Thursday, July 31, 2008

The things with fur, feather and scales have moved

For reasons that are not entirely clear even to me, I have decided to start a second blog for my nature posts. The perfume, poetry, antique smut, politics, music, etc. will all stay here at BitterGrace Notes. I may occasionally double-post something that seems to cross categories, but for the most part I'll just link to stuff at the new blog. I've just put up my first post about a very critter-rich morning on the trail--you can read it here.

One Sentence Perfume Review: Narcisse Blanc, Caron

Like a Vestal Virgin with a passionate heart--pure, yet very much of this world.

Notes per Perfume Shrine Caron page: Orange blossom, Neroli, Petitgrain, Orange, Jasmine, Rose, Linden, Iris, Amber, Musk

Porträt einer Dame als Vestalin, Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807). Image from Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No time to post today...

but I saw a sweet little garter snake on the trail this morning, so I thought I'd throw up a snake video. This one features a very pretty, mellow pair of cottonmouths, aka water moccasins. I'd much rather enjoy these guys on YouTube than meet them in person.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Herzog in Antarctica

When I was 7 years old, my grandmother gave me a book for Christmas, an encyclopedia of natural history that had beautiful, full-page photographs. I loved the book, but there was one picture that terrified me. It was the tip of an iceberg--that's all, just a big chunk of ice sticking up out of the ocean. It scared me so badly because I'd had a recurring nightmare about drowning in icy water. Whenever I looked at the book I was careful to turn past that picture without letting my eye fall on it. If I really wanted to read the facing page, I'd cover the photograph with a piece of paper. In 8th grade I had a geography book with a similar photo, and even though I hadn't had the nightmare in years, the image evoked a feeling of panic and helplessness, and I did the same ritual of avoiding the page. The fear still lingers in the back of my mind, one of those low maintainence phobias that real life is very unlikely to trigger.

So, needless to say, Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World was a pretty intense experience for me, especially the long, exquisite sequences filmed under the Antarctic ice. There was a brief moment in the early part of the film when my heart started to race, and I wondered whether I would be able to stick it out. Fortunately, Herzog's unmistakable voice doing the narration was enough of a distraction to keep me in my seat--a good thing, because this film is classic Herzog, and I'd hate to have let my little hang-up deprive me of seeing it.

Humans' relationship with nature has always been a central theme--maybe the central theme--of Herzog's work; Encounters makes it the whole story. There's no lead character, just a cast of eccentrics who've each taken a unique route to the bottom of the planet. Antarctica itself is the star of the movie, and Herzog uses the scientists, wanderers and philosophers who inhabit it as vehicles to explore its essence.

Like every Herzog film I've ever seen, this one seemed in serious danger of going off the rails about halfway through. It started meandering between narrative threads, segments ended awkwardly, the narration got vague and apparently pointless. As always, my reward for hanging in there with Werner was a denouement that left me both deeply moved and thinking furiously about my place in the world. As Dave pointed out, Herzog has read his Heidegger, especially The Letter on Humanism.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jeffers, the antidote to Longfellow

Here is the skull of a man: a man’s thoughts and emotions
Have moved under the thin bone vault like clouds
Under the blue one: love and desire and pain,
Thunderclouds of wrath and white gales of fear
Have hung inside here: and sometimes the curious desire of knowing
Values and purpose and the causes of things
Has coasted like a little observer air-plane over the images
That filled this mind: it never discovered much,
And now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell.

From "De Rerum Virtute" by Robinson Jeffers. Complete text at Poetry Foundation.

"Love gives itself, but is not bought"

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

The rising moon has hid the stars;
Her level rays, like golden bars,
Lie on the landscape green,
With shadows brown between.

And silver white the river gleams,
As if Diana, in her dreams,
Had dropt her silver bow
Upon the meadows low.

On such a tranquil night as this,
She woke Endymion with a kiss,
When, sleeping in the grove,
He dreamed not of her love.

Like Dian's kiss, unasked, unsought,
Love gives itself, but is not bought;
Nor voice, nor sound betrays
Its deep, impassioned gaze.

It comes,—the beautiful, the free,
The crown of all humanity,—
In silence and alone
To seek the elected one.

It lifts the boughs, whose shadows deep
Are Life's oblivion, the soul's sleep,
And kisses the closed eyes
Of him who slumbering lies.

O weary hearts! O slumbering eyes!
O drooping souls, whose destinies
Are fraught with fear and pain,
Ye shall be loved again!

No one is so accursed by fate,
No one so utterly desolate,
But some heart, though unknown,
Responds unto his own.

Responds,—as if with unseen wings,
An angel touched its quivering strings;
And whispers, in its song,
"Where hast thou stayed so long?"

From The Yale Book of American Verse, 1912, via

Endymion. Effet de lune, Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767-1824). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The myth of Endymion

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Something to get you ready for the weekend

This is Muddy Waters, with James Cotton on the harmonica. One of the comments at YouTube said it perfectly: ""Simply the shit." If this doesn't rev you up, nothing will.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I went to bed last night feeling crappy--suspiciously crappy. You know, the kind of crappiness that makes you wonder if you're coming down with the flu, or if you're going to wake up in the night with a case of food poisoning. This morning I felt no better. I was shaky, had a headache, butterflies in my stomach, rapid heartbeat, etc.

Still, I got myself together and went to the park to hike because, frankly, it's a compulsion and I just can't stop myself. If I can crawl out of bed and I don't have some other commitment that absolutely prevents it, I'm gonna get outside in the morning. There have been plenty of times that I've gotten a half mile down the trail and thought, This is stupid. You're sick / exhausted / have a million things to do. Forget this and go home. But I almost never do, and I'm always happy when I don't.

Today was no exception. I was walking a route that's about 4 miles long, with a good resting place right at the midpoint. The first half went mighty slow and I truly felt like shit. I stopped and sat under a tree for a while, dreading the rest of the walk. I was watching a daddy longlegs and wondering how long it would be before the ants and ticks started to find me when the magic happened, right on schedule. The headache eased, the shaking subsided and I began to feel halfway human. I got up and finished my hike, pleased and grateful for the cure.

I wish I understood what it is about just clocking time outdoors that has this comforting power. It's not the exercise. Gyms and aerobics classes have the opposite effect on me: I enter feeling fine and wind up in need of a fainting couch. At times I think it's the beauty of the outdoors, but let's face it, the forest is not always beautiful. Right now it's hot, muggy, swarming with flies and mosquitoes, overrun with poison ivy--and it even smells bad. During hot, dry spells there's a sour odor of decay that rises up in the woods. All that should make hiking a misery, yet it never does.

I know I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but just accept it and be thankful for it. I wish everybody could share a little of the bliss I get from my addiction.

Diana Huntress, Master of the Fontainebleau School, 1550-60. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Monday, July 21, 2008

It's not you, it's me

As always, I currently have a perfume wish list a mile long: Neil Morris Intimate Lily and Quest, Miller Harris Jasmin Vert, full bottles of Hové Flame and maybe Fascinator--I could go on all day. And that's just the reasonable stuff. I'm not even getting into pie-in-the-sky desires like vintage Ma Griffe parfum.

Unfortunately, I won't be getting any of it anytime soon, unless I win the lottery.

Last Friday I broke down and bought a new carbon fiber violin bow for $375. I already had a perfectly good pernambuco bow, for which I paid considerably more 4 years ago. It's an Arcos Brasil, which I saw described in an online forum as "the Toyota Camry of the bow world"-- i.e., reliable, not too pricey, etc. Good pernambuco bows are the traditional choice for people who are serious about playing, and even though I was a rank beginner at the time, I figured I'd go ahead and get a decent bow while I was shelling out money for a violin.

Sadly, the pernambuco bow and I never got along. I had no idea what I was doing when I chose it, and I could never get it to perform quite the way I wanted it to. It wobbled, it dragged, it bounced. I had it re-haired several times, trying to solve the problem. My teacher, who is an apprentice luthier and more savvy than a lot of players about such issues, kept examining it, always saying, "Well, it seems okay to me."

And it is okay, of course. It just hates me. Actually, I don't think it hates me, I think it holds me in contempt. I'm not good enough for it, even if it is the aesthetic equivalent of a stolid sedan. I can't give it what it needs. I'm not strong enough, I lack finesse. I leave it feeling unfulfilled. We just can't work it out.

When my teacher encouraged me to try the carbon fiber bow, I didn't expect much. She'd suggested different bows before, and it never seemed to help. They couldn't love me, either. But the CodaBow was a different story--so sweet and forgiving. Never a trace of attitude. It did everything I asked. There's still much I don't know how to ask, but I think it will be kind to me as I learn. So I decided to take the plunge and settle down with it.

The pernambuco is still with me. I'm hoping that someday I can return to it, when I'm more worthy of its gifts. When that day comes, I'm sure the CodaBow will understand.

Photo of a Brazilwood (Pernambuco) tree in Sao Paulo from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It made me happy to read this...

so I thought I'd share it. This is Susan Stryker recounting her thoughts before speaking at the 4th Annual Trans March and Rally in San Francisco, June 2007:

"Even after being in the transgender scene for so long, I found the crowd a bewitching spectacle: brilliantly tattooed, biologically female queer femme women and the trans guys who used to be their dyke girlfriends; straight-looking male-to-female transsexuals with nail salon manicures sitting side by side with countercultural transsexual women sporting face jewelry, dreadlocks, and thrift-store chic; lithe young people of indeterminate gender; black bulldaggers, white fairies, Asian queens, Native two-spirits; effeminate trannyfags and butch transsexual lesbians; kids of parents who had changed sex and parents who supported their kids' rejection of the labels their society had handed them. Some people walked around in fetish gear, some in chain-store khakis or floral-print sundresses from the discount clothing outlet; most wore the casually androgynous style of clothing that is the cultural norm. Vive la différence, I thought as I stepped up to the mike and surveyed the beautiful range of human diversity spread out on the grass before me. Live and let live."

From Transgender History, Susan Stryker (Seal Press, 2008) 29.

Constantine's Sword

On Saturday Dave and I went to see this documentary, based on James Carroll's book of the same name. I haven't read the book, but I was eager to see the film based on reviews I'd read, and on the trailer below. Carroll traces the linked origins of Christian militarism and anti-Semitism, and confronts the question of whether there's something fundamental to Christianity--or to religion generally--that fosters hatred and violence. It's a question that is discussed at our house pretty often. Dave is a believing, church-going Christian. I was raised a Christian, and although I value some of the ways it shaped me, I abandoned the faith a long time ago. I'll never call myself a Christian again.

I wish I could say that the film is great, but unfortunately it's got some major structural problems. Carroll's ideas get confused as the film struggles to create a coherent historical narrative. In spite of that, segments of the film are very powerful, especially those that explore the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. Dave and I wound up discussing it during the entire hour-long ride home, so it's at least thought-provoking, whatever its flaws.

I went hunting for more info on Carroll this afternoon, and found this taped interview with him, in which he lays out his ideas more succinctly, if less dramatically, than the film does. It's well worth the 20 minutes, if you're at all interested in the subject.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"I pursu'd a maiden and clasp'd a reed"

I sang of the dancing stars,
I sang of the daedal Earth,
And of Heaven, and the giant wars,
And Love, and Death, and Birth—
And then I chang'd my pipings,
Singing how down the vale of Maenalus
I pursu'd a maiden and clasp'd a reed.
Gods and men, we are all deluded thus!
It breaks in our bosom and then we bleed.
All wept, as I think both ye now would,
If envy or age had not frozen your blood,
At the sorrow of my sweet pipings.

From "Hymn of Pan" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Complete text at Poetry Foundation

Pan and Syrinx, Peter Paul Rubens, 1617-1619. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Myth of Pan and Syrinx

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just a moment

I was out in the yard this afternoon to fill the bird feeders and I noticed the hummingbirds darting in and out of the branches of our mimosa tree, which is in full bloom right now. I walked over to watch them, and realized there were a dozen or more tiger swallowtail butterflies daintly moving among the blossoms.

It was such a beautiful moment--the fragile butterflies, the chattering hummers, the sweet scent of the mimosa--I felt as if I'd been given a gift.

Photo of mimosa blossoms (albizia julibrisin) uploaded by Fanghong at Wikimedia Commons

Swallowtail butterfly photo Copyright 2005 by Sulfur from Wikipedia

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mommy and me

I caught a glimpse of my mother in a department store mirror the other day. There she was—her loose, energetic walk, her vaguely blissful expression, the distinctive tilt of her head.

It was me, of course.

Middle-aged women are supposed to be horrified when they see themselves morphing into their mothers, but I can’t say I mind it much. My mother is an attractive person. She’s in her seventies now, and she’s still lively and curious. She goes dancing every weekend with her boyfriend, who’s a bit younger than her. He’s got a few dozen acres of land out in the sticks, where the two of them have separate houses but a shared existence. They enjoy a menagerie of dogs, goats and chickens, and while neither of them has a lot of money, they’re happy and do as they please. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I could do a lot worse than to end up like my mother.

Still, it was a shock to see her looking back at me in the mirror, because I’ve always been so certain that I’m nothing like my mother. Physically, we’re built on completely different models. We have the same dark eyes—and, alas, the same freckles—but there the resemblance ends. From my soft facial features to my long skinny feet, I am unmistakably my father’s child. Neither of us is a bombshell, but my mother has always been very attractive to men. Even now they follow her around like puppies. I have never had that problem, although actual puppies do seem to find me alluring.

In personality and temperament, we might as well be different species. My mother is charming, caring, a people pleaser who loves attention. She’s no doormat, but she’s prone to hero worship. I am a bookish introvert, soft-hearted but basically selfish, and (my father’s influence again) I’ve got an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide. My mother is a natural mediator, whereas I am opinionated and argumentative. One of her favorite sayings is, “There’s always a happy medium.” You would have to hold a gun to my head to get me to say that.

Still, there’s obviously some powerful genetic inheritance from her that is beginning to show itself as I age. It’s strange to be reminded that characteristics we think of as profoundly our own—even something as individual as a facial expression—are built into our DNA; stranger still to think that they can be wired to hide themselves for decades, emerging when the organism hits just the right level of decay. Not that I’m complaining. As genetic time bombs go, a quirky walk beats the hell out of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Like I said, I’ll be happy to have an old age like my mother’s—and who knows? I may yet find out what it’s like to have men follow me around like puppies.

Peggy Shippen (wife of Benedict Arnold) and Daughter, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1790-1830). Image from Wikimedia Commons. There's an interesting old article about Arnold and Shippen here

One Sentence Perfume Review: Cuir Mauresque, Serge Lutens

Sweet, fanciful, endearingly musky--the scent of your childhood dream pony.

Notes per Bois de Jasmin: amber, myrrh, burnt styrax, incense, cinnamon, aloe wood, cedar, civet, nutmeg, clove, cumin, musk, mandarin peel, orange blossom

Cybis Studio porcelain figurine, "Satin." Read a profile of Boleslaw Cybis here.

(Yes, regular readers, Cuir Mauresque is making a repeat appearance, with a fresh pony--it's even better the second time around.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Could she be any more adorable?

This is Helen Humes singing with Count Basie. I think her girlish voice, sweet face and plush body are irresistible. She's instant happiness. Enjoy.

(You can read a bio of Humes here.)

PS. Dave, who's the saxophone player?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"until the whole field is a white desire..."

Queen-Anne’s Lace
by William Carlos Williams

Her body is not so white as
anemony petals nor so smooth—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over—
or nothing.

From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume I, 1909-1939. Text via Poetry Foundation.

Woman on a Black Divan, Jean-Jacques Henner, 1865. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

No post today

It's getting late and I really need to practice. If I don't start giving a little more love and attention to my violin, I should find it a new home. Those in desperate need of a time-waster can go here for a sad story about Nashville.

St. Cecilia, Domenichino, 1617-1618. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sometimes I think America has a monopoly on neurotic puritanism...

and then I see a story like this one from Australia. Certain people there, including Kevin Rudd, are all hot and bothered over what must be the most boring, un-titillating picture of a naked child ever put on public view.

Honestly, the thought process behind their outrage is a mystery to me--perhaps because there isn't one. Do these idiots actually believe there are scads of repressed pedophiles out there ready to morph into slavering sexual predators at the mere sight of prepubescent skin? Maybe we should cover little boys and girls with burkhas. Then they'll all be perfectly safe. Just ask the women of Afghanistan.

The worst thing about this nudity=porn mentality is that it murders beauty. Children are exquisite beings, it's a joy to look at them. Yes, there is a sensual pleasure attached to that experience, just as there is sensuality in sniffing a flower or watching a horse run. I suppose that pleasure exists along a continuum with frank sexual arousal but that doesn't make it the same thing.

Most people understand that (check out the comments on the article), but unfortunately the ones who don't seem to be ruling the world at the moment. Anti-pornography lunatics are popping up everywhere these days, even in Moonbatland.

It's very disturbing, but here's hoping the hysteria passes. Meanwhile, this blog will do its bit to promote more "disgusting" art. These are for Mr. Rudd.

Madonna and Child, Cornelius Van Haarlem, 1617

Prince Heinrich Lubomirski as the Genius of Fame, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1789

Venus and Cupid at Vulcan's Forge (detail), Palma Giovane, c.1610

The Bather, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1792

*The title of this post originally made reference to "puritanical morons," but since I took a commenter to task elsewhere for calling me a moron, I decided I should practice what I preach. The new title doesn't have quite the same punch, alas.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Spider therapy

I took a long hike this morning along a trail that's always deserted. It's a beautiful trail, but a little out of the way for casual walkers. It's narrow and descends into a hollow that's a popular hangout for woodpeckers and turkeys. It's also got a sizable population of mosquitoes and aggressive flies, which is another reason I usually have it to myself. Running the gauntlet of insects is worth it for the solitude, and there's another reward waiting once I get past them: a little lake where I can sit and watch the sunrise. The lake was covered in mist this morning and could not have been more beautiful.

As I got up to head back down the trail, I saw a large spider web just at the tree line. It had been invisible to me until the sun was high enough to illuminate it. The little orb weaver was still expanding it, so I stopped for a while to watch her. There is something hypnotic about watching a spider at work. Observing the combination of grace, strength and perfectly ordered instinct focuses my mind like nothing else. A spider web is ordinary, insignificant, ephemeral, and yet it's a revelation of the essence of animal existence. It's impossible to be anxious or angry in the presence of a busy spider.

I can't capture that moment by the lake for you but here's a nice video of a web in progress. Watch and admire. It just might make Monday a little easier to take.

How we celebrate

Here's Dave's account of our July 4th observance, from an email he sent to some business colleagues:

"Maria and I started off the evening at a gathering hosted by one of our friends. They have a compound—a bunch of cabins—overlooking the Harpeth River, one of the local tributaries. We wrapped up there and headed back to the house to set off my fireworks, and when we rolled into our place it sounded like Sadr City. All around us people were shooting off stuff, some of it with an impressive caliber, explosions and crackling, and streams of sparks flying through the air. I think gas prices are encouraging people to put a few bucks into fireworks and stay close to home. I poured myself a Jack Daniels—mixing explosives and alcohol is simply a requirement hereabouts—and set off the goodies I purchased at one of the tents that pop up just across the line from Nashville-Davidson County, where fireworks are illegal. Of course as far out as I live, there are relatively few restrictions on what you can fire or blow up, as long as it’s not aimed at someone in particular."

We may be blue (more like violet, actually) in a red state, but we still appreciate alcohol, gunpowder and the slave labor of China. Who says moonbats aren't real Americans?

Friday, July 4, 2008

"Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand"


by Claude McKay (1889-1948)

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Text from Poetry Foundation. There's a lengthy bio of McKay here.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I haven't been linking to my reviews lately,

mostly because the books either didn't thrill me or didn't seem like the sort of thing that would interest you guys. But since I've already inflicted one political post on you today, I'll go all out and send you here to read my review of a book on the history of feminism in the U.S. Sounds dry, I know, but it's actually a pretty lively little book. If you can overlook the occasional excess earnestness of the third wave academic who wrote it, it delivers a nice slug of sisterhood. Plus, it gave me a chance to bitch in print about both George Bush and Hillary Clinton. What more could a book critic ask for?

Silence is bias

This story about a Palestinian running amok with a bulldozer is, predictably, all over the U.S. media today. Every act of violence against Israeli citizens is covered here as if it had happened in downtown Des Moines. Meanwhile, this story about a Palestinian journalist tortured by Israeli security as he tried to return to Gaza has gotten almost no attention at all in the U.S., except along the moonbat circuit of bloggers, Democracy Now!, etc. Yahoo News did run this brief Reuters story, which makes the incident sound more trivial than it was.

What happened to Omer happens to Palestinians every day. The mainstream American media never covers it, so events such as the bus attack seem like mindless violence, arising from some kind of congenital terrorist impulse among Palestinians. Selective silence creates a gross bias in U.S. reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and feeds the reflexive pro-Israel attitude that holds sway here.

Of course, attacks on civilians are atrocities and nothing can justify them--but it's important to remember that actions have causes. Note, from Pilger's column, the events of Omer's own life:

The eldest of eight, Mohammed has seen most of his siblings killed or wounded or maimed. An Israeli bulldozer crushed his home while the family were inside, seriously injuring his mother.

His story is not unusual. Here is an Amnesty International press release from earlier this year about the ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes.

I am not suggesting that the bulldozer attack is poetic justice, only that no one should find it surprising.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sometimes I crave McCoy Tyner

The music, I mean, not the man--though he is nice to look at, IMO. Anyway, when I am in a certain mood, the sound of Tyner's wicked virtuosity is irresistible. Here he is playing the hell out of Coltrane's "Mr. P.C."