Rage by David Pratt and An Explanation of America by Robert Pinsky. I've been enjoying brief visits with A. Van Jordan's Quantum Lyrics, and I swear I'm going to blog about it as soon as I get around to giving it the attention it deserves.

As for movies, I'm getting to be quite finicky about what I'll go see, so there's a very short list of things I loved and would recommend: Killer of Sheep, Pan's Labyrinth and (assuming you don't think "Washington Bullets" is an NRA publication) Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten.

As for music, it's too complicated to even get into it. I am constantly falling in and out of love with stuff. I'm afraid if I tout something as a 2007 fave here, a month from now I'll be cringing at the thought that I ever listened to it. I know one song I'll never tire of, however, is Leon Russell's "Stranger in a Strange Land." I've loved it since I was a kid and it's been stuck in my head since I read this terrific little essay about Leon at Counterpunch. That's an earworm I can live with.

And that's quite enough looking back. I hope you're all enjoying a nice holiday, doing whatever magic you do to bring health and happiness in the New Year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pigs and Battleships

A series of films by Shohei Imamura is currently touring the country, and it landed in Nashville this weekend. Imamura's work is notoriously dark and disturbing. Since we weren't feeling very courageous, we opted to see Pigs and Battleships (sometimes translated as Hogs and Warships), one of his more lighthearted efforts, though it's still pretty harsh stuff. It follows a group of gangsters and prostitutes in occupied Japan as they scheme to make the most out the odious Yankee presence. Imamura is not interested in showing any sympathy to the Americans, but he doesn't really spare anybody in his sweeping condemnation of human greed. The movie is funny, disgusting and sad by turns, but it ends with a happy embrace of naive materialism, as we watch the heroine march off to achieve her dream of working in a factory and becoming middle class. There's tremendous irony in that, of course, which was not lost on Imamura. In fact, the whole film is layered with irony. It somehow manages to be a very sophisticated, nuanced social critique even while it indulges in gross-out humor, lots of sex and a pig stampede.

If the series comes your way, it's definitely worth seeing any of the films. Several of them are available on DVD. Sadly, Pigs and Battleships doesn't seem to be, but you can get a pretty good idea of what it's like from the trailer below.

*Viewer advisory: As with Killer of Sheep, this great film may not be suitable for sensitive vegetarians and animal rights zealots.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Benazir and Indira on the couch

"The mistake we make is to confuse populism for popularity. There is no doubt that both these women had their ears to the ground; as opposed to the sons of the soil, they were the mothers of the earth. This again works well in the Electra Complex where the daughters aspire to replace the mother. In villages and remote towns it can have tremendous appeal. The poor and illiterate in our subcontinent like to be seen as loyal subjects being the benefactors of largesse. Political coquetry is a trait that comes with the territory."

That's a snippet from Farzana Versey's musings yesterday in Counterpunch. Her writing is pretty gooey (e.g., I think she means "beneficiaries of largesse"), but she does a good job of touching on all the uncomfortable realities embodied in a figure such as Benazir Bhutto. In any case, Versey's take is a lot more interesting than most of the stuff that's being churned out on the assassination. Read the whole article here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pearl takes BitterGrace for a walk

This is me with doggy daughter Pearl, celebrating Christmas with a little hike in the woods. Miss P deserves to get some air time on this blog. She's half as big and twice as smart as the other two, so she wreaks far less havoc, bless her. She was our household's first canine, and she arrived on my birthday ten years ago as a starving, sick abandoned puppy. She is not so crazy about either of the big furry monsters who share her den, but when they run roughshod over her, she takes comfort in her clear intellectual superiority--and in being Dave's favorite.

Girl Crush, cont'd.

Le Coucher de Sappho, Charles Gleyre, 1867

Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite

Iridescent-throned Aphrodite, deathless
Child of Zeus, wile-weaver, I now implore you,
Don't--I beg you, Lady--with pains and torments
Crush down my spirit,

But before if ever you've heard my pleadings
Then return, as once when you left your father's
Golden house; you yoked to your shining car your
Wing-whirring sparrows;

Skimming down the paths of the sky's bright ether
On they brought you over the earth's black bosom,
Swiftly--then you stood with a sudden brilliance,
Goddess, before me ...

Translation (c) 1997 Elizabeth Vandiver, from Diotima

Thursday, December 27, 2007

One Sentence Perfume Review: Bel Respiro, Les Exclusifs de Chanel

Who says you can't wrap the lawn clippings in a piece of chamois and call it a bouquet?

Notes per Now Smell This: crushed leaves, rosemary, thyme, rose, lilac, hyacinth, green tea, aromatic grasses, myrrh and leather.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

We all love Jennifer so much

Since we seem to have a collective girl crush on Jennifer Jason Leigh, here's a feverish little poem by Richard Lovelace that made me think of her when I ran across it today. I like Jennifer best when she is gloriously disheveled--as she is in Margot at the Wedding, by the way.

Song to Amarantha, that she would Dishevel her Hair

Amarantha sweet and fair
Ah braid no more that shining hair!
As my curious hand or eye
Hovering round thee let it fly.

Let it fly as unconfin’d
As its calm ravisher, the wind,
Who hath left his darling th’East,
To wanton o’er that spicy nest.

Ev’ry tress must be confest
But neatly tangled at the best;
Like a clue of golden thread,
Most excellently ravelled.

Do not then wind up that light
In ribands, and o’er-cloud in night;
Like the sun in’s early ray,
But shake your head and scatter day.

See ’tis broke! Within this grove
The bower, and the walks of love,
Weary lie we down and rest,
And fan each other’s panting breast.

Here we’ll strip and cool our fire
In cream below, in milk-baths higher:
And when all wells are drawn dry,
I’ll drink a tear out of thine eye,

Which our very joys shall leave
That sorrows thus we can deceive;
Or our very sorrows weep,
That joys so ripe, so little keep.

By Richard Lovelace (1618-1657), via Poetry Foundation

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters..."

I hope everybody who was interested in having a good Christmas did, with or without Jesus. Here at our blended Pagan-Christian household we exchanged gifts (some habits die hard), and then took a hike in the woods with one of the dogs. I can’t think of a better way to spend a holiday.

Last night, the designated worshipper in our house went off to church, and I went to the movies. I’ve been anxious to see Noah Baumbach’s new film Margot at the Wedding, in spite of the mostly crummy reviews, and I figured there’s no better time to wallow in fictional family neuroses than Christmas Eve. If you haven’t heard about the movie, click above for the website. Or just watch the trailer:

It’s hard to say whether I liked this movie. I’m not sure it wants to be liked. The characters are all clever, verbose, self-centered jerks, except for the kids, who are just clever and self-centered. The title character, played by Nicole Kidman, is one of those relentless passive-aggressive types who can only survive among people who share her pretensions and insecurities—an earthier set would mop up the floor with her in no time flat. In addition to stabbing her sister in the back at every opportunity, Margot is the ultimate Freudian nightmare mommy, alternately seductive and brutal toward her young son. The complaint from most of the critics has been that it’s impossible to stay interested in such a thoroughly dislikable character. Salon’s reviewer also goes out of her way to note that it’s hard to look at Kidman’s obviously botoxed face. That seems a bit catty, and it’s also a pointless attack on the movie, since the character Kidman is playing is exactly the type who would overdo a cosmetic touch-up. (Personally, I couldn’t care less what Kidman looks like when the irresistible Jennifer Jason Leigh is flouncing around the screen in an open pajama top. Not that I have a girl crush on her or anything.)

Dislikable characters notwithstanding, I did stay interested right up to the bummer of an ending—which speaks well of the movie, since my walk-out rate as a solitary moviegoer hovers somewhere around 50%. I have zero tolerance for tedium when I don’t have Dave or some other companion to consider. I suspect what kept me in my seat—apart from JJL—was the sibling drama between Margot and Pauline. I have always been fascinated by sister relationships. I’m the youngest of three kids, the only girl, and when I was young I desperately wanted a sister. My mother had a girl baby after me that died at birth, which only added to my sense of being deprived. I’d watch my mother interact with her sister, or my grandmother with my great aunts, and it always seemed that there was a special kind of love between them—hate, too, of course—which you couldn’t experience with anyone but a sister.

Being an only daughter shaped me in a lot of ways. Among other things, I think it helped give me a feisty attitude toward males, especially in their bullying mode. I had to hold my own with the boys since there was nobody else on my team to back me up. It also left me ill-equipped for certain kinds of female communication. To this day, I am baffled by the dishy intimacy of beauty salon discourse.

I remember a friend once saying to me that she would never get married because she didn’t want to be defined by a relationship with another person. I always thought that was one of the dumber things I ever heard a smart person say. Whether you marry or not, you’re always defined by your relationships with other people. There’s no escaping that you’re someone’s child, sibling, lover, friend, parent, student, employee, etc., etc. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come to realize how much our lives are also defined by the relationships we don’t have. In my case, I’ll never know what it is to have a sister or to be a mother, but everybody has particular connections that they forgo, or that life’s lottery doesn’t deliver. Maybe you mourn the lack, maybe you don’t, but if you look at the broad picture of your life, you’re bound to find empty spots that’ll make you wonder what it would have meant if they’d been filled.

Which brings us back to Margot at the Wedding, which, for me, was a glimpse of a mystery that has intrigued me all my life. It’s a terrific exploration of the dark bond that can only exist between sisters, a bond I’ll never know. I walked out of the theater feeling as if I’d spent 2 hours at a psychological peep show. A lurid, funny, seriously twisted peep show. Then I went home and asked Dave about how things went at church. Who says you can’t have it all?

Photo of Alice Liddell and her sisters by Lewis Carroll, from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hopkins loved trees

Saturday morning I went out, as I always do, to greet the first sunrise after the winter solstice, and this year I was rewarded with a gentle gray and pink dawn. It wasn't long before the sun rose into the clouds and the sky turned leaden, but there was a brief moment when the thin fog reflected the light, and the air itself seemed to take on the sweet color of a dove's breast. The trees were black from the damp, and as I looked up through the tangle of bare branches I felt myself floating with them in the rosy mist.

This morning was a different story--dark and blustery, with little snow squalls that started and stopped without warning. After ten minutes out there my eyes were streaming from cold, and I said the hell with it and headed back down the trail toward my car. But something about the woods never wants to let me go. I turned around again and followed a more sheltered path that I don't take very often. It kept me out of the worst of the wind, but the the tall trees above me were getting the full force of it, swaying and crashing into their neighbors. It occurred to me that these were excellent conditions for getting brained by a falling branch, but I couldn't resist standing underneath to watch them battle the wind and each other.

This afternoon I was reading Hopkins, because something a friend said made me think of him, and in one of those serendipitous moments readers live for, I came across this unfinished poem:

Not of all my eyes see, wandering on the world,
Is anything a milk to the mind so, so sighs deep
Poetry tó it, as a tree whose boughs break in the sky.
Say it is áshboughs: whether on a December day and furled
Fast ór they in clammyish lashtender combs creep
Apart wide and new-nestle at heaven most high.

They touch heaven, tabour on it; how their talons sweep
The smouldering enormous winter welkin! May
Mells blue and snowwhite through them, a fringe and fray
Of greenery: it is old earth's groping towards the steep
Heaven whom she childs us by.

From The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 4th ed. (Oxford University Press, 1967) 185.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Solstice!

Winter, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1573

For those of us stuck on the northern half of the planet, winter officially arrives tomorrow, December 22 at 12:08am CST. Dave and I are going to light a roaring fire outside tonight and imbibe something intoxicating. I hope everyone else greets winter in whatever way they find warm and pleasurable. As for you Aussies, have fun in the sun and pity us.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Jazz Fest, 1977

The news out of New Orleans today is just so sad, it sent me looking for some reminder of happier days there, and I found this fantastic clip of Clifton Chenier. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

BitterGrace goes to StoryCorps

The article I mentioned in the Eudora Welty post is up at the Scene's website. As you might have gathered from the earlier post, the StoryCorps experience gave me a mild case of snark, although I toned it down a bit for publication. Click here for my article. If you've never heard of StoryCorps, you can visit the project's website here.

Kobi says thank you...

... and so do I for the prayers and good wishes of her cyber pals. She is fine, her lump was just a harmless fatty tumor. She's home and getting around okay, although she still seems a little freaked out. Of course, she's always a little freaked out, so it's hard to know how much that has to do with the stitches down her torso. I expect she'll be back to bullying the other dogs and menacing the UPS man in a day or so.

One Sentence Perfume Review: Ambre Sultan, Serge Lutens

Like sitting by a campfire in the Piney Woods, eating vanilla toffee while you watch the winter sunset.

Notes per Aedes de Venustas: amber, benzoin, oregano, bay leaf, coriander, myrtle, angelica root, sandalwood and patchouli.

Photo from Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Missing in Action

Whenever I see a bird feeder in the city with nothing but a mob of house sparrows and squirrels munching away, I remind myself how lucky I am to live where I can still attract a variety of birds to my yard. I can usually count at least a dozen different species even on a slow day, and I especially enjoy seeing the migrating grosbeaks and orioles, not to mention the odd flyover of a great blue heron. But in the ten years we've been here, the variety of birds seems to have declined considerably. I'm sure some of that is due to the loss of habitat for development (vile euphemism), and some of it is due to an excess population of feral cats. Whatever the reason, some of my favorites are no longer around, so here's a little avian milk carton moment:

One old favorite I didn't see all last summer is the Eastern Kingbird. I used to see them often, perched on the electrical wire behind my house. They like to swoop up fast, snag a bug on the fly, and then settle right back to their perch. Our first few years here they were abundant, but they've grown more and more scarce, though I haven't heard about any general decline in the species.

Another AWOL bird is the Northern Bobwhite, which I used to hear constantly. They tend to stay paired up to feed, and I'd often see a couple ambling around under my deck, or at the fence line that marks the edge of our property. Not any more. I do hear them every once in a great while, but I can't remember when I last saw one. The species is known to be declining all over the country, though no one is quite sure why, probably loss of habitat.

Finally, I am very sad to have lost my Dark-Eyed Juncos. They're an extremely common winter bird here, and I seem to see them everywhere except at my house. I used to get hordes of them. They're pretty, lively and social, so they're a pleasure to watch. But a few years ago, in an attempt to discourage the house sparrows that were beating up on my bluebirds, I stopped using any grain in my feeders. That tactic diminished the sparrows slightly, but it also cost me all my Juncos and Towhees, who love millet. I went back to feeding grain and the Towhees returned, but the Juncos seem determined to shun me forever--and the sparrows have routed the bluebirds for good anyway. So much for managing nature.

Kingbird photo from Wikimedia Commons

Bobwhite photo from Wikimedia Commons

Dark-eyed Junco photo from Wikimedia Commons. See some more nice Junco photos here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Strummer, pt. 2

Dave and I went to see Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten on Saturday, and I know I said I would review it here, but I can't. Here's why:

In 1980, when the Clash landed big-time in the US, I was a bookish Southern hick who had exiled herself to the preppy cloister of Mount Holyoke College. I never went to clubs, there was not a hint of punk about me. I did listen to the Ramones and Dead Kennedys. Everybody did. I was vaguely sympathetic to the ethos of punk, but I was busy being an earnest liberal arts student at a very earnest school. I got excited about meeting C. Vann Woodward, or going to readings by Joseph Brodsky. There's no reason why I should have developed any particular attachment to the Clash, or to Joe Strummer's spiel, but I did. I can't deny that some of it was just the great beats and Joe's sex appeal. The Clash made first-class party music. "Sandinista!" is a particularly good sing-along record when you're high. But the band also made great political music, and the marriage of those two things is what got me and lots of other earnest children interested in the World According to Strummer.

Over and over again in the film, Strummer can be heard preaching that you've got to commit to live, to give it all you've got. He could snarl with the best of them, but there was nothing nihilistic about the guy. He thought the only way to survive was to embrace all the pleasure and pain life had to offer, and that included connecting to the joy and suffering of everybody in the world. He had a vision that was profoundly liberating and egalitarian, which came through loud and clear in the Clash's music. He hated the things that deserve to be hated.

Unless you were old enough to vote in 1980, I think it's hard to understand what that vision meant to some of us as we watched Ronald Reagan--a man who represented everything that was/is horrible about America--become president. So much shit that we take for granted now, from the ascendancy of Christian proto-fascism to mind-numbing 24/7 consumerism, took hold at that moment. It was as if, almost overnight, the whole country surrendered to its most crass, pathetic, hateful instincts. Not that any of it was actually new, mind you, but the shameless embrace of it was just horrifying to a lot of us who came of age in the post-Vietnam years. The Clash's music was a place of refuge from all that--and I suppose, a place where we could escape the guilt we felt, knowing that we were the ones who would reap the benefits of the new order.

I carried all that baggage into the theater on Saturday, expecting to spend a couple of hours sighing over Joe, and laughing at how naive we used to be about the way the world works. Instead, I left with tears in my eyes, partly because it's just a damn sad story, and partly because, as much as I hate to say so, it bums me out to be this old. But mostly I was crying because I realized Joe was right. All you'll ever have in this world is the struggle to live, and to let everybody else live. You've got to make that connection with life and other people, by any means available. Otherwise, you might as well cut your own throat--or just keep quiet and become what the evil fuckers in charge want you to be, which amounts to the same thing.

So now I'm sure you can understand why I can't review this movie. I don't know whether it's a good movie or not, I only know it completely messed me up. If all the Clash ever meant to you was dancing to "Rock the Casbah," then you might be bored to tears instead of moved to them. I will say that, even though it's an affectionate portrait of Strummer, it's not hagiography. The man himself comes off as smart, endearing, difficult and ruthlessly ambitious--in short, fully human. May he rest in peace.

Photo from Wikipedia

Friday, December 14, 2007

Green and good

When I heard that Anya's Garden was introducing *Kaffir, a scent structured around the fragrance of the Kaffir lime, I felt a wave of perfumista dread come over me. Why? Because I can't imagine any scenario more perfectly designed to set me up for disappointment. First of all, I am a rabid fan of Anya McCoy's work. Pan and Fairchild are both fascinating, near-perfect creations as far as I am concerned. On top of that, I have had an obsession with the taste and scent of limes since I was a child. The smell of a freshly cut lime is heaven to me, and I love the leaves in Thai food, so the concept of a scent that incorporated both elements was straight out of my perfume dreams

Unfortunately, lime-focused women's scents are rare, and every lime for boys I've ever met has been some hyper-virile melange of citrus and spice--quite unwearable for a girly type such as myself, not to mention that they make me feel as if some tiny animal is raking its claws down my nasal passages. So, even though I was very intrigued by Anya's new baby, I deliberately kept my expectations low.

I suppose that's a good policy in general, but it turns out to have been completely unnecessary in this case. It was love at first dab for Kaffir. I instantly declared it FB worthy, and I've already got my 15ml EDP, which I predict will not last long.

Kaffir opens all green and juicy, but galbanum amps up the mellow bitterness of the lime, so the fruity quality is somewhat subdued--a good thing in my book. There's a subtle herbal note as well, lent by tarragon according to Anya. The opening lasts a little longer than citrus tops usually do. It takes a good 10 minutes, on me at least, before the floral heart emerges and begins to play hide and seek with the leather/wood base.

One of the things I love about Pan and Fairchild is their liveliness. They change moment by moment on the skin, continually evolving in a wonderfully non-linear way right up to their final fade-out. Kaffir, in its more lighthearted fashion, has the same quality. Every time I lift my wrist to my nose, I get a slightly different balance of jasmine, leather, and soft woods. The green notes pop back in from time to time as well, and when they hook up with the leather base I find I get a flash of Chanel n.19. When the jasmine-rich heart predominates, Kaffir seems like Fairchild's more innocent hesperidic cousin.

Anya describes Kaffir as having a tropical character, and I find that's true, although this is certainly no "rum punch on the beach" fragrance. It's lush, green and sunny, with a barely perceptible hint of earthy decay. Anya calls it playful, and so it is, but it's not a bit coy. It seems perfectly unisex, and wearable just about anyplace, something that can't be said, IMO, of either Pan or Fairchild.

For another, more erudite take on Kaffir, click over to Helg's review at Perfume Shrine. You'll find her review of Anya's other new creation, Temple, on the same page. I'll offer my own thoughts on Temple as soon as I can figure out what they are. (I've already sprung for a bottle of it in parfum, which I guess should tell me something.)

*Notes from Anya's Garden:

Top notes: Kaffir Thai lime leaf, galbanum, French and Tropical tarragon accord

Middle notes: tinctures of eight jasmines, heritage oak extract, Grasse jasmine

Base notes: sustainable golden agarwood, musk seed, leather accord

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Five questions I can't answer

It's been ages since I've done a question post. I know it's usually 20 questions, but hey, it's the holiday season and we're all busy--who needs more pressure? So here's a simple five, with a musical theme:

1. Why is nothing more pleasurable than wallowing in a really sad song? (Current favorite wallow: "Kitty" by the Pogues)

2. Since I am basically all in favor of booting Christ out of Christmas, why do I love religious carols and despise pop Christmas music (Vince Guaraldi emphatically excepted)?

3. Why do I spend more time thinking about practicing the violin than actually practicing?

4. Why the hell is "Astral Weeks"--the song, I mean--called "Astral Weeks?"

5. Cecilia Bartoli or Kiri Te Kanawa?


I can't wait to see Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, which is coming to Nashville this weekend. It's supposed to be great--but even if it stinks, it's worth a few bucks for a couple of hours in the dark with Joe. I'll be reviewing it here. I hope y'all go see it and report back.

Here's a little something to get us in the mood:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

One Sentence Perfume Review: 28 La Pausa, Les Exclusifs de Chanel

Play-Doh, pencil shavings and Mommy's lipstick--a little girl's dream of being grown up.

Notes per Bois de Jasmin: Iris and more iris, with white floral notes and musk

Photo by Emily and Lillian Selby, ca. 1894-1920

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Deer season

Things are pretty silent in the woods these days, at least in the park where I walk. It’s deer hunting season, so the guns are blasting away most everywhere else, including the wooded areas near my house. I always seem to see a lot more deer in the park this time of year. I wonder if they know it’s a place of refuge, and make their way in from the unprotected areas nearby. Of course, it’s just past mating season, too, so they’re out and about because of that. There’s been enough cold weather to kill off the underbrush, and that makes them more visible as well.

Whatever the reason, I never fail to see a dozen or more of them most mornings, and this week I’ve been seeing a big buck that I’m sure I’ve never seen before. He has a huge rack of antlers, 16 points maybe, and he’s very assertive. Always stands his ground and gives me the look as I walk by. He usually has his girlfriend with him. I’ve no idea how long deer couples stay together after they do their thing, but an awful lot of the other adults still seem to be paired off, too. There are also little groups of young deer that feed together, and if I just stand quietly they’ll often come very close to me, snuffling under the fallen leaves for acorns and other goodies.

I’m always struck by the way big herbivores--whether they’re deer, cows or horses—seem to give off a very different energy from predators. I’m not sure I can explain what I mean by that, but if I think of it in terms of sound, the energy of a deer is low and throbbing, like a slow heartbeat; with a cat or a coyote, it’s a clear, high, tense tone, like the open E on a violin. That quality—energy or aura, whatever you want to call it—pertains regardless of the state of the animal. Deer can be nervous as hell, cats can be eerily still, but still the predator gives off a tension the herbivore doesn’t. It’s not that one is more pleasurable to experience than the other, just that they’re very distinct. I think one of the reasons we are so attached to certain companion animals is the pleasure we get from being near their particular vibration. It’s one of the many ways we have of manipulating our environment.

I’ve loved being near the energy of all those deer during this time when the woods are at rest for the winter. Some days I am lucky enough to have some time when I’m completely alone with them, with no other people around, no voices or traffic sounds carrying up to me. There’s just a blessed stillness, and that heartbeat.

Photo from Wikimedia commons

Monday, December 10, 2007

Here's something pretty... make up for that hideous pic of Cheney.

Diana and Her Nymphs, Etienne-Barthélemy Garnier

Image from The Web Gallery of Art

Where has this word been hiding?

I've been searching for it for, oh, nearly seven years now:

KAKISTOCRACY--The government of a state by its most unprincipled citizens.

Isn't that great? For the etymology, see World Wide Words, the website of British word fiend Michael Quinion. Cruise around and you'll find lots of other goodies, such as BLOBITECTURE, PAREIDOLIA, and GELOTOLOGIST.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

'Fuming Scotland

This week's Sunday Herald from Glasgow has a nice little rant from one of its regular columnists about celebrity perfumes. I suspect the writer is more celeb basher than perfumista (sandalwood top notes?), but her heart's in the right place. The last half dozen paragraphs, starting with the quote from J-Lo, are quite funny. Click here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"Okay, but you owe me"

Image from Venus Erotic Art Museum

One of us

I took my mother to the Nashville Public Library yesterday to do a StoryCorps session, with her as interviewee. I'm doing a little piece on StoryCorps for the Scene, and decided I needed to experience it firsthand. I have to say it's the most highly regimented exercise in family bonding I have ever seen. Not that that's a bad thing. Structure's good, I guess. And I have never felt so thoroughly a part the current trend for finding virtue in self-exposure. I've always hoped to find money in self-exposure--and I have, though to date I can't say I've reaped any fortune. Maybe I haven't exposed enough.

Anyway, this post is not about me, it's about Eudora Welty, and how I discovered yesterday that she was probably one of us; that is to say, a scent freak, a member of the global community of the osmically fixated. It turned out that my mother and I had a little time to kill before our heartwarming 40 minutes in the StoryCorps booth, so we went to look at a photography exhibit in the library's gallery. It was a series of pictures of authors' homes called "Inspirational Spaces," taken by Bob Schatz, a Nashville photographer. Welty's home in Jackson was featured along with the houses of Carl Sandburg, Thomas Wolfe, Faulkner, and Flannery O'Connor. (The series isn't online anywhere, but you can see some of Schatz's work here. His compositions are very nice.)

Eudora's house, like the others, is a museum now, and maintained with all the reverent attachment to her relics that you'd expect from Southern literary acolytes. Nobody worships a dead author the way we do. You can actually take a virtual tour of her house by going here. If you do, you'll see a picture of her vanity with a little tray of bottles that are almost too small to make out--but in Schatz's photos you can see what they are: Chanel no. 5 eau de cologne (in its box), a pretty milk glass flacon of L'Air du Temps, a powder canister (also L'Air du Temps, I think), and a fourth scent bottle that can't be identified.

Welty was no glamor queen, so the fact that she actually had a scent wardrobe was enough to make me think she was at least a low-key sniff fiend. My suspicion was confirmed by Schatz's photo of her bathroom (it's not on the virtual tour--wonder why?), where there was a jar of Noxzema and a bottle of Revlon Aquamarine lotion. Pretty prosaic toiletries, of course, but both of them have very distinctive, much-loved scents. I seem to recall that there was an entire POL thread devoted to the smell of Noxzema.

So now whenever I read EW's stories, I'll imagine her taking hits off the Noxzema, or putting her wrist to her nose as she scribbled. By the way, Schatz didn't bother documenting the men's personal items, and O'Connor showed no sign at all of being one of us. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, the only bottles on her shelves were prescription medicine and Bayer aspirin.

Quote of the Day

"Ignoring ignoramuses, assholes, and narcissists is just good policy generally, I think, but especially in an age where two clicks will tell them where you live." Anonymous

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Oh, the irony

It seems some poor sardonic soul has been busted for a blog comment. To paraphrase the immortal Linus, don't they know sarcasm when they hear it? **I think that was Linus. Anyway, feel free to be as snarky on this blog as you like. You can even say "bomb." If they waterboard your IP address out of me, I'll at least come see you in jail.

**Okay, now I'm thinking it was Charlie Brown. Where are you when I need you, Leo?

How have I missed this till now?

Al Green singing my favorite Al Green song. In the rain. In Cincinnati. Damn.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Perfume report (and more pics)

Scentwise, the trip started on a very positive note. The woman in the seat behind us on the plane was wearing Mitsouko--probably the parfum, judging from exquisite mellow sillage. If there is anything that can overcome the extended olfactory nightmare of an 8 hour flight, it's Mitsouko. I was almost as lucky on the trip back. Sick as I was, the smell of jet fuel and plastic food was killing me, but there was a young woman across the aisle who kept topping up some gentle sandalwood/vanilla thingie, and it was actually very soothing. Of course, she was engaging in just the sort of behavior that gives perfume freaks a bad name, but I'll always be grateful to her.

I knew there was a Penhaligon's in Glasgow, so I hit it the first day there and dropped some of my mad money on a bottle of Lily and Spice (smells just like something else I can't put my finger on, but I loved it so I caved); a little silver compact filled with solid Bluebell (quoth the very cute SA: "Kate Moss loves this"); a men's sampler with Endymion, Quercus, etc.; and a women's sampler that I wanted mainly for the Malabah. I'd never sniffed it before and I thought I loved it--but yesterday it smelled god-awful to me. Weird how that happens. I'm hoping I'll recover my desire for it, but meanwhile I do love the Elizabethan Rose, which is just the sort of pure, fresh rose that never fails to make me happy. The SA really was very sweet, and could not quite wrap her head around the idea that I was buying all this stuff for myself. She insisted I take some wrapping paper and ribbon "in case you decide to give something as a gift after all." Dave suggested that perhaps she hadn't met a lot of perfume addicts.

That's hard to believe, though, because Glasgow actually seems to be a very perfume-friendly place, at least in terms of scented bodies per capita. I kept getting whiffs of what I'd swear was Daim Blond, and Light Blue is as ubiquitous there as it is here. The overwhelming preference seemed to be for light chypres, or the drier fruity/woody scents. Florals not so much, and I didn't get smacked by a heavy oriental even once. The department store sniffing was quite civilized, as it always seems to be in Europe. They just put the stuff out on the shelves and let you sample unmolested. I didn't have to fight off a single sales zombie during my two outings. The selection was good, too. Even the rather dowdy House of Fraser had several Serge Lutens testers out (Gris Clair, Douce Amere, can't remember what else.) The crappy exchange rate made it easy to resist buying anything I could readily lay hands on in the US, but there was plenty of temptation.

Okay, enough perfume. I promised pics. Again these are all by Dave, I didn't touch a camera the whole time we were there. These first three are Edinburgh: looking down the Royal Mile at St Giles' Cathedral (note the traffic cone on David Hume's head); the dog cemetery at Edinburgh Castle (the highlight of Dave's trip); and a shot of the city taken through one of the cannon ports at the castle.


Here's my favorite place in Glasgow, The Necropolis, a 19th century cemetery that sits on a hill behind Glasgow Cathedral. It's vast and rather rundown and completely irresistible. They were doing a citywide light show a couple of nights when we were there, which was nice but was put to shame by the sight of the full moon rising over the Necropolis with the headstones in silhouette. The huge monument in the first pic is (who else?) John Knox. The woman in the second pic is yours truly. Dave always takes a picture of me in every cemetery we visit--one of our slightly warped romantic rituals. The last two are different views of the city, both taken from the Necropolis: grimy Glasgow and pretty Glasgow. That's Glasgow Cathedral in the pretty shot.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Airplane book

I meant to post a link to my review of Michael Knight's The Holiday Season before I left, but forgot in all the scurrying around. The book is actually a pair of novellas, both with holiday themes, and it would make a decent travel read. Your own dysfunctional family--I assume you have one--may seem more tolerable after you've spent some time with Knight's fictional ones. Click here to read the review.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What's not to like?

That was our question after 5 days in Glasgow. Before we left, Dave and I must have had a half dozen people tell us in so many words that we were stupid to spend our vacation in grimy, homely Glasgow when Edinburgh is so much prettier. As usual, we did as we pleased, and choosing personality over looks was wise. I said in an earlier post that we're slothful tourists, meaning we're mostly interested in just wandering around taking in the spirit of a place, rather than scrambling to see prescribed sights and have packaged experiences. Glasgow, which is a sort of busy-but-relaxed city with a generally haphazard air, was perfect for us. There's plenty to do there, especially for two people who can happily prowl art galleries, cafes and bookstores all day long, but you never get the feeling that the city's being presented for tourist consumption. On the contrary, people always seemed mildly surprised to see two Americans visiting purely for pleasure, especially in November. Everyone was very friendly, but we never got that sense of being politely hustled you always get in tourist meccas.

The big surprise about Glasgow was the quality of the food. Restaurants are pretty expensive, especially with the current sad state of the dollar, but we had a lot of wonderful meals that were worth every penny. We ate a fair amount of traditional Scottish food, and came away trying to figure out why Americans are always horrified by haggis and black pudding--again, what's not to like? There was very good Indian food, too, along with the usual Continental/fusion stuff. We stayed in one of five rooms above a pub where they served a great breakfast of smoked haddock poached in milk with bacon--not exactly AHA-approved fare, but ideal if you're going to spend the day tromping around in a cold rain.

The room was actually the funniest thing about the whole trip. It was grubby and small, which we expected given the price, and the place was run by very nice people who didn't seem to have the faintest idea of how to operate a hotel. The handle to our door was broken, and people kept saying "We're going to fix that," in a sort of anxious, hopeful tone, kinda the way fundamentalists talk about the Rapture. I got locked in the room one night because I forgot and let the door swing shut, with no handle on my side to open it. Twenty minutes of pounding and screaming eventually brought a fellow guest who opened the door. "Your door's broken," he said. "Yeah," I said, "they're gonna fix that." One night they sold a room twice, so we were awakened around midnight by the argument between occupant and would-be occupant. I'm not sure I'd ever stay there again, but it was certainly a lot more entertaining than the Ramada would have been.

We did spend one day in Edinburgh, and it is indeed postcard pretty, with much more in the way of touristy gawking opportunities than Glasgow--so of course it's lousy with tourists, even this time of year. We also spent a day hiking around Loch Lomond, probably my favorite part of the trip. It was cold but clear, and there weren't many people there; in fact, virtually no foreign tourists, just locals who had driven out for the day, most of whom had at least one dog along. Naturally, that made us miss our crew back home. I think Dave felt especially deprived without canine company, but then he got the chance to do a successful search and rescue for a sweet old guy's dog that had wandered off. That more than made up for it, though I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a picture of the reunion. I never think about things like that at the time.

Dave, however, does remember to take pics, so here are a few he made. These are from Loch Lomond and Balloch Castle. I'll post some shots of Edinburgh and Glasgow tomorrow, and give the perfume report.

The trail you see here is as muddy as it looks, muck up to the ankle, but we enjoyed it just the same. The funny tubes that look like a Cristo installation are covering saplings they've planted to reforest with native trees.