Monday, June 22, 2015

Stopping To Think

Stopping To Think

Every frame of the recently aired television production of Hilary Mantel’s, Wolf Hall, was magnificent; I cannot recommend it highly enough.  But one scene in particular has stayed with me.  It occurs when Cromwell is wandering the netherworld of fever dreams.  His beautiful dead wife is suddenly sitting beside him on the bed in a shaft of morning light, her hands moving, fast and fluid, as she weaves.  “Stop”, Cromwell says.  “Show me how you do it.”  Never looking up, his wife replies, “If I stop to think how I’m doing it, I won’t be able to do it.”

So much meaning in that one statement, at least for me.  In turning it over in my head  I’ve begun to see the many feats I perform on autopilot.  Cooking.  Knitting.  Occasionally, driving… God help me.  So for the past few days I have decelerated and considered every single moment in an attempt to give each the attention a good life deserves.  

I’ve slowed my knitting to better enjoy how the pattern forms beneath my fingers and I’ve turned off the radio and television to knit in the quiet.   Before I even taste the sweetness of the strawberry, I’ve stopped to admire the brilliance of its redness.  I’ve put down the newspaper to watch a robin in the birdbath as she splashes about in exhilarating dance, noticing how she dips her head beneath the water before every splash.  I’ve watched as she cleans her orange beak on the side of the bath when she’s done.  One side, then the other.  Rapid fire.  I’ve delighted in the crisp coolness of  freshly laundered linen as I slip between the sheets at bedtime.  I’ve sniffed the fragrance of the pages when I’ve opened the book I’m reading, felt the texture of each as I’ve lifted and turned it onward.  I’ve marveled at the mink-softness of Edward’s fur as I’ve run my hand over the top of his head.  I’ve listened to the wind.  I’ve walked outside in the rain.  I’ve opened the casement window at midnight to sit and stare at the moon.  I’ve relished the smell of rising yeast bread; marveled at the green of the ferns as I water them in the evening. 
Not only have I stopped to think about what I’m doing, 
I feel I’m doing it all just a wee bit better.

**That scene in Wolf Hall was played out for real when a neighbour called and asked me to teach her two girls how to knit.  Our first lesson was last week, and both parents decided to learn as well.  The youngest was a promising student even if she did turn somersaults around the room after each row.  The father, oddly enough, was a natural.**

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Books and Beaches... The Annual Summer Reading List

Books and Beaches
The Annual Summer Reading List

I’ve always admired women who carry clutch bags, those exquisite, tiny creations that fit  so neatly under the arm.  They look so professional, so put together, so … unfettered.  I once spied one of these lovely envelope bags in a shop.  It was gorgeous and my heart went out to it immediately.  Fortunately I was seized by a rare moment of wisdom and before I pulled out my dollars to purchase this treat, I decided to take the “essentials” out of the handbag I was carrying and attempt to fit them into this sleek new temptation.  Out came my wallet, my phone and my lipstick, followed by my knitting, several dog biscuits, a green fan, a writing journal, several pencils….  By the time I pulled out the ever present book, the saleslady had seized to smile politely and was laughing out loud.  

There is always a book in my bag, which is one of the reasons I love summer.  In summer it is much more sartorially acceptable to carry a huge handbag.  It can easily be a beach bag, after all.  I may be on my way to the beach. I may have just returned.  Who's to know?  My current handbag is green straw, with a curved wooden handle and it's delightfully capable of holding not just one, but several books.  It's also ready and waiting to accompany me to the beach should the rigors of city life become too taxing as they frequently do in the summertime.  Right? 

Happily, I can read just about anywhere.  The airport, the dentist, on line at the bank… the restaurant, the park, the hairdressers, you name it.  But is there anyplace more divinely suited for reading than the beach?  Perhaps it’s the soundtrack of waves and wind.  Perhaps it’s the soft warm sand beneath bare feet.  Whatever the reason, I would choose the beach above all other summer locales to read this list of books.  Warm beach, cool beach, cold beach.  Sandy shore, rocky shore.  Doesn’t matter.   As long as the ocean stretches out before you as far as the eye can see, as long as a fat, full moon paints its ribbon of light across the rolling darkness, as long as waves crash against the shoreline in constant, comforting music, it’s completely perfect.   

Here are a few of my suggestions for the perfect summer books, along with a few of my favourite beaches to read them.  Please do share some of the books you’re planning to read this summer, and where you’re planning to read them!
As usual, click on the book to see more.
And, enjoy! 

Tintagel, Cornwall
The Green Road
by Anne Enright

Reunion of Ghosts
by Judith Claire Mitchell

A Memory of Violets
by Hazel Gaynor

Portpatrick, Scotland
The Shepherd’s Life
by James Redbanks

Small Blessings
by Martha Woodroof

The Love Object
Selected Stories
by Edna O’Brien
Amelia Island, Florida
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
by Jonas Jonasson

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You a Story
by Fredrik Backman

Man at the Helm
by Nina Stibbe

Elgol, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
by Susanna Clarke

Burning Down George Orwell’s House
by Andrew Ervin

Dancing at the Edge of the World
Thoughts on Words, Women, Places
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Hunting Island, South Carolina

Hold Still
by Sally Mann

The Music of the Swamp
by Lewis Nordan

by Edith Pearlman

Daytona Beach, Florida

Me… Jane
by Patrick McDonnell

Pride and Prejudice
A Baby-Lit Counting Primer

Swallows and Amazons
by Arthur Ransome

Happy Reading!
Happy Summer!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cannes Not

Cannes Not

No matter how hard we try, it is almost impossible to escape the culture of celebrity.   Even the casual observers -those enlightened few who, rightly, see it as nothing more than  trivial piffle more akin to cartoon than reality - should take heed for they are not immune to its influence.   No, wander deep into some uncharted rainforest, where the native people run free of clothing, prejudice and electricity, and I’d bet you a nickel they’d know at least one of the ample-bottomed Kardashian sisters.  One can find this total saturation of inanity amusing at a distance, but that’s the insidious thing about it:  it rarely stays at the distance it deserves.  Instead, it slyly stretches its fuzzy tentacles into certain unused corners of our consciousness, pushing aside those dusty remnants of our past no longer needed for ready recall - things like pay phones, VCR’s and vinyl records - to take up residence, unnoticed, yet alive.  

This fascination with celebrity has existed for centuries, of course.  Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire.  Evelyn Nesbit.  Lady Caroline Lamb.  Each could readily attest to the insatiability of the public’s interest in their doings.  But it seems that today we literally hold the world in the palm of our hands and these ubiquitous devices we cradle give power to the most insignificant crumbs of foolishness rendering them not only available, but unavoidable.  Is it any wonder the culture is affected?

While I know I’m walking the rapier edge of crankdom as I say it, just try to find something unique and wonderful on a popular radio station.  Stroll through the women’s clothing department of your local store and try to choose something gorgeous that doesn’t make you look as though you’re auditioning for a rap video.  Stand in the mainstream and strike a chord for individuality, and you sing alone.

Like many other women I was a bit irritated by the fashion kerfuffle that boiled up during last month’s Cannes Film Festival.  Seems a decree went forth that women would not be allowed on the red carpet unless they were wearing heels.  No, I am not joking.  Flats-wearing women were actually turned away, deemed unacceptable by their appearance.  This caused me to wonder…. would the exquisite Audrey Hepburn have been banished if she’d dared show up in those delicious ballet flats she wore?  Would Dame Judi Dench, brilliant, beautiful and eighty years old, been required to wear Sex and the City heels?  Have we been so thoroughly indoctrinated in the celebrity dictum of mile-high, toe-crushing footwear that this is now a requirement for the modern-day, well-dressed woman?  

While it’s true that I came into the world with a prickly sense of outrage at being told what to do or how to think, this fashion fiat made me see red.  In fact, it made me want to fly to France and crash that red carpet in my peach espadrilles. 
There are nights when I love to wear heels. 
 Just don’t tell me I have to.
Opinions, please?

“Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment.”
Alexander McQueen