November 22: On Friday 15 November, I attended Željko Jergan's Croatian folk dance workshop at the Hamilton International Folk Dance Club at St. Paul's Anglican Church in Westdale. Željko taught the dances Prosijala Sjajna Mjesečina (from Moslavina); Moslavački Drmeš (Moslavina); Pet Je Kumi (Međimurje); Sviračko Kolo (Kordun; my favourite); Djevojčica Ruže Brala (Zagorje; vocal only, which I like, but the steps are irregular in rhythm and hard to retain in the memory, as Željko was teaching fast); and, as a bonus, some women's dance steps and scarf motions from Vranje in southern Serbia (co-demonstrated by Bata Marčetić, who'd showed up unexpectedly, to our delight). Željko said he'd learned the Vranje dance while serving in the Yugoslav Army (which he called the Serbian Army). When this dance is done as part of a suite, the whole thing is often called Igre iz Vranje (Dances from Vranje) or Vranjanska Svita (Vranje Suite) and can be so seen on YouTube. Our recreational dance Šano Dušo is sometimes part of this suite.
Željko's son Zach was on hand to sell CDs and DVDs. I said, "This must be boring for you," but being a well-mannered young man, he said, "No, no," and that he had his laptop with him to do school work.
Željko told us he'd be teaching dances from the current CD, Resonance of Croatia, for the next few years. It was a very well-attended and high-energy workshop, with many dancers from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Hamilton leader Stefania Szlek Miller persuaded Željko to do with us a number of dances he'd taught in past years, among them Moj Dragane (from Lika) and Nabrale Je (Međimurje), both of which have remained in our repertoire.
November 12: Last night I went to the new location for Balfolk Toronto (1484 Dundas St. W., on the corner of Dufferin) to do some French dancing and was sorry to see that the attendance was down quite a lot, compared to the old location (which was a little more central, and close to a subway stop). However, it is a very nice group of people, and it's always great to dance to live music (provided by some members of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra). I was able to teach two dances, one of which was too hard for the attendees and one which was not, so perhaps the easier dance, a bourrée à trois temps that doesn't require partners and is done in a circle, will have some staying power. But the attendance will have to pick up or I fear for the future of this very worthwhile endeavour (which I've written about previously; see the 14th paragraph in my blog entry of 27 October or just search for "Balfolk Toronto" on this page). I'm afraid I can't do much to help the attendance, as I can rarely go; the only reason I was free last night was because, as a civil servant, I got Remembrance Day off.
November 5: From my costume collection comes this vest from one of my favourite regions of Turkey, both dance- and costume-wise: the western Black Sea (Batı Karadeniz), a region that includes the municipalities of Abana, Amasya, Bartın, Bolu, Çankırı, Cide, Çorum, Düzce, Eskipazar, İnebolu, Karabük, Karadeniz Ereğli, Kastamonu, Kocaeli, Safranbolu, Sakarya, Tokat and Zonguldak.
Bartın, Karadeniz Ereğli, Safranbolu and Zonguldak wore very similar clothing, so this vest (made of woven, embroidered and tufted silk) could hail from any one of them. (Historical aside: The place name Ereğli [formerly Erekli] is derived from the Ancient Greek Ἡράκλεια [Herakleia]—in Latin, Heraclea or Heraclia. "Karadeniz" is the Turkish for "Black Sea.")
At top is a detail of the vest front that shows off its amazing 3-D quality as well as a colour palette that's one I adore. Above left is the full vest, and below right is the back of the vest, which is quite plain because a short jacket or long coat was usually worn over it, especially in winter. For an idea of the full costume (from an ensemble that doesn't sport much blue/purple but is from the same region), see my blog entry of 14 March 2012 and look at the costume pictured on the far right of three. The model is wearing a modern hat, headscarf and satin pants, but the rest of the costume is original.
The vest can be worn by men or women. In total, I have about eight full women's costumes from Bartın, Karadeniz Ereğli, Safranbolu and Zonguldak; one authentic man's; and two modern men's reproductions. From other areas in Batı Karadeniz, I have four women's ensembles—quite different from what's shown above, as they're from bridal parties in Bolu—plus assorted pieces from Amasya, Çorum, Kastamonu and Tokat.
My blog entries for October 2nd and 1st dealt with costume pieces from the eastern Black Sea, in particular Trabzon. The western and eastern Black Sea regions have little in common when it comes to costumes, in particular of women.
October 27: This long blog entry is about French folk dance. If you get through it (and even if you don't), there'll be some rewards in the next post, because coming up are two special opportunities to learn French dance that I'd like to publicize. And towards the bottom of this post is information about weekly French dancing in Toronto.
On the August long weekend in 2012, the Toronto-Hamilton band called Bourrée à Trois first played the Mill Race Festival in Cambridge, Ontario. The band was called "à Trois" as a double play on words: It had three members—Andrea Haddad, Robin Aggus and Sandra Spencer—and in its repertoire was the "Bourrée à trois temps" (three-count bourrée) from central France. I was unable to dance with Bourrée à Trois in 2012 as I was out of town, but in 2013 Andrea asked me if I could not only get a performance group together but lead/teach a Bal Folk evening—about which, more in a moment—as she'd pitched to the Mill Race organizers the notion of showing and teaching the dances that went with the music that the band was playing, and the idea had been approved. (What had not been approved was a budget to properly support this activity.)
As an aside, I'd worked with Andrea and Sandra to present French dance around Ontario since at least 1998. At that point, Andrea and Sandra had called themselves Bourrée à Deux. (There is also a "Bourrée à deux temps" rhythm in central France. Pretty good with monikers, is Andrea.)
Run by the all-volunteer Mill Race Folk Society, the Mill Race Festival of Traditional Folk Music has been going since 1993 but is still under the radar for most international folk dancers, in part because there's so little dancing. The festival is held about an hour's drive west of Toronto in the charming downtown core of the former city of Galt, now part of Cambridge. Galt was founded in the 19th century as a Scottish community, as the numerous Presbyterian churches attest. (My favourite: Central Presbyterian Church [pictured right], founded in 1880, and located cater-corner to Knox's Galt Presbyterian Church; both were constructed in neo-Gothic style.)
Andrea Haddad and Sandra Spencer of Toronto play the thousand-year-old instrument we call the hurdy-gurdy (the French term is vielle à roue), while Robin Aggus of Hamilton plays the traditional French bagpipe (cabrette). They also do excursions on button accordion, flute and saxophone. Guitar and percussion player Brandon Besharah, who swells the number of musicians in the ensemble to four when he's available, was unexpectedly not available for Mill Race owing to a family emergency. But Yann Falquet, a member of the Quebec folk group Genticorum, kindly filled in for Brandon when approached by Andrea, an old friend. (The other members of Genticorum, which is pictured left performing on Sunday 4 August, are Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand and Pascal Gemme.) I first encountered Genticorum at the festival Chants de vielles in Calixa Lavallée, Quebec, many years ago, and I'm a great admirer.
The one dancer who regularly works with Andrea is me. If I need other dancers, I call on friends or put out appeals. To accompany me at Mill Race, I asked an international folk dancer friend, Cornelia Nita; a volunteer was Marilyn Baxter, a friend of Robin Aggus's who dances with an Irish group in Hamilton; and the product of an appeal was Brad Peterson, who dances with the Guelph contra group Relative Harmony. Which added up to three women and one man, so I had to learn how to lead—couple dances done in ballroom position, such as waltzes and schottisches, require a leader—in a hurry. So I started training myself by observing good male leaders in YouTube videos. With the aid of Andrea, I was able to give Cornelia and Marilyn one lesson in what we'd be doing, in advance of Mill Race. But Brad was unavailable for our joint rehearsal, so I worked with him for a while about four hours before our first performance at 6 p.m. on Saturday 3 August. He knew how to lead, of course, but he was unfamiliar with the dances we were going to present. What we presented had already been dictated by (a) the melodies Bourrée à Trois knew, and (b) the size of the dance surface available to us in Cambridge. (The quality of the dance surface was soon to play an additional role.)
Our very first performance was impromptu. At 3 o'clock, Genticorum and Bourrée à Trois had a joint gig in the basement of the Naval Vets Hall. It was very small and very crowded and very hot, so I sat on the stairs to listen. Near the end of the set, Andrea announced that they would play the Breton dance An Dro, and inquired whether I was in the room. I propelled myself down the steps and soon found myself at the head of a line of about five people (one of them a woman from the audience who appeared delighted to join us; I'll have more to say about her later), leading a simple An Dro (meaning, no slow walking part or combination with Hanter Dro) in just the sort of small, crowded space that it would have been originally done in Brittany.
For our performance at 6 p.m., we donned costumes from the central French province of Berry. Parts of the ensemble had been bought from the folklore group Les Gâs du Berry by Andrea during her trip to France in July; the rest of it had been completed by me. (Les Gâs du Berry—which means "The Boys of the Berry"—had also offered Andrea something she declined: culottes fendue, which are women's underwear designed for easy peeing!) The Mill Race venue we then discovered we had to dance in gave us an "uh-oh" moment: rough flagstones in the Amphitheatre (originally a mill), which overlooked the Grand River. Nothing in this musical set, lasting half an hour, happened to be a line dance from Brittany; everything was a turning dance, done on a rough and uneven and completely unyielding surface. It was quite the challenge, but nobody fell flat on their face and it appeared that no injuries were sustained.
At 8 p.m., it was time for me to shine at the three-hour-long Bal Folk, which is a term whose meaning is easy to infer by folk dancers who've had some exposure to ballroom dancing. Bal Folk is popular social dancing from Western Europe that's a recent revival of traditional, mostly French, folk dances. It's popular not only in Europe but increasingly in North America. Cornelia, Marilyn and Brad were with me, out of costume and, as it turned out, underdressed for the cold wind blowing off the river. (We had progressed some dozens of metres downriver, from the Amphitheatre to the far end of a parking lot that had been covered by a tent.) The wind could be countered by dancing hard, but it was more of a challenge to prevail against the sloping, cracked asphalt of the parking lot, a surface that is also not conducive to turning dances. However, we could do circle and line dances as well to give our abused knees and ankles a break, and it turned into a great, high-energy evening. Lots of mothers and daughters and other people of all ages and ethnicities showed up, as did a man and woman who'd had plenty of dance experience, it was clear, because they took to the Bourrée à deux temps (my favourite dance) and the polka like nobody's business. But the icing on the cake for me was that woman with the delighted face who'd first joined us at the 3 p.m. gig, because when I sat down and talked with her (the band was taking a break), I discovered that she was a French immigrant who'd been born in the same city in eastern France—Metz—where I'd lived with my family in the mid-1960s. She was married to an English Canadian. We all talked in English; my French is not fluent enough to sustain an entire social conversation. In the excitement of what felt like a reunion with an old friend (yet a friend I'd never met and may never see again), I forgot to ask where she'd learned dances from Brittany. A dance I taught at the Bal Folk that was unfamiliar to her and that she loved was the mixer La Chapelloise (it did not originate in France but has been done there for about a century).
Yes, some festival-goers were following us around from venue to venue. We had fans! And the mothers and daughters showed up on Sunday 4 August at 6 p.m. (this time, we were dancing on cement) and asked us to autograph their program! One mother asked me if I taught, and I had to say that I wasn't local and didn't have my own class anyway, which was a disappointment, I could see.
Dancing on asphalt or cement is only a small step up from dancing on Velcro, but it's still safer than on the flagstones in the Amphitheatre, where, for the Sunday 3 p.m. half-hour performance, Robin suggested we not dance at all. I did get up briefly for the Israeli dance Zemer Atik, played by the band that preceded us, The Light of East Ensemble, but they terminated the music before we got well into the dance (first I had to persuade people to get up with me, 'cause I sure wasn't doing it alone, and besides, it's not a solo). The Light of East hadn't seen us dancing on the side, the leader later apologized to us. The band was doing a set of what they called Eastern European Music; I recognized a Yiddish tune as well as Erev Shel Shoshanim and could have improvised something to the music from Moldavia, Turkey and Greece had I not been so wary of those flagstones. But we couldn't risk injuring more dancers; our strength was down 50% as it was (Marilyn couldn't dance without a partner: Brad had suffered a bruised foot on Saturday), and we still had a 45-minute set to do later that day, so our musicians played without us. Oh, and Cornelia wrecked the heel on a pair of shoes, but fortunately she had a backup pair, because it was just her and me for that long set at 6, done in a tent with huge supporting poles, set at quite an angle, in front of the music stage. We danced on the side, because another thing I didn't want to risk was hitting a tentpole while spinning.
Earlier I mentioned that, over the course of the weekend, there was not much dancing at the Mill Race. Five Morris sides had two hours in total, and I've yet to observe that Morris dancing allows for audience participation. A young woman in a flamenco costume briefly shared a washroom with Cornelia and me while we were changing; I later saw her do belly dancing for The Light of East on a stage that was just large enough for her and the musicians. The rest of the tent was filled with chairs for the spectators and had no room for dancing by the audience, even had the band been expecting us to get up. (Aside: The Light of East, which is from London, Ontario and has performed on the CBC many times and twice before at Mill Race, is terrific. Their violinist in particular is a virtuoso-level player.)
There was lots more French dancing for me that summer. A Dutch band called Té arrived on tour, and one of its specialties is playing for Bal Folk. When it's at home, Té has three members, but when it's in Canada it has four, because Emilyn Stam plays fiddle for it. (Emilyn is also a member of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra.) In addition to playing at a festival outside Toronto on the same long weekend that Bourrée à Trois was in Cambridge, Té did many events inside Toronto in July. At their music and dance workshop and concert on July 27, I ran into musician Jan Hogg, whom I'd not seen for many years. The dances (taught by Té members) were for beginners, and included Cercle Circassien (Circassian Circle), La Chapelloise (they called it a Gigue, which is the tempo), and An Dro. During the concert a little later, they taught a Bourrée à trois temps. They didn't know a Bourrée à deux temps, even though Andrea, who was present, could play one, and I could certainly have taught the dance (Emilyn knew I was a teacher).
I saw Té at one more event before they returned to Europe: at a regular "Balfolk Toronto" evening on a Monday in early August at El Cafecito's Espresso Bar (Bloor/Dovercourt area). Lemon Bucket is the usual host of Balfolk Toronto, and with the addition of the Té musicians, the night was rockin'. However, the same dances were taught as on July 27, plus easy versions of a waltz, mazurka and schottische, so I learned nothing new. I was able to go once more (and guess which dances were taught), but with the addition of a Rond and of An Dro Retourné. Tangi Ropars, who is from Brittany and plays accordion for Lemon Bucket, did some of the teaching, and Emilyn did the rest. For a little variety, I asked for a Laridé à huit temps and a Gavotte des Montagnes (both from Brittany), and got them. Also in attendance at Monday nights in August were Fred Slater, Lisa Marie Krause and Raul Selberg, the Swedish teacher from the March 2012 OFDA café. Many young Ukrainian dancers habitually attended. It's a pity that just as I was learning people's names (Hi, Fernán! Hi, Ellen!) and the group started to feel like a family, I had to stop going as my work hours changed from days to evenings, and the only Monday nights I had off were, with a couple of exceptions (such as Remembrance Day and Easter Monday), statutory holidays, when there was usually no dancing.
Andrea attended Balfolk Toronto on September 24, and reported, "There were about 20 people there including the musicians: a couple of fiddles, accordion, guitar, cello and a great clarinet. And me. The musicians arrived ... around 7:30 and played a bit. I taught them a few tunes. Then the dancers started coming. It was in full swing by 9 and we went till 11."
Sunday 29 September was "Not Just Your Average Balfolk Night" at the Monarch Tavern in Toronto, and included the three-member Montage dance band from Buffalo/Rochester, New York. Montage also plays contras and has a teacher, Werner Ceusters, attached for Bal Folk, and has often appeared at The Flurry festival, held annually in February in Saratoga Springs, NY. In 2013, it has been part of French dance events in Buffalo on February 8 and April 26, with another scheduled for November 2. Montage is one of three local (i.e., Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area–Buffalo) bands capable of playing Bal Folk/Fest Noz (the Breton name for the same kind of event). Andrea and I have talked to Montage accordionist Rachel Bell, who would love to do a joint event with us sometime, and we'd like it as well.
In early October, Balfolk Toronto lost the El Cafecito location, and there was a temporary hiatus until new space was found: the Hogtown Cure Deli and Café at 1484 Dundas W. (at Dufferin). I haven't been to the new location, but I understand that Andrea Haddad and Fred Slater go when they can. Dancing starts around 8 and goes till about 10:30; admission is "pay what you can." A problem with Balfolk Toronto is inadequate publicity; it has a Facebook page that is not updated frequently or much in advance of events, and neither is Emilyn Stam's website. So if Balfolk Toronto is cancelled due to, say, not enough musicians available (as it was, once), aspiring participants may not find out until they show up at the door of the venue.
To return to the month of August for a moment: Before the Sunday-at-6 set at the Mill Race Festival, Andrea was asked by a fan how many of us were French. The answer? None. So why were we interested? Why were we playing French music, singing French songs, performing French dances? Andrea had a reply that can't be bettered: "Because we hold France in our hearts."
October 4: Also still blooming well is the geranium at right, part of a planting (with two other species I cannot identify) that I rescued from certain doom at the local convenience store, whose owners possess astonishing black thumbs. (I was unable to save the lives of some grossly over-watered petunias from the same store.) Although I loathe handling geraniums because their stems and leaves have a strong smell I find unpleasant, I have enjoyed these deep red blooms, photographed today, for their vivid hue and for a sentimental reason: a close relative of mine was fond of the species.
October 3: This past summer, I didn't have as many flowering plants on my balcony as in years gone by, but still going strong is the heliotrope at right whose flowers were a uniform purple when purchased in 2011 but bloomed in a range that included orange, yellow, pink and red in 2012 and 2013. I believe that the potting soil I transplanted it into may have been responsible for the alterations in hue, but it really doesn't matter. I'm just happy it has become an old friend and is still brightening my surroundings as I compose, even though the begonias and primroses have long since pooped out. Research tells me that my species of heliotrope is Heliotropium arborescens, originally from Peru. Perhaps you can take the heliotrope out of Peru but you can't keep its purple-icity.
Why yes, I do think I write elegant prose. Why do you ask?
October 2: Hauled up from the depths of my magnanimity is, as tantalizingly promised yesterday, a woollen belt from Trabzon, Turkey, that would adorn a bride (a detail I didn't impart till now). The three parallelograms represent turtles—doubtless a fertility symbol in such a fishing-rich area as the Black Sea. The belt itself—beads, tassels, pom-poms, turtles and all—measures 411 cm (13.5 feet) in length and would encircle the bride's waist several times (it goes four times around mine). It's 3 cm wide for most of its length before blossoming out into the extravaganzas that adorn both ends, but turtles appear only on one end, as pictured.
October 1: From the Adorable Department of Complete Adorableness come these hand-knit woollen gloves from Trabzon, a port on the Black Sea in northeastern Turkey. (Trabzon was known as Trebizond in Byzantine times.)
If I didn't happen to be allergic to wool, I'd totally wear these in the street this winter. Instead, I'll just lay them away with the rest of the vintage woman's Trabzon costume I own. Women's costumes from the eastern Black Sea are the most modern in Turkey in terms of "traditional" elements: for example, a flounced skirt that reaches no farther than mid-calf. (The link above is to an interesting page on the people of this area, including costumes for men and women.) But these gloves, which I'd never seen before I spotted them on eBay, instantly captured my fancy, especially the thumbs: one fat and one lean.
In a future post, I may permit adventuresome visitors to espy a belt from Trabzon with turtles on it. (They'll be Turtles Without Thumbs, though. Sorry.)
September 30: From my costume collection come some examples of hand-made lace (called oya) on square scarves, all from western Turkey, that I've purchased recently. They represent varieties of flowers or trees.
At right is a cotton scarf from Aydın.
Next are two cotton scarves from Kütahya (which is northeast of Aydın and quite a bit inland), and they're accompanied by a story that I relay (with some emendations for clarity) in the words of the man who sold me them:
"The name of oya [is] 'ahretlik.' If two baby (girls) [are] born on same day in same village, they [are] said to [be] ahretlik: they must be good friends and they help with [all] work. When one of them gets married, at wedding the other girl make this oya—two flowers [on] oya are two girls—and gives the girl [the bride] at henna day. She wears [the] scarf at henna day. When the other one get married, the other one do the same thing."
Although the first Kütahya scarf pictured is green, I do not believe that the scarf colour matters, as in, "The first girl to marry gets a green scarf." Henna day (also called henna night) features a ceremony that includes placing henna dye on the bride, and takes place the day/night before the wedding.
Above is the second ahretlik scarf: a different flower, crocheted on a beige scarf this time, and just as exquisite as the other.
I have to wonder: What happens when girls who happen to be born on the same day can't stand each other—a lifetime of proximity and of pretence that they're best friends?
There are entire books/websites on the subject of oya (an art form that is still very much alive, and I have made no attempt to collect all the varieties), so I propose to finish the entry with a fourth example. It hails from Bursa, a traditionally-rich city and province northwest of Kütahya. The scarf is, as one might expect, silk.
September 29: I'm still in a Stephen Sondheim phase, as I was earlier this month. Besides A Little Night Music (the 1990 performance at Lincoln Center was superb; here's part 1) and Sunday in the Park with George (1986 staging), I've been repeatedly watching the videos of two songs, from other Sondheim musicals, that were written for unhappily-married women. "Not a Day Goes By," here performed by Bernadette Peters in 2010, came from the 1981 flop Merrily We Roll Along; in this song, a woman who has just found out that her husband is unfaithful has told him she can't live with him any more. Peters put so much anguish into her 2010 rendition (at Sondheim! The Birthday Concert) that, in comparison, all she did was go through the motions at Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall in 1992. (In 1992, Peters was 44; in 2010, she was 62.) In "Could I Leave You?", from 1971's Follies, Donna Murphy (in 2010) superlatively portrays a woman's disdainful and angry response to her husband's request for a divorce. Although these characters' specific situations do not correspond with mine, there is still much resonance for me. For example, much of "Not a Day Goes By" concerns the task of enduring pain forever, "till the days go by," because time is the only cure.
I've had an odd summer, filled with exhaustion and boredom with my life, added to frustration (due to waiting for yet another operation on the right eye, all the while the sight in both eyes worsens). I have no idea how to make it all go away, so I'm just letting day after day go by.
September 5: Yesterday I repeatedly watched the video of the amazing Sarah Horn singing a duet with Kristin Chenoweth of "For Good" from the musical Wicked at the Hollywood Bowl on 23 August. As Sarah (an audience member) and Kristin had not met before that night, let alone rehearsed, the performance was like lightning striking. All you have to do is find a video whose camera operator's shrieks are not drowning out the sound; I've linked to the shrieking version above because the performers can be seen better, but here's a different recording with superior sound.
Since "For Good" is a maudlin and pedestrian song, I later switched to the more sophisticated fare I prefer: the original cast recording of A Chorus Line (1975) and in particular my favourite songs: "At the Ballet" and What I Did for Love" (dancing and singing happen to be things I do for love as well). And today I had a Sondheim-fest: the new-to-me Company (1970), which requires an astoundingly multi-talented cast (I watched the 2006 revival, starring Raul Esparza); and Sondheim! The Birthday Concert (2010), followed by Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall 1992, most of which had different content from the 2010 show; and finally my beloved Sunday in the Park with George, filmed in 1985 with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. Up next will be Into the Woods (1987).
In previous weeks I've been letting Baroque recordings (Bach, Handel, Mozart, Vivaldi, etc.) calm me on YouTube before going to bed. (Some classical music I also listened to wasn't calming but grief-inducing, as the 12th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up fast: the choral version [ Agnus Dei ] of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.)
July 18: In need of some light-hearted fare lately, I re-read Elinor Lipman's mainstream comic novel Isabel's Bed (1998), which I've enjoyed the best of the eight works of hers I've downed to date, despite an ending that jarred a bit: I was expecting the protagonist to work up her inadvertently funny autobiographical fragment into a short story as well as (spoiler alert!) open a bagel shop. I missed Lipman's The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (2003) and My Latest Grievance (2007) and don't know if I'll order them. Next on my reading list is her 2013 novel The View from Penthouse B; I'm almost through her collection I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays (also 2013).
What spurred me in search of lighter fare was that I've been finding Iain M. Banks' Culture SF series to be much less "rollicking" than some poor fool had praised them as, and was especially disturbed by the amount of casual animal cruelty I was encountering. (Anarchist societies run by sentient machines care nothing for the rights and suffering of lesser beings, it seems.) However, I've bought all 10 volumes in the series and expect to continue them when my mood allows. So far, I've consumed Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons and The State of the Art (a collection which contains an important novella that concerns Earth's place in the galaxy-wide Culture civilization).
July 2: In a footnote to my article "Tour de France 2004," I mentioned Professor J.E. Gordon's great TV series Structures: or Why Things Don't Fall Down, based on his 1978 book of the same name. I recently tried to see if the series was available on DVD, and not only was the answer "no," but I couldn't even find out when it first aired (so as to add this information to my article, y'see). In the early 1980s, I suppose. Thwarted from enjoying the production all over again, I've been forced to, for heaven's sake, read the book.
I have in hand the 2003 second Da Capo Press edition. I'm only on Chapter 6 (of 16), but it's so full of great stuff I just had to share. Although not an engineer, I've always been interested in how (and why) things work. In Chapter 5, "Strain Energy and Modern Fracture Mechanics (with a Digression on Bows, Catapults and Kangaroos)," I found that the famed "English longbows were not, as a rule, made from English yew-trees, whether grown in churchyards or elsewhere. Most English bows were made from Spanish yew and it was legally compulsory to import consignments of Spanish bow-staves with each shipment of Spanish wine." Yet the use of yew bows was confined to England, France, Germany and the Low Countries because the unique mechanical properties of the wood "deteriorate more rapidly with increasing temperature than do those of other timbers. A yew bow cannot be used reliably above 35° C" (both quotes from p. 79). Later, the author said that the English longbow could discharge up to 14 arrows a minute; it has been calculated that "about six million arrows" (emphasis by the author) were shot at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 (p. 84). As promised in the chapter title, the author went on to talk about siege-catapults and kangaroos. He also brought catapults into the next chapter, "Tension Structures and Pressure Vessels," with the information that, "The Roman army used to require that the officers in charge of military catapults should have a good musical ear, so that they could assess the tensions in the tendon ropes of these weapons when they were set up and tuned for action" (p. 115).
June 29: My Alcantarea imperialis is blooming nicely. The species originated in Brazil but my specimens do well on my balcony in the summer if I regularly wash the city's oily soot off the leaves, as I did just before taking this photo.
Some books I've been reading lately: Non-fiction: Meander by Jeremy Seal ("East to West, Indirectly, Along a Turkish River"), 2012; The Philosophy of Joss Whedon, ed. by Dean A. Kowalski and S. Evan Kreider (The University Press of Kentucky, 2012); and Writing A Woman's Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun (Norton, 1988).
Fiction: Stranded, a YA collection composed of SF novellas by Anne Bishop, Anthony Francis and James Alan Gardner (whose work I make a point of following, and the reason I bought this e-book); the first three of Ben Aaronovitch's excellent (and very funny) fantasy series about an apprentice wizard who's also a London constable (Riot at Midnight, Moon Over Soho, and Whispers Under Ground); and the mainstream novel When the World Was Steady by Claire Messud, said to be "highly acclaimed"—but not by me, as I abandoned it a few pages in (it's a Sign of Deadly Tedium if a character's first and last names feature repeatedly in the opening paragraphs).
What I've been watching on DVD: All five seasons of The Wire, and the second season of Game of Thrones.
Reading to come: the Culture series of space-opera novels and stories by the recently-deceased Iain M. Banks, and Grace After Midnight: A Memoir (2009) by Felicia "Snoop" Pearson (pronounced "Person"), who played the character of the same name on The Wire.
May 12: I'm not much of a fan of pink (if a book has a pink cover, odds are that I won't buy it; I don't care what its contents are), but I felt like buying some flowers since it was Mother's Day. These azaleas are pink, although they appear orange; I had to take the photo inside as the weather was highly inclement. (It's May, huh?)
Happy Mother's Day, Ma. I love you so much, and I miss you more than I can say.
May 11: Using a focus with a shallow depth of field, I captured these hydrangeas on my balcony today, and I'm quite pleased with the result.
Some books I've been reading lately: Diana Wynne Jones' three-book Howl's Moving Castle fantasy series. They work just as well for adults as young teens. I wish Jones' fiction had been available when I was the "appropriate" age to read them. Alas, it hadn't been written yet. Jones' first book was published in 1977; Howl came out in 1986. ("Howl," the name of the magician who owns the peripatetic castle, is a corruption of Howell; he's Welsh in the "real" world.)
May 4: About a week ago, Spring finally arrived to stay. If last year is anything to go by, a blistering, humid summer will soon be upon us, so, quick: Have some freshly-watered begonias, snapped while sunning on my balcony today.
March 22: I just had a "Well, there it is" moment.
For a number of years, I've owned the slice of Brazilian Agate pictured below left. In the US northwest, these kinds of enclosed agates are called thundereggs (a Native American name), because they originate in volcanoes. The pattern here resembled a rodent, I always thought, albeit one with glowing eyes. But, being an animal- and bird-lover with a notoriously soft heart, I found its pose distressing. Was it injured? Dying? Was it imprisoned?
Almost every day, I drop in on the English Wikipedia site (I've gone to other languages as well; the Turkish one has been helpful with my costume collection). And yesterday's featured picture (reproduced below right, with due credit to Luís Funez) was of Drymoreomys, "a genus of South American rodent represented by a single species, D. albimaculatus. First formally described in 2011, the species prefers dense, moist, montane and premontane forest. Morphological evidence suggests they are tree dwellers." They've been found only in Brazil to date, and are so rare that their discoverers have recommended they be added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as "near threatened."
So: Hi, Dry. Happy to have found you. I promise I'll leave you alone. But hang in there, huh?
March 20: From my costume collection: Here's an antique bride's headdress from the capital city of the province of Aydın, southwestern Anatolia. It consists of a burgundy felt hat, plus variously coloured beads (but heavy on the blue, for good luck), and gold embroidery and sequins. Two scarves would accompany it: one to tie it on the head, and another to lie over the bride's shoulders. A close-up of the tassel is below. You may recall that many Greek headdresses also sport a heavy tassel; the Greek presence in this part of Anatolia was once notable.
This is one of dozens of headdresses from Aydın, which is home to numerous ethnic groups—both "civilized" and nomadic. The first town in the area was founded by the ancient Thracians and was once known as Tralles. As the region is prone to earthquakes, the town was built and rebuilt by Spartans, Phrygians, Ionians, Lydians, Persians and Ancient Romans before being captured by the Turks and renamed Aydın Güzelhisar.
As soon as the posable-mannequin-with-head that I ordered arrives, I'll dress her in the complete ensemble that accompanies this headdress. It's quite spectacular. (As you saw in my posts of 15 and 16 March, I already have a mannequin head.)
I'm planning to arrange all my complete Ottoman/Turkish costumes on a mannequin and photograph them, to be posted on a separate page on this site. It will be a major undertaking, so I can't promise when it will be done.
March 19: Below is an excerpt from the introduction to Jessa Crispin's interview (posted 19 March) with Dana Becker, author of One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea (2013). Although the interview is more relevant to Americans than Canadians, it's important for all women to read.
Are you stressed out? It would be difficult not to be, what with the constant economic despair, the precarious employment status we all live with, the overwork and the declining living conditions and the breaking down of community ties. Also maybe stressing you out is this thing we keep hearing about, that stress, if you don't figure out a way to "manage" it, and cope with it, will give you cancer or heart disease or diabetes or a stroke or any number of other terrifying things. What are you going to do, though, when a hot bath and some scented candles won't cut it?
Dana Becker points out the obvious in her new book One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea, that if we are all dying internally from stress-related issues—and that is debatable, as stress as a health problem is a relatively new, and scientifically unsupported, idea—the thing that is going to save us is not yoga classes and mindfulness. It's actual societal change. It's re-stabilizing the middle class. It's changing the economic system so that the wealthy few cannot destroy the lives of everyone else with a few reckless years. It's building supportive communities that are not plagued with gun violence and systemic poverty. It's creating environments where women are not saddled with raising their children without subsidized day care, or partners who leave them to do all of the housework, and where women do not have to choose between family and work. And yet when we talk about stress, we still talk about coping and adjusting and juggling things on a personal level.
Too many of our real societal problems, from obesity to poverty to epidemic depression rates to violence, are blamed on the individual. And all of that pressure to maintain some sort of homeostasis of health and wealth and fulfillment keeps the individual herself from seeing the unfair pressures put upon her. It also prevents real revolution or change, when you spend all of your time trying to manage the stress of living in a crazy-making society.
I spoke with Becker on the phone about why we focus on the individual rather than on society, and how women have shouldered an unfair share of the burden and the policing of their behaviors.
The thing I was most struck by when reading your book was just how much pressure there is on the individual in contemporary society. Whatever happens to you, it is your fault. It’s your fault if you can’t adapt to the absolute insanity around you. Sometimes it can be so difficult to notice that is going on because of the constant pressure, so when was the moment you stepped back and said No, wait, actually this is nonsense?
The first three of Edmund Crispin's dated mystery novels (The Case of the Gilded Fly, 1944; Holy Disorders, 1945; and The Moving Toyshop, 1946), on the recommendation of P.D. James in Talking about Detective Fiction (2010), itself a dull read;
Hilary Mantel's memoir Giving Up the Ghost (2004) and its companion, autobiographical story collection Learning to Talk (2010), both of which I recommend;
Deborah Moggach's 2004 novel These Foolish Things, which was reissued as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel after the 2012 movie came out; I recommend taking in the movie and the novel, because they're quite different in plot and character;
Terry Pratchett's A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction (2012), which I found not worth the money;
Barbara Tuchman's much-too-long history Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1994), which, among other things, cured me of thinking of John of Gaunt as in any way an admirable figure; and
P.G. Wodehouse's Mulliner Nights (1933), in which the eponymous Mr. Mulliner tells pub stories of adventures that befall his host of relations, mostly male. Thirty-seven of the total of 41 Mulliner stories were originally published in magazines between 1926 and 1937; the final four, between 1947 and 1970. The adventures are not only improbable but the narration impossible: Mr. Mulliner is recounting stories supposedly related by someone else who knows, for example, what a woman alone in her room is thinking. Still, they're acceptable light reading. If I wanted all the Mulliner stories, I'd have to get the omnibus volume The World of Mr. Mulliner (1972), but I don't think I will; the faulty narration drives me up a wall. I believe I'll pursue some Jeeves and Wooster volumes that haven't fallen into my hands heretofore.
Back to the subject of what I've been watching lately: I tried to take in the Masterpiece Theatre series Reckless (1997), starring Francesca Annis, Michael Kitchen and Robson Green, but quit after the first episode, as I just wasn't in the mood for sleaze. In introducing the series, Russell Baker had cautioned viewers not to look for high literary entertainment or moral uplift but to expect "sheer fun." (He neglected to warn viewers with a trauma trigger for stalking that there'd be plenty of stalking.) I gave up waiting for the "fun" to kick in, although I enjoyed the wry performance of David Bradley (Walder Frey in Game of Thrones) as Robson Green's father.
What's worse than a prig (which I am)? A bored prig. A friend of mine, also of priglike persuasion, loathed the movie-musical Chicago (2002) because its characters were so sleazy. My reaction? The talent and the energy, in particular of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, were so sky-high that I didn't care. I had fun.
March 17: Some things I've been watching lately (besides The Wire, whose first season I've just inhaled on a loaner DVD and the rest of which I'll be buying):
Stephen Fry in America, a six-hour TV series he did for the Beeb in 2008. His ambition was to visit all 50 states, and he did, but some states (such as Delaware and Idaho) were "covered" in less than two minutes, and others received a stereotypical treatment (Maine = lobsters; New Jersey = gambling). With this kind of superficiality, I didn't learn much I didn't already know. However, I appreciated Fry's lack of vanity: He was willing to make a fool of himself on camera drinking bourbon in Kentucky, riding a horse in Georgia, and firing a gun in California. And his conversations with Morgan Freeman in the latter's Blues club in Clarksville, Mississippi and with a native of Hawaii were genuinely interesting. Such moments of entertainment and illumination were rare, though, and it was apparent to me that the sole audience for this series was a British one, although I do wonder how their ears coped with unaccustomed accents, such as that of the prison warden in Louisiana. (If I were a Beeb producer, I'd have suggested subtitles for quite a bit of the series dialogue.) Bottom line: If you're a Canadian or an American, give this series a miss, even if you're a fan of Stephen Fry.
A couple of animated features from Disney/Pixar: Wreck-It Ralph (2012) was strictly for kids, as was Brave (2012), which was given a review by Abigail Nussbaum that I agree with. I'm trying to be loyal to Pixar because of its past greatness (Toy Story and its sequels, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Up), but my expectations have been unmet for years now. The previews for Monsters University, coming in June this year, make it clear that this will be a juvenile movie. Monsters, Inc. (2001), for which University is a prequel, had some excellent moments and I enjoy rewatching it. But I suspect that one viewing of University will be enough. The buying of Pixar by Disney in 2006 has proven to be bad news for adults looking for intelligence and originality in their animated fare.
March 16: As promised yesterday, here is a man's Pomak hat from Çanakkale, western Anatolia. It's made of black wool felt, with sewn-on chicken feathers dyed pink, green and purple; a modern elastic strip (now worn out) keeps the hat on the head and at its correct jaunty angle.
Photos of complete men's Pomak costumes in Turkey are hard to come by; in one of my costume books, the sole photo purporting to show a man's ensemble from Çanakkale displayed a Turkish Zeybek costume to my disbelieving eyes. See the Wikipedia page I linked to yesterday under the word "Pomaks" for a photo of one variety of Pomak costume; the man's hat isn't the same as mine, but it gets the idea across of what the overall ensemble may have looked like.
I bought this hat from a very knowledgeable man in Istanbul (a schoolteacher by day; a collector in the field on weekends and holidays) who possesses a very large costume collection and isn't averse to letting some of it go, especially to a fellow enthusiast.
The reason I said in yesterday's post that these hats were as rare as hen's teeth is that men in particular were discouraged (outright banned, I understand) from wearing traditional costumes everyday after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and so the items weren't preserved but replaced with factory-produced "Western" clothing. (And often, if the clothing was preserved, moths seized the chance for a glorious chow-down amid the non-synthetic materials: wool, silk, feathers, etc.) Women in cities were also subject to clothing diktats, but women in rural areas continued to wear what they'd always worn, so their traditional clothing is mostly still available for museums and collectors to, er, deprive them of. And brides everywhere held onto their outfits, handed down from female relatives or made new for trousseaux; however, white Western dresses have made huge inroads into even this preserve of traditionalism. (Need I say that I do not possess a modern white Turkish bride's dress?)
I'll eventually have a complete man's Pomak ensemble, with mostly-original components, although the jacket and trousers will be reproductions. The Bulgarian element will be evident once I include a "real" Bulgarian men's costume photo for comparison. (An over-simplification: The Pomaks in Turkey immigrated from Bulgaria in order to remain among their fellow Sunni Muslims.)
March 15: On display from my costume collection are this Pomak headdress and "choker" coin necklace from the province of Çanakkale, western Anatolia. The Pomaks are Slavic Muslims who speak Bulgarian as their native language and live all over the Balkans, but the majority (about 300,000) are in Turkey, primarily in Trakya (Turkish Thrace) and Çanakkale.
I have many hats from Çanakkale (though not all Pomak; one is Alevi Turkoman), and I adore them immeasurably. I talked about the Alevi headdress in May 2011.
Above left is a front view; below right is a back view. All of the coins are Ottoman (pre-1920); most are low-grade silver, but the one in the centre of the forehead is gold. The necklace is hand-woven of wool.
I bought both of these items on eBay, from a Bulgarian in Varna (on the Black Sea). Since there are Pomaks who still live in Bulgaria, it's possible that these items are from there and not from Turkey, but I was informed by a Turkish expert from whom I've bought many, many items and whose judgment I trust that Çanakkale was the correct origin in this case.
Tomorrow: a man's Pomak hat, an item as rare as hen's teeth.
I've edited my post of 31 January, about a bride's costume from Eskişehir (also in western Anatolia; it's east of Çanakkale), to add newly-discovered information.
March 14: Pictured are some Asiatic lilies—a hybrid variety. However, much as they brighten up my place during this time of endless God-awful weather (another blizzard this morning, replaced by a very strong, cold wind), I'll have to pitch them, as one of my cats can't resist munching on the leaves, and they make her frow up. (She's fine now, and was just temporarily nauseous, but as she's an elderly feline, I don't want to strain her heart, so the lilies have to go. And here I thought I'd found a variety of spring flowers that lasted a reasonable time—unlike tulips; and didn't make me sneeze—unlike narcissus. Oh, well.)
Scheduled for tomorrow and the day after: costume posts on Pomak items from Turkey.
March 13: Having become addicted to the excellent crime drama series The Wire (2002-08), the first season of which a colleague lent me on DVD, I've also become attached to the series' theme: the gospel/blues song "Way Down in the Hole." (The full line is, "You gotta keep the devil way down in the hole.") In the first season, the song was done by The Blind Boys of Alabama (from their 2001 album Spirit of the Century, which won a Grammy Award in 2002). Here's the full-length version on YouTube, to which I find myself dancing a mix of Cajun/rhumba/East Coast Swing when it comes on. The same song was rendered by other artists in subsequent seasons; I've listened to them all, but much prefer the Blind Boys' version.
February 12: I've been watching the British TV series Kingdom on DVD. Its 18 episodes ran in three series from 2007–09 and star Stephen Fry as solicitor Peter Kingdom practising in a small town in Norfolk, England (in which county Fry grew up, as a matter of fact). He and the gorgeously-filmed Norfolk landscape are the principal reasons to watch, in addition to the presence of actors Celia Imrie, Phillida Law and Karl Davies (who went on to play Alton Lannister in season 2  of Game of Thrones). I discovered the series while searching for work by Fry (of whom I'm a fan) to entertain me. The episode plots are weak and Peter Kingdom's siblings Beatrice and Simon are irritating, but I'm finding the series charming and the theme music, which serves as a paean to Norfolk, especially feel-good. (I'm currently resisting the urge to move to Norfolk.) I understand from some research that Kingdom was cancelled unexpectedly (there was a decline in the show's popularity in the UK, perhaps because of the "Peter's no-good brother Simon" plotline in series 2) before all the plot points were wound up. So I won't be surprised, when I reach the final episode, to find that it ends with a cliffhanger.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, I have season 2 waiting for me on DVD. I don't expect to be charmed at all, but then, nobody is watching the show for charm.
February 10: Happy Chinese New Year, and welcome to the Year of the Snake.
Quite coincidentally, I spent the weekend re-watching the 13-part classic BBC series I, Claudius from 1976, the opening credits of which feature a snake (which appears to be a viper) undulating across a mosaic containing the series title (pictured left). The DVD extras, which date from various years, are first-rate.
I've also been watching Derek Jacobi (who starred as Claudius) in the Cadfael mystery series, set in 1100s England. It's pretty thin stuff (and much changed from the books by Ellis Peters). I've read two of the omnibus print collections, and they're much richer.
February 6: On 1 February, Abigail Nussbaum had some new Pride and Prejudice thoughts, among them that Darcy is "an introvert desperately trying to tamp down [his] anxiety at being forced into company with so many strangers" when he brusquely declines to dance with Lizzie at their first meeting, not "a depressive who needs Lizzie to be his Prozac," as a Guardian post I referred to on 30 January would have it.
Jessa Crispin, editor of the Bookslut site, has written a number of posts lately about depression and anxiety and about their being, in part, caused by our culture and, oops, our social media are rapidly making things worse. On 5 February, Ms. Crispin interviewed Ann Cvetkovich, author of Depression: A Public Feeling (Duke University Press, 2012). At one point in the interview, Dr. Cvetkovich said, "I do have a hunch that as someone whose experience of 'clinical depression' (although I resist that diagnosis) emerges from anxiety, I may belong to that class of people who don't need the stimulant qualities of Prozac and is made more agitated by it." So for her as for Darcy, Prozac would be exactly the wrong treatment. On 6 February, Ms. Crispin posted an excerpt from Depression. It has some thought-provoking things to say about writer's block and about creative people in general. I'm slowly working through an e-version (which features headings at the bottom of pages and similar e-book idiocies) of the book—"slowly" because I find the verbosity and the obscure academic-ese (for example, thus-and-so being "essentialist") less than an aid to rapid comprehension, but I am finding the publication valuable.
On 4 February, I talked briefly about Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time and Richard III. Dalhousie University English Professor Rohan Maitzen was more expansive than I here. (By dint of searching for Dr. Maitzen's name on the Open Letters Monthly site, I discovered that her undated essay was posted on May 1, 2012.) Among her comments, she talks about "the reality of women's marginalization in historical scholarship (as both writers and as historical agents) until well into the twentieth century—something that, again, I studied as an academic long after being exposed to its effects." On 1 February 2013, Dr. Maitzen had a conversation about Pride and Prejudice with Steve Donoghue entitled "We've Been with Lizzie All Along" on Open Letters Monthly. If you have time [or patience] to read only one P&P article of the two I've cited today, go with the Nussbaum at the top of the post.
On 18 January, Toronto SF writer Peter Watts posted a moving eulogy for his father, who'd died recently at the age of 94 having spent most of his long, decent life hiding being gay. Maybe one day I'll get around to writing about my dad, who died in 2006 aged 79. In the latter part of his life, he was not happy at all (and for all of it, he was very insecure), but being secretly gay was not among the burdens he bore.
I followed writer John Scalzi's lead and installed Stardock Start8 on my Windows 8 PC to make it easier to use, and it is, although still somewhat infuriating.
February 4: I'd known via The History Blog that coming out today was an announcement on whether the remains dug up in Leicester were those of Richard III, and I wasn't surprised that the skeleton did turn out to be his. I wasn't happy, however, that the remains will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral rather than in the cathedral of York Minster. After Richard was killed on Bosworth Field in 1485, the city of York wrote in its records, according to Josephine Tey, "This day was our good King Richard piteously slain and murdered; to the great heaviness of this city" (p. 186, 1982 Penguin reprinting of The Daughter of Time). The King had been well thought of in the North of England.
It was Tey's novel, published in 1951 and never out of print since, that made me think well of Richard III, many decades ago. I've scanned the cover of my edition because I've never found a cover I liked so well (and the portrait is referred to in the book, so the image is essential). The book's title is derived from a saying of Francis Bacon (1561–1626): "Truth is the daughter of time—not of authority."
The University of Leicester's page on the archeological dig in which Richard's remains were found (under the floor of a monastery destroyed by order of Richard's great-nephew, Henry VIII) is
All the same, Richard's undeservedly villainous reputation is unlikely to be rehabilitated. I can't see David Starkey redoing his Monarchy series (2004–07), for example, to recant his assertion that Richard "probably" murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. (I almost threw something at the TV when Starkey came out with that, and had to content myself with some robust Anglo-Saxon language.)
Other lost causes I espouse include Harold II (c. 1022–66), last Saxon King of England; Constantine XI Palaiologos (1404–53), last Byzantine Emperor; and Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. It might be observed that all four were brave in battle and that three of them, indeed, died there. (Lord Protector Cromwell died in his bed; the cause seems to have been septicemia.)
February 3: From my collection of jaspers and agates, a cabochon I've had for many years: Willow Creek Jasper, from Idaho. I very much like the delicacy of the colours that paint something like a landscape.
February 2: A recent addition to my costume collection is pictured below: a handmade ensemble from Bihor and Arad counties in the region of Crişana, western Romania—part of Transylvania. ("Bihor" is the Romanian name for the county; Hungarians call it "Bihar.") It was collected in Romania in the summer of 2012 and dates from the early to mid-20th century. This style rarely features in Romanian costume books, and I was very happy to discover it.
The ensemble consists of a blouse and skirt of heavy homespun linen and a pleated blue apron that is not linen; more of a brocade. The blouse is embroidered with blue motifs, and it and the skirt feature a design made by pulling threads during the weaving process.
The costumes of this area are characterized by white linen blouses/skirts for women and shirts/pants for men. The linen is often decorated with white or colour embroidery and unique openwork and crochet lace. The result is frequently, as here, of understated elegance. Pictured below left is a sleeve detail. (I adore the "bubbles"; I'm almost as fond of bubbles as of tassels.) A variety of apron styles exist in the region, and vests and outerwear also differ depending on the village.
Since the model lacks a head, let me hasten to state what she would have been wearing on it: a white floral kerchief. An alternative is something I already owned: a blue/green/black/white floral kerchief with a black fringe that came with a Croatian costume from Hrvatsko Zagorje, a hilly region north of Zagreb. It was of commercial manufacture, like the aforementioned kerchief, which has blue/red flowers on a white background but no fringe.
February 1: I was dismayed to learn from the 24 January 2013 issue of The London Review of Books that the Titanic sinking of 15 April 1912 set back the cause of feminism and female suffrage. In an essay and seven-book review entitled "Why Name a Ship After a Defeated Race?", Thomas Lacqueur said, in part:
"When the collision happened there was no evacuation plan.... Contingency, chaos and prejudice had as much to do with who was saved as class. The highest mortality rate was not in steerage but among the men in Second Class, who died at twice the rate of men in steerage and five times the rate of women there....
"In fact, this still misses the big story: gender. First-class passengers were indeed 37 per cent more likely to survive than third-class. But men in all classes were 58 per cent more likely to die than women. Since there were three times as many women as men in Third Class and more or less even numbers in First, sexual selection took its greatest toll there.... The reason for gender disparities is clear. Broadly speaking, men died in disproportionate numbers as the price of patriarchy. Their chivalry, their adherence to a masculine code of honour, demonstrated to the establishment on both sides of the Atlantic how deeply in error feminism and particularly the women's suffrage movement really was.
"[Richard] Davenport-Hines [author of 'Titanic' Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew (2012)] quotes [Winston] Churchill's letter to his wife: 'The strict observance of the great traditions of the sea towards women and children reflects nothing but honour upon our civilisation.' And he hoped it would set right 'some of the young unmarried lady teachers'—a.k.a. suffragettes—'who are so bitter in their sex antagonism and think men so base and vile'. That view was widespread. 'When a woman talks women's rights, she should be answered with the word Titanic, nothing more—just Titanic,' a correspondent in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observed. Emma Goldman thought suffrage had been dealt a blow by the Titanic: woman 'continues to be as weak and dependent, as ready to accept man's tribute in time of safety and his sacrifice in time of danger, as if she were still in her baby age'." (pp. 7–8)
I don't recall anyone mentioning this particular backlash before. I added emphasis to the line that shocked the hell out of me—although it shouldn't have been a surprise. Just yesterday I was a witness to how misogyny continues to thrive, almost 101 years after the Titanic sank. And it will be noticed that in the review quoted above, the last sentence of the second paragraph, a highly risible "statement," was put without apparent irony.
January 31: From my costume collection is this detail from the Atlas silk şalwar (very wide trousers) for a bride from the city of Eskişehir, Turkey. It's called Atlas silk because it comes from the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) rather than the much more commonly farmed Silkworm moth (Bombyx mori).
On 8 January 2012 I posted a photo of an Eskişehir bride with the model wearing şalwar of red velvet embroidered in gold.
[Edited to add on 15 March: I've learned that my white/gold costume is from the town of Kırka, south of the capital city, Eskişehir, whose name is the same as the province's. Only in the capital is the red-velvet bride's
ensemble worn. I've also discovered that I'm missing a number of pieces of my white/gold set (I have only the jacket and trousers), and that the same costume design was also produced in purple silk brocade. I'll do another post on the subject anon.]
January 30, 2013: This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication (not the writing) of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, so it's appropriate that I say a few words and provide some links. (Fear not, any non-Austen fans [who are you people?]: I'll be talking about other stuff too.)
First up is "Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice at 200: Looking Afresh at a Classic" in The Guardian, 26 January 2013, by Bharat Tandon (writing about Mrs. Bennet sympathetically), John Mullan (about Mr. Bennet, damningly), Zoe Williams (Lizzie Bennet, unsympathetically), Sebastian Faulks (Mr. Darcy is a depressive who needs Lizzie to be his Prozac), P.D. James (who writes an unpersuasive alternate history wherein George Wickham succeeds in life and Mr. Darcy fails), Paula Byrne (Lydia Bennet), Janet Todd (Mary Bennet) and Lucy Mangan (Charlotte Lucas). The reassessments of Mr. Bennet, Lizzie, Mr. Darcy and Charlotte rearranged my thinking a trifle.
Not as "fresh" because it's from October 2005 but no less valuable for that is critic Abigail Nussbaum's post "4 Popular Misconceptions About Pride and Prejudice." The four are "Jane Austen wrote chick-lit," "Elizabeth Bennet is a 'modern' woman," "Mr. Darcy is a reformed rake," and "Elizabeth Bennet is a twit/Elizabeth Bennet is perfection incarnate."
Ms. Nussbaum is a very perceptive critic, as I've mentioned before, and she has written 14 posts on Austen to date. In a March 2010 post on Persuasion, she wrote,
"I think that Persuasion wants us to think of Anne as saintly, someone who can put up with her father's vanity, her sisters' pride or dependence, her in-laws' silliness, without losing her patience or composure, but the superiority with which Anne views almost everyone she encounters in the novel belies this approach. There is something off-putting about being the sort of person who spends their life believing themselves to be superior to everyone else and detaching themselves from their surroundings because of that belief, even if it is entirely justified. It smacks of not trying hard enough to find one's own level. Anne seems to enjoy being the smartest person in the room, the one who sees and silently laughs at everyone else's foibles and weaknesses, a little too much, and the novel lets her get away with this.
“We are enjoined, of course, from mistaking characters for their author, and lord knows that Jane Austen has suffered from this fallacious tendency far more than most, but it's impossible to know more than a little of her life and not wonder just how much of Austen, or of her idealized image of herself, there is in Anne."
"In all of Austen's novels, there's a tension between the romantic text and the decidedly unromantic subtext, but in Sense and Sensibility the two seem to be almost at war. This is probably in keeping with Austen's own character, which was likely much closer to the cynical, money-obsessed spinster from the miniseries Miss Austen Regrets than the starry-eyed romantic she was made out to be in Becoming Jane, but also makes for an uncomfortable read in the early 21st century. Though I certainly wouldn't say that money no longer plays any factor in courtship, or that games of control and manipulation have disappeared in the wake of feminism and the sexual revolution (the very existence of The Rules, and more recently of seduction manuals, gives the lie to that claim), Sense and Sensibility's moral feels more of its own time than any of Austen's other novels. It's hard not to feel that when Marianne says to Elinor that she compares her behavior 'with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours' that what she's saying is that she should have played hard to get and waited for an engagement ring."
I've been reading some novels by Georgette Heyer (touted as Ms. Austen's successor) that I've missed heretofore, and was especially pleased (delighted, actually) with Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle (1957), which puts quite a bit of Austen's real character into that of Phoebe Marlowe—but makes her a romantic. However, I was decidedly displeased with a biography of Heyer by Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer (2004), because it was written by someone not only devoid of literary talent but deficient in basic writing skills. When a biographer tackles a talented, brilliant or genius writer, she or he has to have some of the goods too.
Some of Heyer's other novels that I've read recently: Devil's Cub (1932), which was very good; The Talisman Ring (1936), which was so much fun (I tried to ignore the cover illustration, which owed a lot to the William Powell Frith painting The Railway Station [1860–62] and was about seven decades out of period, as it portrayed a bride and groom in 1850s garb, although Talisman is set in the Georgian period); The Corinthian (1940), which was OK but nothing exceptional; The Unknown Ajax (1959), an astonishing bore; and Cousin Kate (1968), which was unmemorable. So, three winners I'll be happy to re-open when I'm in need of comfort reading: Sylvester, Devil and Talisman. I also re-read Heyer's detective novel Envious Casca (1941), which I've always thought her best in the genre—it counts as literature, in my opinion—although nowhere near as full of wit as Death in the Stocks (1935).
Thanks to a rave review of 28 January in The Guardian, I'm now aware of the existence of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which began in April 2012. In part, the review said, "As Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy celebrate their 200th anniversary of appearing in print, the best Austen adaptation around at the moment isn't an Oscar-tipped film or a lush BBC dramatisation—it's a series of 10-minute YouTube videos, with accompanying in-character tweets.... Darcy is a hipster, Lizzie is a beleaguered grad student and her mother is just as desperate to get her married off as in the original. It's Clueless for the web generation as viewers experience the story in real time and Lizzie's videos get interrupted by her sisters, friends—and a certain brooding hero. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries started last April and, 80 episodes later, she's finally at Pemberley Digital ... only to find out that the CEO of her new internship is none other than the man she loves to hate."
I don't know how much of the Diaries I'll be able to watch before I get another notice from my ISP, Bell, about how much of the pathetically small limit on my monthly data allowance I've used up. (The size of the Internet allowance allowed to Canadians by their ISPs is an ongoing grievance, as this CBC story notes.) A few weeks ago, I got a notice from Bell after I watched on YouTube most of the ludicrously ahistorical The Tudors series and then, as a much-needed palate-cleansing, rewatched most of the classic Keith Michell version (a 1970 six-part TV series entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII). In 1972, Michell reprised his role (but nobody else did) in the movie Henry VIII and His Six Wives, which I haven’t seen. Perhaps, like Abigail Nussbaum plans to do, I'll wait till the Diaries series is done, several months from now, and view it all at once.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose Hallucinations I just finished (I make a point of reading his books), gave an entertaining interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It opened thusly:
"Jon Wiener: In your book Hallucinations you mention what you call your 'long virginity' in experience with hallucinogenic drugs.
"Oliver Sacks: I was afraid you'd get onto this...."
The weekly downloading via Kindle of John Scalzi's serialized SF novel The Human Division is giving me something to look forward to. The third episode was "We Only Need the Heads," as great a hook of a title as I've ever read. (A griping aside on a matter Mr. Scalzi has no responsibility for: The cover art of these episodes has nothing to do with the contents.) Out next, on 5 February, is "A Voice in the Wilderness." I intend to buy the book when it's published on 14 May.
Part I of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy (!), An Unexpected Journey, was released in December, but I'm not having a problem waiting till it comes out on DVD in March. Here's an interview by Christopher Tolkien done in July 2012 but not available online in English till December 5: "My Father's 'Eviscerated' Work—Son of Hobbit Scribe J.R.R. Tolkien Finally Speaks Out." The subtitle is, "Christopher Tolkien gave his first-ever press interview with Le Monde, shedding light on his father's vision and sharing his own deep dismay with Hobbit director Peter Jackson." (He was dismayed even before the movie came out.)
(The 2012 blog is here; the 2007–11 blog is here.)