Saturday, March 31, 2012

Today's poem by Elizabeth Bishop

The End Of March

It was cold and windy, scarcely the day
to take a walk on that long beach
Everything was withdrawn as far as possible,
indrawn: the tide far out, the ocean shrunken,
seabirds in ones or twos.
The rackety, icy, offshore wind
numbed our faces on one side;
disrupted the formation
of a lone flight of Canada geese;
and blew back the low, inaudible rollers
in upright, steely mist.

The sky was darker than the water
--it was the color of mutton-fat jade.
Along the wet sand, in rubber boots, we followed
a track of big dog-prints (so big
they were more like lion-prints). Then we came on
lengths and lengths, endless, of wet white string,
looping up to the tide-line, down to the water,
over and over. Finally, they did end:
a thick white snarl, man-size, awash,
rising on every wave, a sodden ghost,
falling back, sodden, giving up the ghost...
A kite string?--But no kite.

I wanted to get as far as my proto-dream-house,
my crypto-dream-house, that crooked box
set up on pilings, shingled green,
a sort of artichoke of a house, but greener
(boiled with bicarbonate of soda?),
protected from spring tides by a palisade
of--are they railroad ties?
(Many things about this place are dubious.)
I'd like to retire there and do nothing,
or nothing much, forever, in two bare rooms:
look through binoculars, read boring books,
old, long, long books, and write down useless notes,
talk to myself, and, foggy days,
watch the droplets slipping, heavy with light.
At night, a grog a l'américaine.
I'd blaze it with a kitchen match
and lovely diaphanous blue flame
would waver, doubled in the window.
There must be a stove; there is a chimney,
askew, but braced with wires,
and electricity, possibly
--at least, at the back another wire
limply leashes the whole affair
to something off behind the dunes.
A light to read by--perfect! But--impossible.
And that day the wind was much too cold
even to get that far,
and of course the house was boarded up.

On the way back our faces froze on the other side.
The sun came out for just a minute.
For just a minute, set in their bezels of sand,
the drab, damp, scattered stones
were multi-colored,
and all those high enough threw out long shadows,
individual shadows, then pulled them in again.
They could have been teasing the lion sun,
except that now he was behind them
--a sun who'd walked the beach the last low tide,
making those big, majestic paw-prints,
who perhaps had batted a kite out of the sky to play with.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)
For John Malcolm Brinnin and Bill Read: Duxbury

Friday, March 30, 2012

March with Gladys and Rachel

To learn more about this yearlong adventure with Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, you may scroll down to 'letter topics' and click 'A Year with Gladys and Rachel.'

Around here March means the return of what I call the holy bird trio: the robin, redwing blackbird, and woodcock. We've heard a few tree frogs. The temps have been in the single numbers and in the eighties. Lots of wind, rain/snow mixes, sunshine.

When the end of the month arrives, I am pleased to check in on Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden and see how their months were all those years ago.

As Gladys talked about cleaning her milk glass, I was reminded of something I read just this morning, and thought quite, quite wonderful. The author of The Hours, Michael Cunningham wrote in the Guardian last June.
In Mrs Dalloway, Woolf asserts that a day in the life of just about anyone contains, if looked at with sufficient penetration, much of what one needs to know about all human life, in more or less the way the blueprint for an entire organism is present in every strand of its DNA. In Mrs Dalloway, and other novels of Woolf's, we are told that there are no insignificant lives, only inadequate ways of looking at them.
I, who have lived my life primarily at home with its many pleasures, am always happy to see this life acknowledged and affirmed. Gladys found deep joy in hers and wrote
Small jobs can be important too. Washing the milk glass would never go down in history as an achievement, but how good I feel after I have done it! I sit down and look at the old corner cupboard and think about the days when the milk glass was made - and all the people who cherished it, and they did cherish it or it would have been broken long ago.
Again, and as always, I think of what a fine and fun blogger Gladys would have been. Her thoughts go all over the place. She writes of Shakespeare and milk glass and dogs and spring cleaning one after the other, and all connecting somehow. She can go from discovering the new joy of good television to her love of cheese without skipping a beat. I smile with utter delight when she writes about the hidden treasures found in the yard after the snow goes away.
In the yard itself, old bones, bits of rubber rabbits, and a few dog-food cans turn up, for Holly [the Irish Setter] makes it a point not to go outdoors without carrying something. Three of my missing socks appear too.
She is unfailing optimistic about the world and its people, even as she voices her worries.
As for the world, it has been in a parlous state so long that there is no sense in worrying about the future. It is better, I think, to go on believing in goodness and beauty and truth and in God, no matter how we define these terms each of us for ourselves.
And better to live one day at a time. This is a hard task, often, for we tend to keep going to the past and trying to live it over again or looking ahead and uselessly trying to forecast tomorrow and next week and next year. …
In grief, one can endure the day, just the day. But when one also tries to bear the grief ahead, one cannot compass it.
As for happiness, it can only be the ability to experience the moment. It is not next year that life will be so flawless and if we keep trying to wait for next year's happiness, the river of time will wind past and we shall not have lived at all.
While Rural Free ends with the month of August, March ends Stillmeadow Daybook. Afterward there is a chapter called Full Circle.
As I go out in the morning to pick the white daffodils, I think of the bulbs secure under the snow in the past winter, of the first green spears that lance the early spring light, and I think of next year's garden, too. And I have no feeling of finality when I cut the faded tips of the lilacs that have again budded, blossomed, died. For by now the homespun sweetness of the Dorothy Perkins [rose] is covering the picket fence, and Silver Moon [probably clematis] opens pale ivory buds by the gate.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned that the subtitle of Rural Free is A Farmwife's Almanac of Country Living. Almanac could easily be translated as blog these days. And when I read Rachel's passages, which were columns in the newspaper, I dearly wish I could see accompanying photographs. As descriptive as her words are, I would love to see this view.
… I had been up on the top of that lovely hill, had seen the wide, free-running view, the green barley fields in spring, the snowy blanketed winter wildness, the dull browns and rich reds and the shaded greens marking off the seasons.
Living in the mountains with hills and curves and trees all around me, I would so like to see what Rachel is talking about here.
A whole rainbow, in all its subtly varying tones, was hung in the sky. One end rose out of Jim Scherschel's fencerow a mile away; the other end stood firmly distinct on the top of Clyde Naylor's barn, three miles in the other direction.
Three miles! That's how far we are from town, and I can barely see two tenths of a mile just down our road.

As so often when I read her monthly reports, I am impressed with Rachel's observations, how she really sees what is around her. 'Little' things that I so often miss she pays attention to, and gives deep thought to. Like cocoons.
… gray-brown like winter leaves, nature having given the worm that bit of insight as part its ration of talent. They lie strewn carelessly on the ground, or hang from trees and weedstalks like old dried leaves that haven't quite got around to blowing loose. They are almost hidden, but not quite, for whatever nature makes provision for anything to hide, she also supplies a few eyes capable of finding it, but not inevitably certain to.
Nature is impartial, and it's hard to tell whose side she's on.
Some of the cocoons picked up by delighted human finders will prove to have been discovered already. There may be little punctures in the tough drab paper, or the ends may have been torn open by moth enemies, not from enmity, but from hunger. The difference between enmity and appetite is a matter of who is eating whom.
Rachel ends this month with her beautiful description of 'the greening rain' which
came in the night Tuesday. There were some tossed-up coals of lightening; there was a wind that began in a careful whisper as if trying to waken one person without waking a small sleeper next to him. But the wind's joy increased as it sang until finally it was roaring and shouting and not caring who heard.
And then the rain began, the tonic, greening, transforming rain that comes only once a year.
At gray daylight, silver drops still clung to the undersides of peach limbs; but the rain had stopped, and now every living blade and stalk whose destiny it is to be green was suddenly astonishingly green.
This miracle happens every year at the beginning of spring.
This one rain is as distinct and set apart from all other rains as one handwriting is from another. Later on the grass will be thicker, taller, tougher, but right now every blade is as greenly green as it can ever be.
Cattle notice the difference immediately. Farmers do, too. This morning every farm neighbor you meet will exclaim happily, "My ain't it greened up nice since the rain!"

I shall end my March entry with a New Yorker cover that has been pinned up on the wall of the kitchen stairs for twenty years. Serendipitously, the date is March 30, 1992. It show what March is like around here, and also in the 1950s and 1960s worlds of Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

17. The Artist of Disappearance
Three Novellas
by Anita Desai
fiction, 2011
first book for the South Asian Challenge 2012
finished 3/29/12

The first of three novellas which make up this book, The Museum of Final Journeys, is an example of exquisite writing. In only forty-five pages, the author creates a whole world. The air, the smells, the look of rural India are so well described that the reader can almost sense the atmosphere. It is a quiet story of a circuit judge who is assigned to an outpost where there isn't even a library. The buildings are tumbledown.
The town, if you could call it that, was not one where people built houses with the intention of selling or renting them for profit; its citizens built for the purpose of housing their families till they fell apart. Many of the houses were embarked on that inexorable process, larger and larger families crowding into smaller and smaller spaces while roofs collapsed and walls crumbled. The whole town was a shambles.
Every morning I went to court, a crumbling structure of red brick that stood in a field where cattle grazed and washermen spread their washing...
His job is mostly to settle disputes between neighbors over somewhat ridiculous claims.
A wall that had caved in or two coconut trees that had not borne fruit for as long as anyone could remember, even these aroused the passion of ownership.
Then one day a man of ancient years comes by and tells him a very long story. He is bored and impatient, but slowly finds his interest piqued by the tale of a museum at an old estate. At the end of this novella he looks back in time and wonders if it was all a dream or if he really saw such a place.

The second, Translator Translated was more difficult for me to read. Not because it wasn't well-written, because the words were beautifully set down, but because the main character Prema was not easy to like. It got me thinking that, sadly, there are people who are simply, purely unlikable. I don't mean terrible people who do horrible things; I mean those ordinary people among us who either don't have much personality, or what personality they do have is unpleasant or boring. Prema is such a person. It seems like her whole life she has been colorless, and when a popular schoolmate recognizes her, she is filled with amazement. Of course that schoolmate is vastly successful, while Prema teaches students who don't like her. Tara is a publisher, and is going to start a new enterprise of publishing English translations of works written in the many Indian languages. She accidentally sees an old book of stories that belongs to Prema, written in the language of Prema's mother. The upshot is that she hires Prema to translate it. The published translation is successful, though not everyone approves of an English version. At a press conference, she is asked
"What made you decide to translate these stories into a colonial language that was responsible for destroying the original language."
When the short story writer, Suvarna Devi writes a book, and Prema is to translate it, Translator Translated becomes quite suspenseful because Prema decides she can write it better than the original writer.

This is a really good story despite of, and maybe because of, Prema's oddness.

The last novella is The Artist of Disappearance. It is the longest of the three, and the most meditative. It slows the reader down. Ravi is one of those rare people who from childhood pays deep attention to nature, and whose reality becomes that world rather than the world of people and things.
Outdoors was freedom. Outdoors was the life to which he chose to belong - the life of crickets springing out of the grass, the birds wheeling hundreds of feet below in the valley or soaring upwards above the mountains, and the animals invisible in the undergrowth, giving themselves away by an occasional rustle or eruption of cries or flurried calls; plants following their own green compulsions and purposes, almost imperceptibly, and the rocks and stones, seemingly inert but mysteriously part of the constant change and movement of the earth. One had only to be silent, aware, observe and perceive - ...
Silent, aware, observe and perceive. These are words not common in life, are they? Even if we do perceive, we feel we must tell someone either verbally or in writing. It sometimes feels as if something isn't quite real unless it is shared. We do not live in a quiet time. We need to make an effort to be still. We take yoga classes or go on retreats. But there are people in those classes and at those retreats. Ravi is alone. Not lonely but solitary. In these pages we read his life story and see the logical progression which led him to live as he now does. For a time he lived away from his home.
The years that followed, Ravi did not count. He did not count them because he did not acknowledge them as his: they did not belong to his life because they did not belong to the forest and the hills. … in order to survive he needed to be at altitude, a Himalayan altitude, so he might breathe.
I am in awe of Anita Desai. I've never read anything quite so beautiful. If you want something different to fill your senses, and perhaps even to change how you think about your life, this is the book.

This is my first book for the South Asian Challenge 2012.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quote du jour/Mark Twain

In a good bookroom, you feel in some way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.
Mark Twain

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Murder Most Frothy by Cleo Coyle

13. Murder Most Frothy - book 4 in the Coffeehouse Mystery series
by Cleo Coyle
mystery 2006
third book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 2012
Nook book, 1
finished 3/12/12

Honestly, with every book I read I become more enamoured of this series. The books are so refreshingly different from any other light mysteries I've read. First of all, the writing is really excellent. Secondly, the locales are so well researched and well presented. In fact to my mind, the only series comparable in terms of setting the scene is the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series by Deborah Crombie. Those books are more serious, with more intense themes, but the settings are equally strong in both series. Thirdly, the characters are really great people, especially the 'star,' Clare Cosi. And lastly, there is the coffee, which is why I include the books in my readings for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge.

There is a wealth of information provided in each and every book.
Yes, Brazil is the largest coffee producer in the world, and much of it comes from lower-grade Arabicas and Robustas grown on massive plantations. And yes, these coffees are flat and average, many of them ending up in mass-marketed blends - the kind you find canned on grocery store shelves. But Brazil is a huge country with a wide spectrum of conditions and quality. In recent years, its growing associations have been working to recreate the image of its coffees. Small farms, like the one Matteo found in the south of Minas Gerais, use higher quality harvesting and processing methods to produce specialty-level coffees that really sing in lighter and medium roasts.
And speaking of medium roasts, I wonder if you thought, as I did, that dark roasts offer more of a zing, in terms of caffeine. Well, it's not so.
… I feared my energy levels would spike and then fall, which was why I'd chosen the Breakfast Blend. I had many other more complex and robust-tasting blends on hand, but the medium roast had more caffeine than the darker Italian or French roasts.
Writing of Africa,
Mount Elgon is one of the tallest mountains in Africa, and the terrain is steep and treacherous with thick forest cover. According to Matteo, roads were less common than dirt tracks, which were often washed away during rainy season when gullies overflowed. Nevertheless, the Bagisu tribesmen who lived near the Sipi Falls had become experts at coffee farming, and they had a foolproof method of transporting their cherries
[What we call a coffee bean is actually the seeds of a cherry-like fruit. Coffee trees produce berries, called coffee cherries, that turn bright red when they are ripe and ready to pick. The fruit is found in clusters along the branches of the tree.],
even amid the challenging terrain. No, they did not use Hummers. They used donkeys.
And a description of the product of that African coffee which was made into a blend Clare calls Summer Porch.
A coffee taster trains the tongue and the nose to detect the faintest traces of every flavor. There were hints of star-fruit, pear, and red cherry behind the Jasmine tea like flavors of the Sipi Falls. And I'd roasted it light to really bring out the strawberry flavor (a darker roast produced a sort of black tea finish to the cup).
As in her other books, the author extols the virtues of Kona coffee
… that sweet, smooth coffee with buttery characteristics and hints of cinnamon and cloves, grown in the volcanic soil of Hawaii. (Many coffee roasters offer Kona blends, but for my money the single-origin experience is the way to go.)
And I agree. You may see the Kona that I buy in my second book report on this series.

The mystery in Murder Most Frothy takes place in The Hamptons on Long Island. If you watch the television show, Royal Pains, (which I love)

you know how beautiful this part of the country is, but the real estate is very, very expensive, and consequently it is pretty much the home (usually second or third home) of the rich and famous.

There are still some locals like the farmers in the book.
The Millers had been running this farm stand of impossibly fresh vegetables and fruits every summer for the last twenty-odd years - and before that, Bob's father had run it. They were "Bonackers," part of the local families that had been living out here for generations.
(At one time, "Bonacker" had been a pejorative term like hick or bumpkin. Its etymology was Native American, from the word "Accobonac," which roughly means "place where groundnuts are gathered." Such was the naming of nearby Accobonac Harbor and, consequently, the people who lived around it. These days people wore the name with pride. The East Hampton High School sports teams had even adopted it as their nickname.)
The Miller's land was located on the unfashionable side of the highway - the side away from the ocean - yet they'd been able to sell off just a portion of it for a small fortune. They'd kept the rest in the family and continued to farm it, just as they had for hundreds of years.
Clare is out there for the summer working for her friend, David Mintzer who has a ten-million dollar mansion, and a restaurant in East Hampton, making up 'frothy coffee concoctions' for his huge fourth of July party, and training baristas for the restaurant as well as creating coffee and dessert 'pairings.' Her daughter Joy is also working out there for the summer.

An unexpected occurence at the glamorous party is the murder of one of the young people working alongside Joy at the party. Because the victim was in Mintzer's bathroom and his profile was visible through the window, the thought is that perhaps the killer got the wrong person. Clare finds some shell casings and flipper prints out in the dunes.

It is also suspected that David has been poisoned (not killed, just ill). One of the suspects is a neighbor who is angry that David has spoiled her view with the tall trees he planted. He can't believe she would want to kill him over this.
If there's a Hamptons pastime more common than suing your neighbor, I don't know what it is. People file in civil court as often as they file onto tennis courts.
The reader learns that
"They're razing our brilliant, off-beat architectural history like Motherwell's Quonset hut, and replacing it with mock shingle-style cottages. … It was bulldozed in 1985. You know why? The new, wealthy owner wanted a more conventional structure for his summer weekends."
The man speaking is passionate about what is happening.
"It's a bankruptcy of creative design. Most architects are sick about it, but they want to be successful, and these people with money don't have the sense of adventure the modernists did. They're simply desperate to fit in. 'Build me something that looks like it's been around for one hundred years. And make it really, really big.'"
There's a lovely piece on Motherwell's house here.

The upside to the area is that it is protected from a lot of the sprawl we have become so accustomed to.
The place was a trip back in time, where neon was outlawed, scenic rural landscapes were preserved... filled with ponds, marshes, and hills.
In her inimitable way, Clare describes it as 'a dreamland. Trump meets Thoreau with an ocean view.'

Clare Cosi is spunky, feisty, intelligent. In this book, her ex-husband, Matteo tells her why he thinks she is so interested in sleuthing.
Matt recently accused me of having a Nancy Drew compulsion. He claimed it was a wish fulfillment impulse carried over from all the mystery novels I'd read in my formative years. He asserted this was my own personal version of an adrenaline rush.
There is lots more information about this wonderful series, along with coffee facts and recipes at the author's website.

You may notice that this is a Nook book. I still have my Kindle, and still buy books for it, but I recently bought a Nook as well. Not to be a conspicuous consumer, but to be a supporter of Barnes & Noble, which still has 'bricks and mortar' bookstores. I want to spread my book buying money between them, as well as my local independent bookstore.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hope Road by John Barlow

12. Hope Road - first in the LS9 series
by John Barlow
mystery, 2011
Kindle book, 9
finished 3/10/12

For the average person, if your parents are teachers or mechanics it isn't etched in stone that you will work at the same occupations. Some parents put more pressure on their children than others, but for the most part, a child is free to live a different life and have a different job from their parents. A glaring exception is if you are a child of someone who is part of an organized crime syndicate. You may remember that Michael Corleone, in the Godfather movies, didn't want to be part of the family business. Yet even going to Dartmouth and being a war hero couldn't stop the inevitable pull.

In Hope Road, John Ray is the son of Tony Ray, the former crime boss of Leeds, England. He is trying to run his father's used car dealership as a legitimate business, and in fact has just won an award for Auto Trader Used Car Dealership of the Year. But his family connections haunt him no matter how he succeeds. The headline after he receives the award screams out Family of Crime Turns An Honest Profit. He lives in the converted former art room at his childhood school.
… the building had an added attraction, because he'd always felt comfortable here, as if he belonged. This is where he'd become John Ray, where he'd escaped the shadow of his father and the family name. From these classrooms he'd gone on to Cambridge, then abroad, far away from the place where he'd grown up, and where he was always someone's son, never just himself. He had a lot to thank the school for.
The reader naturally wonders why he came back to Leeds and is running this business which used to be the headquarters for the work his father did. His girlfriend is, perhaps surprisingly, a policewoman. He met her two years ago at the scene where his criminal brother was brutally murdered. It is an uneasy situation for her, and she is always on the line with her boss who is asked
if it's police policy for officers to be seen about town with the family of known criminals.
The current case DC Denise Danson is investigating involves the murder of a young prostitute found in the trunk of a car. In the glove compartment is a business card from Tony Ray's Motors, Hope Road, Leeds 9. It is lucky for John Ray that 'Den' can give him an alibi for the night before.

If I had friends who worked in British television, I would tell them that Hope Road would make a great program. All the way through the book I could see the scenes. I don't know when I've read anything quite so visual.

There really is a Hope Road in Leeds. It sits
at the feet of the optimistic, vertical city, close to the glamour but somehow cut off from it, left on the outside. This part of Leeds clings to its low-slung industrial past like an old drunk, scared to change his ways .... Victorian workshops and squat 1920s factory blocks are either bricked up or hide unnamed businesses behind steel-panelled gates topped off with coils of rusting barbed wire. Occasional splashes of colour announce exhaust refits and commercial printing services.
… Hope Road. Named at a different time.
The hotel featured in the book:
The Eurolodge Hotel occupies a squat, pre-war office block a mile out of town on the York Road. When the building was new it would have been right next to the trams going in and out of the city. But now its two stories of old red brick and stained concrete sit beside four lanes of relentless, fast-moving traffic.
The window of his 'converted art studio' looks out on
rows of red-brick council houses running down the valley side, an ugly-as-hell modern comprehensive school, and further off the kind of grey tower blocks that seem to be rain-dampened whatever the weather.
Council-owned flats, thrown up in the sixties, pre-fab walls and poured concrete floors. Functional. Miserable.

Leeds City Centre

The University of Leeds

Hope Road Bridge

LS9 is the postal code for the region, hence the name for this series. I really, really liked Hope Road and can't wait for the next book.

I first read about it here.

There is a most interesting write-up about the author here in which he tells of his learning about a less-than-reputable member of his own family.

And John Barlow's website is here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Today's song/You Can Never Hold Back Spring - Tom Waits

Tom Waits - "You Can Never Hold Back Spring" video from Anti Records on Vimeo.

You can never hold back spring
You can be sure I will never
Stop believing
The blushing rose it will climb
Spring ahead or fall behind
Winter dreams the same dream
Every time

Baby, you can never hold back spring
Even though you've lost your way
The world is dreaming, dreaming of spring

So close your eyes
Open your heart
To the one who's dreaming of you
Baby, you can never hold back spring
Remember everything that spring
Can bring
Oh, baby, you can never hold back spring
Oh, baby, you can never hold back spring.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

10. The Apothecary
by Maile Meloy
illustrated by Ian Schoenherr
middle grade fiction, 2011
finished 2/29/12

It is rare that I read a book which takes me back to the days of childhood when I was completely absorbed in a story. The Apothecary gave me that very feeling.

The book begins in Hollywood, California in 1952. Fourteen year old Janie is walking home from school when she realizes that she is being followed by two men in a dark car. After she tells her parents who are televison show writers,
We walked that night to Musso and Frank's, which was my favorite restaurant, but it didn't feel like a treat. My parents tried to pretend everything was fine, but we took back alleys, and they watched the corners at every street. …
"So who are those men in the car?" I asked.
My mother sighed. "They're U.S. marshals," she said. "From Washington. The government."
That didn't make any sense. "What do they want?"
Addendum March 17: This restaurant was just mentioned on Roberta's blog! It is still going and has a website.

After telling their daughter that they are going to move to London, Janie asks, 'What did you do?' Her father says, 'nothing,' and goes on to tell her about a childhood acquaintance.
"I don't know if you remember Katie Lardner."
"The Lardners moved to Mexico, because her father became a target. It became impossible for him to work here."
Here Maile Meloy is including a real person. Ring Lardner, Jr. went to jail, and then moved to Mexico, and later England where he worked on The Adventures of Robin Hood, just as Janie's parents do.
You may learn more about this period in Hollywood here.

Lardner is on the far right.

Janie says that they moved because her father was a Communist, and then she asks her parents if they are. Mr. Scott answers:
"We believe in the Constitution, Janie," he said. "And we've been put on a list of people they're watching. That's why they're watching you, when it has nothing to do with you. And I will not have them following my child."
He explains that they will be called to testify, and though they 'could answer for themselves,' they know they will be asked to testify about their friends, 'and we can't do that.'
"We've heard they'll confiscate passports soon so people can't leave the country. So we have to go right away."
They have a job lined up in London working on a television show about Robin Hood.

And thus, Janie's life changes completely. She hates to leave her sunny home, her friends, her life. When they land in England, they find much the same situation as readers of the book 84, Charing Cross Road learned about. 1952 London is light years away from the United States. They move into a small apartment with a broken gas water heater in a kitchen 'no bigger than a closet.' The landlady was 'not going to let some spoiled Americans fail to appreciate their good fortune.'
"You're lucky to get this place you know. … People are queuing up for a flat like this, with its own lavatory, and separate bedrooms, and a working telephone line."
There are ration cards, and many foods, such as eggs are hard to come by. Chocolate bars have been scarce 'since the war.' And the streets are still 'bomb-scarred and desolate, seven years after the war's end.'

When they go to the neighborhood apothecary for hot water bottles, the first unusual occurence happens. Her father jokes about needing something to cure Janie's homesickness, and the apothecary takes two jars from the shelf and measures the ingredients, aspen and honeysuckle, into a small container. He tells Mr. Scott to add some water, and that they will not hurt her. He says they might help or they might not, because people have 'different constitutions.'
Note: apothecary is both the name of what we would now call a pharmacy, and the pharmacist.

At her new school, she meets four people who become important in her life: her Latin teacher, Mr. Denby, a war hero who was a prisoner of war in Germany for two years; a wealthy, beautiful girl, Sarah Pennington who thinks Mr. Denby is 'dreamy;' a boy, Sergei Shiskin, whose father works for the Soviet embassy; and most importantly, Benjamin Burrows, whose father happens to be the apothecary.

The adventures begin almost immediately when she and Benjamin go to the park and see Sergei's father apparently passing secret messages, and are shocked to see Benjamin's father picking up one of them. When the apothecary tears it up, they recover it from the trash.

Well, can you imagine how afraid, and yet excited, you would be in this situation if you were Janie's age?

And there I shall stop. I've set up the story, and from this point it becomes absolutely thrilling. Murder, herbal potions (to enable one to fly, and become invisible!), really bad guys, the atomic bomb - all these become part of the perils and excitements that Janie and Benjamin experience. Their sleuthing takes them to the Chelsea Physic Garden. I was happy to see a couple videos at the site, and a virtual tour which really brings The Apothecary to life.

The book contains one of my favorite devices. A 'note to the reader' written by Janie, now Jane, in 2011 sets up the tale. She talks about her memories of that year.
People describe their childhoods as magical, but mine - it really was.
As is this whole book. Magical and believable at the same time. A truly wonderful reading experience which is enhanced by the illustrations by Ian Schoenherr.

And, if my book report hasn't convinced you to read The Apothecary, surely this will!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Quote du jour/ Hal Borland

March is a tomboy with tousled hair, a mischievous smile, mud on her shoes and a laugh in her voice. She knows when the first shadbush will blow, where the first violet will bloom, and she isn’t afraid of a salamander. She has whims and winning ways. She’s exasperating, lovable, a terror-on-wheels, too young to be reasoned with, too old to be spanked.

March is rain drenching as June and cold as January. It is mud and slush and the first green grass down along the brook. March gave its name, and not without reason, to the mad hare. March is the vernal equinox when, by the calculations of the stargazers, Spring arrives. Sometimes the equinox is cold and impersonal as a mathematical table, and sometimes it is warm and lively and spangled with crocuses. The equinox is fixed and immutable, but Spring is a movable feast that is spread only when sun and wind and all the elements of weather contrive to smile at the same time.

March is pussy willows. March is hepatica in bloom, and often it is arbutus. Sometimes it is anemones and bloodroot blossoms and even brave daffodils. March is a sleet storm pelting out of the north the day after you find the first violet bud. March is boys playing marbles and girls playing jacks and hopscotch. March was once sulphur and molasses; it still is dandelion greens and rock cress.

March is the gardener impatient to garden; it is the winter-weary sun seeker impatient for a case of Spring fever. March is February with a smile and April with a sniffle. March is a problem child with a twinkle in its eye.

Hal Borland (1900-1978)
from Sundial of the Seasons, 1964

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Piglet sitting

I think you may know that my daughter Margaret is a massage therapist. Her job is at a big hotel, but she occasionally has clients at her house in a specially set up massage room. Her dog Lexi is off in the woods, with their housemate and his dog, but Piglet the Pug can't keep up with them. She can't stay down at Margaret's house because she will just scratch at the door of the room. So, I spent a couple hours today Piglet sitting. I put Sadie in the laundry room, and Raya in a room upstairs.

We went outdoors a couple times,

but Piggie isn't really the outdoor type.

Mostly, she sat on my lap and we watched episodes of the first season of Crossing Jordan which has finally come on Netflix Instant.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mary Oliver is ill

You may have heard that Mary Oliver is sick. So many of us love her work and her spirit.

Addendum: Please scroll down to Carole's second comment. Good, good news!

From the Poetry Foundation

Mary Oliver Diagnosed with Serious Illness

Mary Oliver, who was slated to deliver the Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture at Florida Gulf Coast University, has canceled her appearance under sad circumstances according to this article from the student newspaper Eagle News. From the article:

Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Mary Oliver unexpectedly canceled all public appearances, including the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education (CESE) signature event, which was scheduled for Friday, Feb. 17 on Sanibel Island. Also effected is the Master Class with Florida Gulf Coast University students that was scheduled on campus Thursday, Feb. 16.

The Eighth Annual Fundraising Celebration on Saturday, Feb. 18 from 5:00-8:00pm on Sanibel Island will continue as planned.

Below is the official statement from the CESE:

Dear Friends of the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education,

We write to share difficult news concerning poet Mary Oliver. We have learned that Oliver has just received an unexpected diagnosis of a very serious illness. Unfortunately, her aggressive treatment plan requires no travel and no public appearances on doctor’s orders. She had been greatly looking forward to delivering the Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture at the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education. We hope that you will join us in sending prayers, healing thoughts, and well wishes to Mary Oliver at this difficult time. We encourage you to spend time reading her poetry aloud.
We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

A blog named Dear Mary has been set up for well wishes and tributes.

May the love of life expressed in this poem infuse her with health and strength.


I wish I was twenty and in love with life
and still full of beans.

Onward, old legs!
There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side
the roses are blooming and finding their labor
no adversity to the spirit.

Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
shining like a song, like a body
I want to touch

though I'm not twenty
and won't be again, but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life, And still
full of beans.

From Red Bird
published by Beacon Press, 2008

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An homage to pasta

Please visit Beth Fish Reads this weekend, and every weekend, for lots of great food related postings.

When I was little, growing up in the US, there was spaghetti and there was macaroni. I'm not sure when people started saying pasta. Here we say paws-ta, while my Irish friend says pass-ta. However you say it, to my mind it is one of the world's best foods. I have posted my favorite pasta dishes over the years, but will include clickable links here today so you may go right to them if you are interested. I'd say we have pasta two or three times a week.

Pasta with sautéed vegetables is one of my go-to meals. It can be different every time depending on the vegetables. Sometimes I make a simple aglio e olio (garlic and oil). Most often in the winter I use onions, with summer squash or zucchini frozen from the summer garden. Once in a while I buy an expensive organic yellow or orange pepper which comes from far away (yesterday's was grown in Israel). In the summer, I get fresh local peppers of all colors and add them to the mix. Other than the garlic and oil version, every saute´includes onions, which I've heard referred to as La Regina della Cucina, the queen of the kitchen. I use many varieties of onions, including shallots and scallions.

Bulgur and Vermicelli Pilaf is an old favorite which I love. A couple years ago I made Pasta Fagioli for the first time.

Matt's mother makes a baked spaghetti which is delicious. She cooks the spaghetti, mixes it with sauce and cheese, sprinkles bread crumbs on top, and then bakes it. For me, she always makes a separate version without cheese. (You do know by now that I am one of the very few in the world who does not like the stuff!).

I make macaroni and cheese for my family, and this one has been a particular favorite.

And then there's the rich and delicious basil pesto.

I've made the same tomato sauce for ages, and while everyone has their own particular way, this has always been a hit in my home. Mine is based on either stewed and strained tomatoes fresh from the garden, or two 28 oz. cans of organic (crushed is my favorite) tomatoes, put through the food mill. Then I add 2 jars of tomato paste, salt, basil, and onions and garlic sautéed in 1/4 c. olive oil. That's it. Simple and delicious.

I am a homemade whole wheat bread girl, and have been for decades. I also eat only brown rice, but when it comes to pasta I like the regular semolina, not whole wheat. I know many people eat it, and even like it, but not me. On the bionaturae site I read:
The glycemic-index rating for pasta is 55, while whole wheat pasta is 40. Comparatively, white rice is 82 and white bread is 100. The more you cook pasta, the higher the rating. Please test your pasta frequently and become accustomed to eating it "al dente", as they do in Italy. Foods with a glycemic index of 100 or above are very quick to release sugar into the bloodstream.
I am very particular when it comes to cooking it. I hate mushy, overcooked pasta, and many an evening out at a restaurant has been spoiled by just such a dish. My guess is that some places cook it ahead and then heat it up. I'd so rather eat it at home where I just barely cook it. It isn't crunchy but it certainly isn't flabby either.

And now to talk of varieties and brands. Do you have favorites? I know I do. I like to buy the Italian pastas when I can, but I'm really quite fond of several Prince products. Some shapes of pasta I adore, while others I don't like at all. Every pasta is different, which amazes me when I think of it. How can a shape change the taste? I don't know, but it does.

I love vermicelli,
but don't like capellini. I like medium shells

but not penne or fusilli. I like linguine but only once in a while. I don't care for ziti but love Barilla rigatoni.

I like small macaroni

but not the larger size. Barilla's macaroni has those little ridges which I don't like so much. The very, very best spaghetti I ever had was bought at an Italian grocery store in Boston's North End. It was an 'artisan' pasta, and simply out-of-this-world delicious. Once in a while I'll see one in the grocery store and buy it, but I've not been able to duplicate that exact taste. The most wonderful egg noodles I've bought are from bionaturae.

And thus endeth the pasta epistle according to Nan. I am admittedly a pasta geek, a pasta snob, but most importantly a pasta fan.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March 8, 1952

There is a particular pleasure which comes when a reader starts reading a book on the exact day that book began. This happened last year on May 1, and again today.

Julia Child's first letter in As Always, Julia was written sixty years ago today. Her great, long friendship with Avis DeVoto began with a letter Julia wrote to Avis' husband in response to a magazine piece he had written.

Dear Mr. De Voto:
Your able diatribe against the beautiful-beautiful-rust-proof-edge-proof American kitchen knife so went to my heart that I cannot refrain from sending you this nice little French model as a token of my appreciation.
For the past three years here, I've had the good fortune to be able to spend my life studying French cooking and have amassed a most satisfyingly professional batterie de cuisine, including a gamut of excellent French knives. When we were in the USA last summer I picked up four beautiful-beautiful American stainless steel housewives knives, of different makes, to try them out. But I have been quite unable to sharpen them satisfactorily. I am therefore wondering if the average American housewife really wants a sharp knife in the kitchen, as many of my compatriots accuse me resentfully: "But your knives are so sharp! They're dangerous!"
If you are in need of some good professional knives, I would be very pleased to get some for you, and the prices are modest:

This one is about 70¢ (280 francs)
8-inch blade, about $2.40
7-inch flexible fish filleter, about $1.00

Mailed from here Fourth Class, one or two at a time, there seems to be no duty to pay at your end.
We do enjoy you in Harper's!

Most sincerely,
Julia Child
(Mrs. Paul Child)

Because Bernard DeVoto was very busy, his wife Avis wrote back to Julia instead of her husband, and from such a pleasant little fan letter came a lifetime of letters and friendship between the two women.

My friend Les is reading As Always, Julia as her year-long book. Les' mother, Tia read it like this:
I read As Always, Julia as if the letters were arriving at intervals. I kept it by my spot on the sofa where I picked it up during the days over a period of four months and a bit.
Isn't that delightful? I haven't decided just how I will read these letters. Maybe I'll read them all at once, or maybe a few at a time.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

Rather than a full book report, this will be a shorter book notes version because I just don't have that much to say about this book.

11. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1940
Kindle book, 8
finished, 3/1/12

Though I dearly love this old cover, I did not love the book. That's par for the course when one reads many, many books by an author. Some Agatha books I have loved, others I have liked, some were so-so, and a very few I really didn't care for. This is in the last category.

In fact, I've been putting off writing about it because frankly, I'd just as soon forget it. It wasn't horrible or filled with details that were creepy, but it was a somber story. It was published in 1940 when there was a lot of darkness and fear in the world.

My Agatha Christie Reader's Companion says,

This story does not harken back to a gentler and more settled period but is full of references to current affairs. Although the war itself is unmentioned, there are references to Hitler and Mussolini, to Mosley's Fascists, to the threat of Communism and to the IRA.
There were tiny bits of humor, as in Poirot's fear of his six-month dental checkup, but the story and the characters were not appealing to me.

When I finished, I began Sad Cypress, which was published just before this one, and put it aside, at least for now, because there was that same feeling of despair that came through. I think I'm happier with those books that do 'harken back to a gentler and more settled period.'

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dead Air Can Kill You by Phil Edwards

9. Dead Air Can Kill You - third in the Jake Russo series
by Phil Edwards
mystery, 2011
second book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 2012
Kindle book, 7
finished, 2/22/12

As we saw in the last book, Death by Gumbo, the reporter Jake Russo's photographer Gary Novak is becoming more and more famous. In Dead Air Can Kill You he has been invited to appear on a public radio program in Wisconsin. He is going to talk about his new book, Delicious:Hidden Secrets of the World's Best Taster. This is a down home kind of show called Herenomore. Jake and his girlfriend Melissa have decided to tag along with Gary to enjoy a weekend at a ski resort. As soon as they arrive, it is clear that Gary is the celebrity. Jake tells someone at the theatre that he works with one of the guests, and when asked who, he replies:
"Gary Novak. He's a food writer and my photographer. His book is coming out this month."
"I've heard of him! He writes that food blog about eating things. … You work for Mr. Novak?"
"Well, no. I work with him. I'm a reporter and he does my photography. We're here on vacation."
The clerk shook his head.
"I can't believe I'm talking to somebody who works for the world's best taster."
Jake didn't bother correcting him again.
Soon, Gary tells Jake that he cancelled the reservations at the hotel because Braxton Elliot, the host of the radio show, has invited them all to stay with him. Jake calls and books another room quickly, and decides that he and Melissa will just eat dinner at Elliot's place along with the cast and crew of Herenomore. After dinner with the unpleasant, self-absorbed, tyrannical man, they find they cannot leave. There is a huge blizzard outside, the biggest one in Wisconsin for a while, and the guests are snowed in. The next morning, Gary and Meryl his wife, whom we meet in this book, see a lump under the snow. The two couples investigate and find the body of Braxton Elliot. The police are called but they cannot get there in the storm. So we, the readers, are in for a delightful old-fashioned murder mystery. The house is full of people with good reason to kill Braxton, and there is fear and uncertainty because no one knows the culprit. Another murder naturally occurs. There is some suspense, but being in the company of Jake, Melissa, Gary, and now Meryl is the great pleasure of this book, and each of the others in the series. The author also gives us such a strong sense of place. In the first book it was Florida, the second New Orleans, and now Wisconsin. The locales are important to the action in these stories.

This is my second book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge.

It may seem an unusual choice because there aren't any recipes. There are no visits to restaurants. There are no meals served (except for that dinner at the beginning). But there is a focus on food, because there is none. After the body is found, and the four of them tell the other guests what has happened, they 'moved quickly to the kitchen.'
Gary shouted when he opened the refrigerator.
"Someone has murdered the food in this place."
They all peered in. A jar of mustard loitered on the top shelf. The crisper held a few leaves of lettuce. That was it.
The freezer is equally empty with only 'a single package of a diet meal.' The cabinets are also bare.

And so the people in this book have a weekend with no food. They are hungry. And poor Gary, the foodie has the worst time. He is certain he will die and begins talking about giving away his possessions. Remembering the Donner party, he declares that 'you may eat my body if I perish first.' We all know people who don't care much about food. They eat merely to live, while those of us who deem ourselves 'foodies' like Gary, are just the opposite. It was interesting to read how most of the people barely mentioned the lack of food. They made do smoking cigars and drinking wine. At one point a melon is found. It is a prop for the man who makes radio sounds. Jake tries it out and asks Gary if he wants to. Gary says,
"No. I want to eat it! Don't you realize there is no food in this house?"
While Jake and the man talk more, Gary eats the honeydew melon.
"I can only hope this will tide me over for a few more hours. I can already feel my mental faculties fading."
"Mr. Kerr, is there a chance that you use barbecue ribs to make sound effects? Or maybe a little pasta? Particularly gnocchi?"
Later Gary asks Jake,
"Are you as hungry as I am?"
"Gary, it's not the time to think about food."
… "Do you think we should see if there's a secret kitchen with food?"
As we've seen in the other books, Gary is also an eccentric, with a unique way of thinking and speaking. Jake can't figure out where he came from originally, and thinks that he sounds 'like he was speaking through an overworked translator.' He reminds me a bit of Ziva in NCIS. There is even a collection of Zivaisms on the internet. Perhaps someone will collect some Garyisms as the series continues.
"I am very glad to be here on your program in the greatest state in Wisconsin."
[another person says]"I believe it is the only state in Wisconsin."
"Then certainly it is the best."
"Do not make me play hard to get" when he means "Do not make me play hardball."

When someone notices his accent, and asks where he is from, Gary answers, 'I came here from Sarasota, Florida!'
"So your accent is how people in Sarasota talk?"
"If you say so, I will agree! I've lived there for almost twelve years."
His expressions are sprinkled throughout the book, giving the reader a good sense of this delightful man.

If you are looking for a light-hearted, well-written book, with a little mystery involved, this book, and the two preceding it, are just the ticket. I just love this Jake Russo series. As soon as I finished this, I bought the next one. They are witty, and the characters make for pleasant reading company.

I came upon this at Amazon:

An Interview with Phil Edwards About the Book

In this book, Jake watches his photographer Gary appear on an old time radio show. The rest of the book is set in the world of radio (and in a Wisconsin blizzard). What made you choose that setting?

Well, the Wisconsin part is easy. I went to high school and college in Wisconsin, so I'm very familiar with the cold. And as I wrote this book in Chicago, I tried to cultivate my dread of the imminent winter.

The radio setting is easy too. I think anyone who listens to public radio could recognize the inspiration for some of the characters. Of course, I don't believe any of them actually act like the irascible Braxton Elliott or the pretentious Isaac Holtz (legally, I have to say that).

The most fun, however, was marooning all of these characters in a mansion. That gave me a chance to force everyone to interact a lot--whether they wanted to or not.

What happens to the characters we've met in the first two books?

Jake has found some stability in his professional and personal life. But this vacation is going to test everything he's built so far, in his career and with his girlfriend Mel. Meanwhile, Gary continues to flourish with a popular food blog and a photography career. This book gives readers the opportunity to finally meet his wife, Meryl, and see what she adds to the mystery.

How does this book differ from the first two in the series?

Readers can read the mysteries in any order. In fact, Dead Air Can Kill You might serve as a great introduction to Jake and his friends.

That said, this book differs from the first two. Jake has grown as a person, and the mystery has grown too. Retirement Can Be Murder uncovered a conspiracy and Death By Gumbo entered a unique world filled with personal rivalries. This book does the same, but it raises the intensity through more twists and raises the humor through more...well, you'll see.

Once readers finish this book, Jake's adventures continue on Broadway in The Show Must Go Wrong.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Have you seen or heard of this wonderful animated short movie which won an Academy award? I so loved it, and had tears in my eyes at the end. It is fifteen minutes long, and you may see it here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Today's poem - Winds of March

Winds of March, we welcome you,
There is work for you to do.
Work and play and blow all day,
Blow the Winter cold away.