Monday, March 31, 2008

The Fall

It was bound to happen. I've always known--klutz that I am--that sooner or later I'd take a spill on one of the steep trails I love to hike. Today was the day. I took a notion to climb a rock ledge, even though it was raining and the rock was slippery. Why? Because it was there. And because I'm an idiot. Of course I lost my footing and went bouncing down the side of the rock. It seriously knocked the wind out of me, but there were no major injuries and I hobbled down off the ridge without too much trouble. Both legs are banged up and my left wrist is not looking forward to violin practice, but I think I'll recover. Shorts season doesn't seem so appealing now, but then again, they've never been my best fashion friend. One of my legs was already permanently marred from the time I was climbing around our unlit attic in the middle of the night, looking for a roof leak, and stepped through the ceiling. Honestly, I don't why they let me wander through life unsupervised.

I suppose it's possible I psyched myself into hitting the ground today, since that's where my attention has been lately. My resolution for this summer's walks is to pay more attention to the wide world of crawly things. Most insects aren't out yet, but we've had a lot of rain and there are worms everywhere. I've seen some enormous ones this week. None of them were getting friendly like the pair below, but I just thought I'd share the pic with you, seeing as how one of this blog's official interests is "love in all its guises," and I already gave a whole post to the snails. I wouldn't want to be accused of discrimination.

The Fall of the Damned, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1620. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Mating earthworms photo from Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

This'll banish your Monday blues

A little inspiration from Sister Rosetta Tharpe and friends. Isn't she great? Read about her here

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

Beyond Endless War

"Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on."
From Martin Luther King's speech Beyond Vietnam, delivered in New York City on April 4, 1967

King was assassinated one year to the day after making that speech, which means the 40th anniversary of his death will be marked in the media next week with the usual bland genuflection. You probably won't hear a lot of references to his antiwar stance, though the situation in Iraq may inspire a few. You definitely won't hear anything about his radical connection between racism, war and poverty, which is beautifully outlined in the speech, and in the agenda of the Poor People's Campaign. I encourage you to click here** to read all of Beyond Vietnam. As you read, replace "Vietnam" with "Iraq," "communism" with "terrorism" and "Marxism" with "radical Islam"--I find it works eerily well. The speech is not short, but it's worth the time it takes to read, and it'll give you some food for thought when the platitudes are being mouthed next Friday.

And since I'm in political mode, I'll also recommend that you go here to see John Pilger's The War on Democracy, a film about our long history of murderous intervention in Latin America. This movie has seen theatrical release in Britain and Australia, but is only available on DVD here. Heaven forbid people should be reminded that Bush's war in Iraq is really just business as usual.

**There is another text of the speech here that includes an mp3 file, but be warned, the site has annoying pop-ups. Also, go here for an interview on Democracy Now! with Dr. Vincent Harding, who wrote the speech.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

One Sentence Perfume Review: Lotus, Ava Luxe

A luminous nymph, sweet and soft as cream, nestled in bitter jade, with a drop of the sun in her heart.

Notes per Ava Luxe: Greens, white lotus , white gardenia, tuberose, plumeria, Egyptian musk.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Poetry, Lilies, Owls

Bill Brown, who appeared on the blog last spring, has a new collection of poems, Late Winter, out from Iris Press. I love Bill's work, and some of these poems are just fantastic. You can read my review of the book at the Scene's website, and here's a bit of one poem on a topic dear to my heart:


I have always been late for lilies
that pretend to bloom for a week,
and when my attention wanes,

I find them spoiled by fullness.
It's not that I envy bumblebees
that catch unfurling blossoms

and smother their legs in orange.
I am ripe for perfection: alabaster
smooth and unstained; star gazers,

the rival of orchids; reds deep
and soft as pinot noir. This
morning a gentle rain whispers

to my garden where lilies wait. ...

By Bill Brown, from Late Winter, Iris Press, 2008.

In other news ...

I saw a gorgeous pair of Great Horned owls this morning, flying together through the trees. I often hear them talking to each other, but I've never seen a couple out at play before. Pretty soon there'll be owl chicks to watch--without a doubt the cutest babies in the bird world. Can't wait. Meantime, you can see and hear some GH owls over at the Owl Pages.

Owl photo from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I’m back. Sometimes I just need to take a little break from the blog, especially when I’ve got a lot of writing for hire to do. I get a little sick of wrangling with words, even in the lazy manner of blogging.

One of the review assignments I've been working on is a new smutty novel by the wildly popular Eric Jerome Dickey. I had whined to the books editor that I never got paid to read any porn, so when the Dickey book came along she said, “Here you go.” All I can say is, be careful what you wish for. The book is okay—sort—but not my kind of thing, erotically speaking. There is nothing worse than slogging through 400+ pages of sexual fantasy that doesn’t work any gear you’ve got. “Stupefying” hardly describes it.

It got me thinking about books I do find genuinely erotic—or rather, trying to figure out if there are any. I’ve read my share of simple smut, of course. There was a time in my life when I was fond of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty books, in all their sadomasochistic silliness. And I’ll admit—I hope this isn’t TMI—that I have always been kinda turned on by the slam-bang novels of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain. I especially like Thompson’s Bad Boy. So much for feminist consciousness.

But true erotic literature, to be worthy of the name, has to do something more than trigger a Pavlovian genital response. It has to stir up some dark, chthonic energy, and at the same time engage your heart, at least a little bit. It should give you a glimpse of the primal source of feeling. It should make you understand how the desire to live coexists with the urge toward death.

Tall order, huh? I pondered quite a while and I could only come up with two novels that do that for me: Wuthering Heights and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Somehow, I feel that I ought to be able to claim something smarter, edgier, more obscure—but no, I have to confess I can’t think of any book that stirs Eros in me more than those two do. I should go hunt them up wherever they’re hiding in this chaotic house, and let them banish Dickey’s soulless drivel.

Liebesszene, Max Liebermann, c.1926.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm feeling the need to run away ...

from book reviews, tragic anniversaries and other burdensome things, so it seems like a good time to blather about perfume. Here are some random thoughts on recent sniffery:

Neil Morris Spectral Violet: I won't even try to give a full review this one, because Mary already captured it so perfectly in hers. (You'll find her whole series of Neil Morris reviews here. Just page down to SV.) However, I do want to say that as someone who has mixed feelings about violet notes, and violet soliflores in particular, I find SV completely lovable. Most violet scents strike me as insipid. I like violet when it comes along with the moxie of something like Jolie Madame; and I like it candied and romantic, as in N'Aimez que Moi. I can't stand it in its plastic, sweetly watery persona--Marc Jacobs Violet is a classic example. SV, as Mary so rightly points out, has a very natural character. It's like sticking your nose down in a pot of violets. It gives you green, earthy, sweet--the whole shebang. And, to quote Mary again, it's a truly unisex floral. I would love to smell this on a guy.

Madini oils: Anybody who's been looking at my "Scent of the Moment" knows I've been going through the whole catalog of Madini oils lately. I don't know why, but a few weeks ago I just started channeling the ghost of some scent-loving hippie, and I can't get enough of smelling like a head shop. Fortunately, Dave is extremely fond of Eau de 70s Stoner, so I get no complaints when I dab on the heavy, sweet, animalic Musk Gazelle, which dries down to the scent I imagine Tabu must once have been. He also really likes the heady floral shriek of Narciso. I've gotten compliments from regular people on Azahar, which is a pure orange blossom scent that lacks both the acrid edge of most fake orange blossom frags, as well as the musk that is usually employed to cover up that problem. I've tried about half the others to be found at Talisman, but those are my faves so far. I'm sure I'll post about some more in the future.

The Fragrance Shop: More oils here, but not the hippie kind. TFS has a vast catalog of imported and domestic oils, including numerous musks, plus their own blends, but they are probably best known for their dupes. I've got to say, I've tried a lot of their dupes over the years, and the only ones I'd really jump up and down about are Je Reviens and Tatiana, both of which smell perfectly like their vintage versions. The Tatiana is especially nice, and may contain a better quality jasmine than the original ever did. There are some real winners among their house blends, especially China Lily, which is a classic musky China Rain with an big helping of lilies on the side; and The Big Easy, an unusual blend of patchouli, LOTV, amber and vetiver that, inexplicably, actually captures the olfactory character of New Orleans. I'd also give an honorable mention to African Queen, especially if all that talk above about violets got you excited. Married with hyacinth and musk, the violet in this one is sweet but not bland.

Enough blather. Back to work and other stuff for me. Hope everybody has a sweet weekend, and Happy Easter to those who celebrate.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Today is the Vernal Equinox

Go sniff a flower. Pet a bunny, or eat one. Whatever works for you.

Flora, Élizabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (1755-1842)

Read about the goddess Flora here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Snail sex!

I am still swamped here, and I understand that Friend of the Blog Renee is in the same predicament, so send her some happy thoughts.

I didn't feel I could spare the time to walk this morning (the wind and rain didn't encourage me any), but I did get out yesterday and ran across a pair of amorous snails. I think snails are charming, unlike slugs, which are repulsive--proof of the importance of fashion. The downside of snails is that they crawl onto the trail and are so perfectly camouflaged that I never see them before I feel that special snappy crunch underfoot. Not a good feeling.

Yesterday, though, I was more sharp-eyed than usual and saw two snails getting busy before I stomped them to oblivion. I'd never seen snail sex before, so I crouched down to watch (they didn't mind.) I actually was a little unsure whether what I was watching was snail sex. It could have been snail fighting--I mean, how could you know for sure?

A guy came along the trail, and I felt the need to explain what I was doing. Otherwise he might think I was odd. I asked him, "Do snails mate?"

"I'm sure they do. I imagine it takes a long while." He walked on. "Have a nice day."

I hung out for a few more minutes, but he was right. Proceedings looked like they'd take a while. I lacked the voyeuristic stamina, so I put a big stick down next to them to save them from the footfall of the next hiker, and went on my way.

Fortunately, the Internet offers every kind of virtual erotica, no stamina required. Go here to see some real live snail porn.

Monday, March 17, 2008

This is not a real post

The trilliums (trillia?) are finally popping up. They're a tad late. I suppose that weird snowstorm we had discouraged them, but they were all over the place this morning, which pleased me since they're just about my favorite spring flower.

If I had the energy and time, I'm sure I could think of more things to say about the trillium, but frankly, I'm a little short of both. I've got three articles due in the next few days, which is a heavy schedule for a plodding writer like me. Plus, Dave's birthday is this week, and I have to take the time to shop for him and celebrate properly, since he's getting so damn old.

So, posts may be a little scarce this week, but I promise I'll get some good stuff up once this little hectic spell passes. Meanwhile, you might want to click over to this Prairie Ecosystems website and page down to see some nice photos of prairie wildflowers and insects. You can see more if you go here and click on the link to each locale listed. One of the places, Nichols Park, is just a few blocks from my old apartment in Chicago. Apparently, they did a prairie restoration on a patch of grass in that very urban locale. I love that.

Photo from USDA Plants Database.

It's St. Patrick's Day ...

and I was born in Erin, Tennessee, so how could I resist this 30-year-old clip of The Bothy Band playing the Kesh jig? Happy Monday.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie ...

and it's a good day to remember that Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only places where the U.S. is involved in war. If you don't know who Rachel Corrie was, you'll get most of the facts in this excellent article at Counterpunch. You can also read about her at her memorial website, and at the site of The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"...And night is night."

A Sunset of the City
by Gwendolyn Brooks

Kathleen Eileen

Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

Head of a Woman, Albrecht Dürer, c.1520. Image from Web Gallery of Art. Text from Poetry Foundation.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why don't we let Koko Taylor....

banish that little annoyance from yesterday? Here she is singing "Can't Let Go"--how appropriate. Nice little cameo by Lyle Lovett at the beginning, too. Happy weekend, y'all.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Everybody's a critic

New flash: You just can't please some people. I did a review this week for a book of John Baeder's diner paintings. It didn't seem like the kind of thing BG Notes readers would care for, so I wasn't going to bother linking to it on the blog, but this morning I received a rude, snarky email from Baeder himself complaining about the review. Now, if it had been a rude, snarky review (which, believe me, would have been easy enough to write), I would understand. It was, however, a very positive review--a real softball, in fact. Or so it seems to me. Read it here and tell me what you think. I suppose it would be asking too much to expect Baeder to be grateful for 800 happy words about his work, his book and the show he has opening here in December. On the contrary, I suspect he thinks I ought to be grateful that he expended the energy to read my review. Raking in the dough from those paintings must be exhausting.

I shouldn't complain, though, because for every whiner like Baeder there are at least a dozen gracious, talented people who really appreciate the effort that goes into a thoughtful review. Last week I reviewed Susannah Felts' new YA novel, This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record. Again, I didn't link to it here because I assume (in fact, I hope) I don't get a lot of 15-year-olds hitting this blog. It is a very good book, however, and I recommend it if you're wracking your brain for a gift for your daughter, niece, friend's kid, etc. Go here to read my review. In spite of the fact that I had a tiny quibble with the pacing of the first part of the book, Susannah took the time to say a kind word about the review at her blog. That's very classy. It's her first book. Wish her luck.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Barbarians were here

Actually, it was just the tree trimming crew, but don't try telling that to Kobi. She spent the day trying to drive them off and I spent the day managing her. We're both exhausted, so blogging will have to wait until tomorrow. Pleasant dreams. I hope I have some.

Hercules capturing Cerberus, Sebald Beham, 1540.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


My violin teacher was talking recently about how important it is to listen to a lot of different kinds of music—really listen, not just let the sound wash over you, or use it as a tool to zone out. There’s a world of difference between passively experiencing music and engaging your brain to understand it. I don’t mean simply analyzing the components of the sound, but going beyond that to be aware of every aspect of the music’s effect.

I’ve had all that in my mind during my walks the past few days, and it’s made me conscious of the multitude of sounds I encounter. There are the birdsongs and squirrel chatter, of course, and the creaking of the trees as they sway in the wind. This time of year there are a lot of fallen leaf sounds: the tinkling they make when the wind blows them, the quick scuffle of squirrels and chipmunks through them, the more delicate scutter of groundfeeding birds, and the percussive sweeping noise from the deer as they trot among the trees.

Water is another big noisemaker. The creeks and streams are all flowing fast right now, and I’ve been making a point of walking along them, listening to the particular song of each one, and the way it changes as I move from point to point. Rushing water fascinated me when I was a kid, and I realize now it was the sound that really drew me in—it’s the original generative music. Water makes other, more subtle sounds, too. I went walking after our big snow this weekend, and the woods were full of sound of the trickling melt, accompanied by the drips from the trees. Where the snow remained, my footfall made a squeaky crunch. A lot of the trails were covered with thin ice over mud, so I hiked along to the sound of CRACK-squish, CRACK-squish.

Intense listening is getting to be a habit outside my hiking life, which is distracting, but also has the welcome effect of recasting a lot of nuisance noise as interesting sound. Ironically, the noises that grate on human nerves--the roar of traffic, loud radios, cell phone chatter, the endless beeps, dings and warning bells of modern life—are robbed of a lot of their power to irritate if you actually listen to them. I’ve heard other people make that observation, but I never really understood what they meant until I started doing it myself. It’s as if the auditory signal is intercepted by a non-judgmental listener in my brain, so it never gets to my inner noise-phobe.

I suppose it’s possible to carry this kind of listening too far. If I become oblivious to the meaning of police sirens and smoke alarms we could have a problem, but short of that, finding a way to deal with life’s constant noise seems like a gift. Hell, it’s even making supermarket muzak tolerable. Sort of.

Harmonie, Irma von Duczynska, 1914. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

An explanation of signal-to-noise ratio

Monday, March 10, 2008

In Dreams

I heard a piece on NPR today about this website, where people can post their dreams about Clinton and Obama--not their "I Have a Dream" dreams, nor their "Dear God, weren't these people supposed to get us out of Iraq?" nightmares, but actual sleepytime dreams.

I can remember only one dream that featured a politician. It happened years ago. I was playing volleyball with Fidel Castro. The game was called on account of a plague of flies. (I am not making this up.) There was something about a helicopter, too, but that part's pretty fuzzy.

I'm not even sure we can call Fidel a politician, but he's the best I can do. It's just as well. The rulers of the world are annoying enough when I'm awake.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Something beautiful for Monday

Beauty is momentary in the mind —
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.

The body dies; the body's beauty lives.
So evenings die, in their green going,
A wave, interminably flowing.
So gardens die, their meek breath scenting
The cowl of winter, done repenting.
So maidens die, to the auroral
Celebration of a maiden's choral.

Susanna's music touched the bawdy strings
Of those white elders; but, escaping,
Left only Death's ironic scraping.
Now, in its immortality, it plays
On the clear viol of her memory,
And makes a constant sacrament of praise.

From "Peter Quince at the Clavier" by Wallace Stevens. Read the complete poem here.

Susanna and the Elders (detail), Tintoretto, c. 1555. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

The story of Susanna and the Elders in the Book of Daniel is here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I'm not feeling any less snarky about International Women's Day ...

but I was still happy to click over to Counterpunch today and see a fine article by a woman on the front page. JoAnn Wypijewski is a great journalist, and nobody does a better job of detangling the twisted skeins of class and gender in this country. Read her excellent analysis of Billary here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

March 8 is International Women's Day

There, there ... don't feel sad, guys. Maybe in your next life you can be a woman, and get a whole day just for you.

Pallas and the Centaur, Sandro Botticelli, 1482.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

"...the world has become a museum"

Then wind cheered like a hero in the tackle of the standing ships
And hurled them bravely on the swords and lances of the wintry sea—
While wisdom turned to salt upon the broken piers.

This is the way the ministers have killed the truth,
our daughter,
Steps lead back into the rooms we fear to enter;
Our minds are bleaker than the hall of mirrors:

And the world has become a museum.

From Iphigenia: Politics by Thomas Merton, 1944. Read the complete poem here.
The myth of Iphigenia can be found here.

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, Jan Havicksz. Steen, 1671 (detail). Image from Rijksmuseum.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Okay, it's official

I saw birdsfoot violets in bloom during my walk this morning.

And the bluebirds are courting.

It's definitely spring.

Bluebird photo by John Koscinski from Black River Audubon Society.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

It's a thin line between love and hate

Do you ever think about how much erotic feeling there is behind women's bitchiness about each other's looks? I've been thinking around the issue ever since I wrote the post last week about BBW feminism. Straight women's fascination with other women's bodies, especially when it has a negative cast, is a very curious phenomenon.

It's usually written off as envy, and that's surely a part of it, but envy doesn't explain why women will attack--viciously--other women who are older or less attractive, and clearly no threat to them. When I was in college it wasn't unusual to hear cruel remarks from students about female professors' lack of allure--and this was at a women's college that prided itself on its feminist values! Some of that was the natural tendency to cut down an authority figure, but there was definitely a charged gender element behind it as well. Of course, the flip side happens, too. I hear women my age and older make catty insults about young girls, and it always seems bizarre. Surely those of us in late middle age aren't competing in the same sexual arena as teenagers. If we are, somebody probably needs to call the police, or a good therapist. (For the record, I won't say I've never been guilty of ragging on another woman's looks, but my unkindness usually takes other forms.)

No, I think there's something a lot more powerful than envy going on. I think it's desire--or rather, the fear of desire. It's always seemed to me that the straight women who are least able to acknowledge their sexual feelings for other women are harshest in their judgments. They're the female version of the hypermasculine man, defending their own tender psyches from any lurking suspicion of homo tendencies. That natural erotic interest we feel, at least to some small degree, in everybody around us scares some people to death, especially when it locks in on an unacceptable target.

In fairness, libidinal attachment to unlikely people can be surprising and unsettling, even if you aren't hung up about the issue. Or think you aren't. There's a woman I see out running occasionally who's just a little younger than me, but she has a body most 20-year-olds would covet. She's tall and slender, with the most incredible legs I have ever seen. I don't know her at all, but I've always been very aware of admiring her looks, and envying her a little. I wouldn't have said I was attracted to her, though I certainly get my share of girl crushes. I saw her on a recent warm day, in shorts for the first time in months, and I immediately noticed that she was ever-so-slightly less toned than usual. Maybe she was having a bloat day, maybe she'd put on a half pound of winter weight, maybe I was imagining things. In any case, she looked marginally less perfect to me. As soon as I realized I was evaluating her body, I also became aware that I felt disappointed. In other words, I was reacting exactly like a lover, or would-be lover. It kinda shocked me, because, as I said, I wasn't aware of having a thing for her. It just crept up on me. Now, I'm okay with having a thing for her (lord knows what she would think about it), but if I were the type that isn't okay girls pairing up, I can see how I might react with hostility, even cruelty.

Anyway, it's all just something to keep in mind the next time you hear a bitchfest about a botoxed face or sagging breasts.

Jupiter and Callisto, Peter Paul Rubens, 1613. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Downies everywhere

There's a thunderstorm blowing in right now, but the weather here was beautiful today--sunny and about 70 degrees. It's definitely spring. Not much is blooming yet, except for the daffodils, but all the critters are out and about. I even saw a bullfrog poking his head up beside the pond.

The birds all seem to be courting, especially the downy woodpeckers. We always have plenty of them around here, but there are scads of them this year. It's odd how bird populations seem to cycle. One year there'll be a glut of, say, bluejays, the next it's wrens, then thrashers, and so on. I can often pinpoint a cause for the shifts that happen around my house. For instance, we've lost most of our owls and pileated woodpeckers because a nearby housing development took out a lot of old trees. On the other hand, our thrasher population has rebounded because the feral cat population has declined, which is mostly thanks to the coyotes.

Anyway, this seems to be the year of the downy woodpecker, especially in two of the parks where I walk. I've seen one pair after another the past few days. Downy males are famously unchivalrous. They'll often chase their own mates away from a food source, but during the spring honeymoon period that competitiveness is put aside, and you'll see males and females happily feeding close together. They'll creep along a tree within inches of each other, looking like little tuxedoed mice--it's very cute.

All woodpeckers are marvels of biological engineering, but the downy seems particularly impressive. It's so tiny, just about 6 inches long, and has a small beak, but it still manages to harvest its food from the same trees where big pileateds feed. Chalotte Hilton Green has a great description of how they do it in her book, Birds of the South**, in a passage headed (no kidding), "Tongue a Marvelous Mechanism."

"It would seem almost impossible for the downy to get the grub out of this small hole, but he can extend his long tongue far beyond the beak, and its tip is hard and thorny and covered with short, backward-slanting hooks acting like a spear, which, when thrust into the grub, pulls it out easily. The slender bones that support this long tongue slide in a muscular sheath that extends around the back of the head and over the crown. Apparently ... it is the contraction of these muscles which pushes the bones down and forward."[181]

I don't have much interest in grubs, but just once I'd like to fish an olive out of a martini that way.

**(University of North Carolina Press, 1933, 1995)

Photo from Wikipedia