Friday, April 30, 2010

Musings on a Meissen--Sleeveless Ensembles

This little figurine raises a lot of questions for the intrepid costume researcher. Often, when researching historical clothing, "pop" art like these types of figurines as well as pastoral paintings and prints are not used. Why? They're not meant to be realistic--that is, they aren't representing an actual scene or real people, so they become a bit untrustworthy. For instance, common wisdom tells us that women didn't scamper about wearing only their stays--they covered them with a jacket or gown except in extreme circumstances (ie, baling hay in midsummer). Yet, many of these pastoral prints and figurines show women in clearly sleeveless garments.

What to make of that? Well, for one--much of what we call "normal" is taken directly from what is "normal" for the region we study. For most Revolutionary War reenactors, that's the English colonies or merry old England herself. Could it be that norms *changed* when one set foot on the eastern side of the Channel? Yes, indeed--many travelers to the Continent noted that the women there wore looser, softer stays that were dubbed "corsette" (we English speakers seemed to call them "jumps"). So, perhaps, that norm of always covering them shifted a bit, too.

Of course, much of our "normal" also comes from societal elites. Of course it was normal for a lady of leisure to cover her stays. But for the working woman--perhaps we don't have her normal on record.

Finally, a fun factoid about this particular figure. She is part of the Gallant Orchestra, a collection of figurines depicting musicians. And they were based on live models from the Dresden opera.
And she has fabulous red shoes on...but color and pattern in a subject for an entirely different musing on Meissen.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The "Be Patient" Song and Writing

There's a very annoying, rather true little ditty that many Sunday School pupils learn in their formative years. It's the "Be Patient" song.

Be patient, be patient
Don't be in such a hurry
Be patient, be patient
It only makes you worry
Remember, remember
That God is patient too
And think of all the times that others have to wait for you...

As I said, incredibly annoying and even more so when you're five. And you've already been patient for a full ten minutes, which is far long than any five year old wants to be patient for.

The thing is, it's also quite true. And as a wanna-be writer in the query process, it's agonizingly true. It isn't anyone's fault that the process is slow, that manuscripts take time to read and are not top priority. It's the business, the game, the reality. The only thing I can control is me--and I know that it's a fact--being in a hurry does only make you worry.

I'm trying to learn not to worry. To everything there is a season, and the season of waiting is often a long one. I'm trying to learn that that's ok and it doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong. Even harder--learning to appreciate, if not enjoy, that season.

I'm trying to be content in my patience--and not view waiting as a burden. After all, think of all the work I've gotten done on the next book! This is becoming far more of a growing experience than merely a professional one. Other writers--how do you deal with Being Patient (and thinking of all the times that others have to wait for you--does that really help? or make you feel guilty?)

PS This song is GREAT for annoying friends, family, significant others, strangers on public transit...wait, that last one might be a touch dangerous.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Little Pudding Heads

One of the most fun (read--hugely geeky fun) parts of reenacting is researching clothing and finding unique new sources for insight on the clothes and how people wore them. My latest little obsession has been Meissen porcelain figurines, incredibly detailed three-inch tall figurines created in the town of Meissen, Germany from the eighteenth century onward. There's a bit of debate about how much we can use these--how idealized artwork was, whether the artists took more liberties with elements like color, pattern, even the clothing itself. But there's no denying that these figurines depict children wearing...

...pudding caps. So, it probably isn't called that in German, but these adorable German children are each wearing a protective cap designed to avoid bonk-a-noggin. Created of tubes of cloth stuffed with padding and formed into a shape not unlike a Burger King Birthday Crown, these little caps tied under the chin and helped wobbly young ones avoid too grevious of injuries. Feathers as displayed in the second child's cap are optional!

You might notice that I didn't assign genders to these children--I assume that the one on the left is a girl, given that she's carrying a doll, but the one on the right, carrying a rolling toy, may well be a boy. Despite the very, very flowery gown. Girls and boys were dressed alike, both in gowns, at this age--until they were out of diapers and pudding caps.

Admittedly, the idealized part of these figures might be in how nicely the two children are wearing their caps--every reenactor child I've seen in a pudding cap has tugged at it mercilessly until finally admitting disappointed defeat. And then they move their heads stiffly and glare at whoever tied the darn thing on to begin with. Must be something a person just has to get used to!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"J" is for...

Jordan Groves of The Reserve by Russell Banks (reponse to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)

Ah, The Reserve. I passed by this book on a clearance table a few times, intrigued by the lovely cover art, drawn in by the time period (Depression Era), enjoying the snippets of writing I gleaned from between the bronzy covers, but leery of the storyline depicted in on the inside flap.

As it turned out, this was a rather good assessment of the book I ultimately decided to buy. The writing was, for the most part, engaging and painted a lovely picture of the scenic Adirondacks, where the story unfolds. It had its moments of repetitiveness and the occasional trite turn of a phrase, but for the most part, enjoyable writing.

The plot, however...well, that was what I found difficulty with. And the characters. Jordan is an artist with leftist political leanings and the heart of a rogue, though why he feels a wanderlust and a need to fight for the underdog isn't explained beyond the fact that he is an artist (clearly, if the stereotype fits, wear it out). He is happily married but cheats on his wife anyway, a trait that I really can't get past. Unfaithful and torn? Sure, I'll read it and buy it. A philandering cad with no remorse? Sorry, can't get behind you.

Jordan falls for the daughter of one of his town's wealthy elite, a summer resident of the rustic, yet hoity-toity, camps. If Jordan had been the only stereotyped character, I could have dealt and moved on. But Vanessa fits rather perfectly the poor-little-rich-girl trope, with an added dose of crazy. The only intriguing parts about her character--her mental instability--are questioned throughout the book, and never fully resolved. Had they been developed into a proper twist--you think she's bats but she isn't, or her accusations of childhood abuse turn out to be, shockingly, true, providing explanation--this would be an intriguing facet. However--she's simply depicted as unstable with little explanation offered and a hazy understanding as to her rationale of why she's upset at her parents. Is it true, or is she just nutty? Wish I knew.

You know, of course, that they're going to fall for one another. Unavoidable. And, of course, that their mutual imbalance is going to cause grevious injury to everyone they both touch. Now, maybe there's something to be said for a traditional tragedy, but be warned--this book is not an upper. And people who deserve better get dragged down with the mess. Perhaps that was Banks' point--that no one deserves better. Still, it was a bit rough to watch.

The saving grace of the book for me (which other reviewers disliked) were the flash forwards that grounded the book in important events of the 1930s and showed, by the end, the final tragic demises of both Jordan and Vanessa. I enjoyed seeing how historical events crept into the book, in subtle ways that were finally exposed clearly by the end.
An interesting delve into a beautiful place at a fascinating time...but unreedemable characters bogged this down for me in the end. I took it with me on a trip to Seattle...and left it there.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Giveaway Winner...and Tidal Wave of Great Reading Recs!

I loved the comments from the Leaky Bookshelf Giveaway so much that I'm reposting them here! Isn't it fascinating how an inanimate object--in this case, basic H2O--takes on a life of its own in a work of fiction? For each of these books, the plot and characters would be vastly different without the presence or, in some cases, intrustion of water. The responses:

Lua : Hmm- I’ve just finished reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier and our heroines spent a lot of time on the beach and “water” was one of the themes.

Ax : Favorite water book has to be Voyager by Diana Gabaldon. It's not the only book in the Outlander series to have some ship scenes, but its my favorite.

Kathleen Wall : Right now I am reading The Lightning Thief, the first book in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It's excellent. And water is really important, but to tell you why would be a spoiler!

dolleygurl : I would have to say my favorite is The Odessey by Homer. Like another commenter said about their favorite book - the water is very important!

Katy : My favorite book with water as a theme: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. It is written so beautifully that it's almost like reading poetry.

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters."

buddyt said : The first book that springs to mind when you mentioned water was The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Wonderfull book.

I'm sorry to say I've only read two of these--Life of Pi (excellent! You're right--water is so vital to the story!) and the Odyssey (call me a dweeb, but I really, really liked it). Reading all the Gabaldon books is on my list--I plan to steal them from my mom this summer :) And now I can see that I must read A River Runs Through It as well--beautiful quote! I can always do with some more Tracy Chevalier, and ought to check out Riordan's series, as well--they look like fun!

And now, without further delay--the winners of the giveaway, chosen at random by my husband selecting a post-it from a shoebox (followers got two post-its) :




Congrats, ladies! Please email me with your mailing address at: hyalineblue079 at yahoo dot com. (That's zero-seven-nine on the end.) First to email gets first choice between The Day the Falls Stood Still (hardcover) and Haweswater (paperback).

Thanks again!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Last Call for Giveaway! and New Poll!

Just being an honest blogger and reminding one and all that today's the last day to enter in the Leaky Bookshelf Giveaway! Yes, it's good to the last drop, so jump on it, the water's fine! (OK, I like puns...)

Also--there's a new poll up. I noticed that a lot of us are history geeks...thought I'd put up a poll to see where most of us fall in our history-ophilia.

Good luck, and enjoy the rest of the weekend! Rainy Sunday afternoon here...but I'm assured that this will propigate the May flowers.

May Flowers...Peonies are my favorite :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Poll Results--Historical Fiction Leads

Well, I'm not terribly surprised that historical fiction pulled ahead as the clear favorite in our little poll :

Nonfiction, Memoirs, Biographies--turns out truth is stranger than fiction (30%)

Historical Fiction--the past calls! (50%)

Fantasy and/or Science Fiction--I love visiting other worlds or seeing a new twist on my own (20%)

Literary Fiction--the words, I love them (30%)

Classics--you can't beat 'em, might as well join 'em (20%)

Women's Fiction or Romance--like getting a hug from a book (10%)

Other, any, or all! (10%)

We're a bunch of old souls when it comes to readers, it seems! Also, given the number of writer-friends dropping by, am not surprised by the literary fiction gaining a bit of a foothold, too. If you were in the group that enjoyed one or both of these genres, I recommend that you enter the Leaky Bookshelf Giveaway--pop over, leave a comment, the usual. Both books are literary historical fiction, so they'd be right up your alley!

I was, admittedly, a bit more surprised that nonfiction earned a steady 30% of readership. Not that I don't adore a good nonfiction--I tend to dive into research. I love research. Put me in front of a stack of books in a musty corner of a dingy library and I'm in heaven. I just didn't expect that so many of the rest of you enjoyed a good romp through reality as well!

Classics and Fantasy/Sci Fi maintained a solid presence with 20% each. Creating this poll reminded me that it's been ages since I read fantasy--any recommendations for getting me back in the game?

Poor Romance and Women's Fiction--seems its biggest fans are not reading this blog. They're not writing this blog, either--I enjoy a good love story, but layered into the folds of a historical or literary fiction plotline. Thoughts?

Care to elaborate on your vote? Any genres that I missed? Are you with the majority here, or do you have more eclectic tastes?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Spring Stroll

While at Locust Grove this weekend, a friend and I slipped away from the kitchen to take a stroll through the old plantations rolling hills and woodland paths. We found: violets growing in the shade along the treeline, fallen trees to traipse over, and fresh leaves on the willow trees. A few of our choicer moments:

Dear Friend about to discover a redbud still in bloom along the trail

Leaving the woods and discovering a hidden path to the creek.

Fording the stream.

Dear Friend takes a moment to adjust her hat on the steps of the spring house.

I enjoy the view from the window of the spring house.
I promise, I did not intend the pun of "spring stroll" meaning both the season and our destination (the spring house of the plantation). But it works out rather well, doesn't it?
Have you gotten out of doors to enjoy spring? Gowns and petticoats not required :)
Requisite Reminder: Bookshelves still leaky. Enter Giveaway for Historical Fiction, delivered to your doorstep!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Songs in the Kitchen

Picture this scene: A large stone kitchen, with a roaring fire in a hearth longer than a man is tall, steam pouring off a large pot simmering over the glowing coals. Dried herbs and tobacco hang from nails over the fire and from the stairs leading to the loft. The floor is brick, uneven, as is the light streaming in through warped glass windows. Gathered around a rough-hewn wooden table in the middle of the room are women dressed in linen and wool gowns, fitted over boned stays, hair piled under clean white caps, voluminous aprons covering their skirts. They are pulling the bones and meat of cooked chickens apart, tossing the good into a copper washbasin and the bad into a tin bucket, their hands flying. And they are singing.

I was there this weekend, in that scene, in a blue linen gown and a faded apron, laughing as I learned to joint chickens and learned new songs. When you get our regiment together, we sing. The women sing while they cook, the men sing while they march, and we all sing together around a fire in the evening.

We learned several new songs together, and practiced at old ones. We most especially like the simple songs so common to our era, in which most of the lyrics are the same, so that only one person need know all the verses. Many sea shanties also carry this sort of pattern--each verse has only one or two lines that vary, leaving the rest of the song the same through every verse. The bolded second and fourth lines in this song, which we learned together this weekend, are the same in every verse, so it's quick to learn--and easy to sing while picking chicken and chopping onion.

What will we do if we have no money?
Oh true lovers, what will we do then?
I will hall through the town for a hungry crown
And we'll yodel it over again

What will we do if we marry a tinker?
Oh true lovers, what will we do then?
I will sell a tin can and walk on with me man
And we'll yodel it over again

What will we do if we have a young daughter?
Oh true lovers, what will we do then?
I will take her in hand and we'll walk on with me man
And we'll yodel it over again

Of course, most of the ladies have far lovelier voices than I. One is like rich leather, another has a voice like autumn leaves, another like rose perfume. I hope you know what I mean by that. And when they all mingle in harmony on those second and fourth lines, the effect is enchanting.

A view of the kitchen we spent such lovely hours in this weekend, from the outside. Also shown are the well and the dairy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Leaky Bookshelf Giveaway--Deadline Extended

So I completely forgot I'd be in the eighteenth century for the deadline of the Leaky Bookshelf Giveaway--so I've extended the deadline until this coming Sunday, April 25. Drop in, leave a comment, win a book :)

Hope everyone had as lovely a weekend as I did--will write up a bit about our time at Locust Grove with pics soon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Locust Grove--Falling Back into Spring

My favorite place in the world is Locust Grove, a 1790s plantation house and the remnants of its grounds in Louisville, KY. I get to head down this afternoon to spend a weekend living there This is why I love it:

1) I've been attending a spring event on this site with the same people for over a decade--it's like homecoming. Plus, these are people I've known since I was a tiny one--they're like family.

2) Lilacs. A whole garden full of lilac hedges. And an avenue of dogwoods. And twining redbuds right in front of my door. Spring bliss.

3) Staying in a reconstructed servants' quarters on the grounds. Nothing feels more like immersion into the eighteenth century than waking up in a sleeping loft, dressing in the dark, pattering down steep stairs to a stone-walled, brick-floored room with a fire already stoked and light streaming in through warped glass windows.
4) It's a truly great house museum that features beautifully renovated interior and exterior, as well as gorgeous grounds and multiple outbuildings--even the family cemetary plot remains on site. Plus, their interactive visitor center is a history not only of the house but of the American Revolution in the west and the founding of Louisville. Finally, amazing, amazing staff and incredible volunteers. Visit this place if you're ever in Louisville. Really.

5) Pie. There will be lots of pie. And Brunswick stew cooked on a six-foot long hearth. Seriously, six feet if it's one--this is the kind of roaring fireplace you could cook an entire stag in.

6) Excuse to wear new block-print caraco.

See you when I'm back in the twenty-first century!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I is for...

Isfahan / Iran, as depicted in The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani. (Response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge.)

The Blood of Flowers tells the story of a young woman, a gifted carpet knotter from a rural village, who moves to the city with her mother after her father's death. Fascinated by her uncle's expansive carpet workshop, she convinces him to teach her the secrets of creating the elaborate works of art that grace the Shah's floors. Even as she learns how to make patterns and choose colors, however, she is maneuvered into a less than fortuitous not-quite-marriage and is manipulated by her best friend. In the end, she will have to learn to rely on herself and to make wise decisions, rather than fall back on the support of her uncle or patience of her mother.

There were many elements that really appealed to me in Amirrezvani's book. For one, the weaving of carpets, or, rather, knotting--I learned so much about how these impressive pieces are created, and the art and labor that goes into each. For another, this area of Persia (now Iran) in the seventheenth century was a really fascinating place, one that bears little resemblence to the way the West often projects and perceives the region today. Iranian by birth, the author uses her experiences of artisans in the Middle East to give life and color to the descriptions in her book.

The story is told in first person, which is usually not my preference. However, Amirrizvani had a fascinating and poignant reason for her choice. The narrator and main character is never named, paying homage to the many rugs with no signature or mark indicating their creator. In this way, the book becomes about all craftswomen.

Amirrezvani also weaves traditional Persian folktales and folktales imitating that style throughout the novel. These stories within the story pay tribute to the importance of storytelling in Persian culture and, in fact, all cultures, while shedding light on the plot for the characters and for the reader. The choice was a beautiful touch by the author.

This book manages to be both beautiful and a page-turner. I have to admit that the one of the book's few flaws was that I often found it too stressful--kudos to the author for creating a character I care about, but our young herione makes so many downright stupid choices that it becomes a bit painful to read. Perhaps, also, a touch constrained--yes, teenaged girls make dumb choices. But do they truly make that many of the same kind, in a row? It's always possible that the answer is yes and I've simply forgotten, in the few years since leaving my adolescence.

And, for my part, though I admire where the author took the story, was a bit disappointed that it didn't take a different turn. For one, it felt a bit abrupt and rushed, trying to cram everything into the final pages, as though perhaps ending sooner and having a five-year-later epilogue would have been more complimentary to the style of the rest of the narration. The emergence of the intelligent, independent woman at the end of the story was a triumph on one hand, but I will leave it to other readers to decide if the sacrifices she makes are greater than is let on.
Regardless, a lovely story, told lovingly, about a time and place often forgotten. Worth a read.
Also--check out the Leaky Bookshelf Giveaway for a chance to snag a previously reviewed "Alphabet Book."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Giveaway--My Bookshelves Have Sprung a Leak!

In the spirit of keeping my bookshelves clean, continuing the spring cleaning efforts, and sharing books I've enjoyed with you, a couple of recently reviewed books are up for grabs! I've reviewed both recently as "Alphabet Books"--books in response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge.

Pure coincidence that they both have "watery" themes--Haweswater by Sarah Hall, and The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. Both are historical fiction (the frontrunner in my Little Poll of Curiosity's current reading question so I know some of you like the genre!) and both take place in the twentieth century. Both, also, take on themes of industrialization and the change it brings to nature and community.

Entry is easy as water flowing over stones--just leave a comment in this post telling me your favorite book dealing with water as a theme, place, or character. Oceanside murder tale? Adventure on the high seas? Will Captain Ahab make an appearance--or the Little Mermaid? If you follow the blog, you'll double your entries! New and current followers count :)

New Deadline--Extended! Open until April 25--stay dry (or not)!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy List

Lua over at Bowl of Oranges posted a wonderfully optimistic, happy post last week. It's just a list--ten things that make you happy. But what a joyful thing to think about--and I tend to think that joy begets more joy, so in honor of spring and its inherent happiness, a Happy List of my own, shortened to five things (I'm saving five for later because anticipation also makes me happy).

1) Redbuds. The redbuds are blooming in Indiana. They are my absolute favorite thing that blooms, more cherished than peonies though they don't have the glorious fragrance, more anticipated than the snowdrops though they come later, once spring is already settled. The blossoms are tiny and simple, nothing like the blowsy magnolias or sweet crabapple. But they create a purple mist along the roadways, in the clearings, along each wooded path. I love them, for finding them is to make a discovery.

2) Discovering a good wine. Like the Argentinian Torrontes I just uncovered or the Petit Syrah with the lovely scripty label. Then sipping it luxuriously from my good crystal whilst sitting in crappy plastic patio furniture on my postage-stamp back porch, overlooking the trees and ignoring the parking lot behind them.

3) Locust Grove. Will be there this weekend and that makes me supremely happy. Some people call Disneyland the happiest place on earth. I say it's Locust Grove.

4) Baking bread. I make a mean foccacia. There's nothing so soothing as watching the yeast come to life in the little well of hot water in the flour, nothing so cathartic as kneading the dough against my slab of an oak table, nothing so delicious as warm bread dipped in olive oil with rosemary and Parmesan.

5) Walking barefoot in fresh spring grass. It will get rougher and burnished by the sun later on, but for now it is sweet and soft and deeply green. A friend and I used to get Happy Meals (no, really, with Apple Dippers) and take barefoot walks by the creek on our college campus. Perhaps we should do that again... things away! Drop down to the Leaky Bookshelf Giveaway to score a book :)

Spring Allegory

Of all the artwork inspired by seasons, I perhaps like spring paintings the best. The richness of summery works and the golden hues of autumn are lovely in their own way, but the idyllic pastoral scenes that signify "spring" both soothe and spur me to ramble. And the eighteenth century has some really lovely "seasonal" artwork. Like this lovely Fragonard, with its idealized tones of spring and bouyant subject of a swing:

Of course, not all eighteenth-century spring artwork is a full oil painting. I found this simple print, and wanted to share to see what you all thought:

So many symbols that it must be allegory--the pair of doves, gestured to by the young man, in reflection of the pair of lovers, perhaps? The young boy poking at the baby birds and the blackbird uncovering a basket of eggs--both seem to be commentaries on fertility. But the piece that really fascinates me is the old woman behind the couple--is she just a generic curmudgeon? Or does the fact that she and the young woman are both wearing the same dotted kercheif significant--perhaps a warning of the inevitable passage of spring toward winter?

And a couple pieces of fashion commentary, of course. First, those dotted kercheifs, potential symbolism aside, are cheeky and adorable. You can also see, in a rare glimpse given that these were usually kept buried under skirts, the woman's pocket, peeping blue from under her gown. There is a note of some sort in it--unfortunately the quality of the image isn't quite high enough to read it. And her gown is sweet, isn't it? Seems to be a round gown (a gown in which there is a front panel that matches the rest of the gown, rather than open to show the petticoat beneath) that's been rucked up in a polonaise all the way around to show off the quilted petticoat beneath. I also adore the shorter, banded sleeves that allow the shift to peek out underneath.
Thoughts on either piece? Any favorite pieces of spring artwork?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Light Mist of Hairspray

This is about writing, promise. I had my hair cut today, and my stylist usually blow dries it straight before putting the final touches on. (Mostly depuffing the ends--I'm amazed that her scissors snip into it so much and the result isn't a tattered mess...writing, really, I promise.) Today she used a new styling spray while drying, a faint mist that smelled...vague and familiar. I finally placed it. The gently floral, lightly powdery smell was nearly identical to a perfume my grandmother used to wear. Immediately, I saw her bedroom, with its neat row of perfume bottles and jewelry cases, the olive green sofa in her living room, the way the light poured through her front-room windows. Heard her songbird clock chirping the hour from the kitchen. Thought about how her homemade cereal tasted, how her bran muffins crisped on the tops.

And it was a startling reminder of how every sensory experience adds together to form a complete picture in real life. Sometimes I get so caught up writing action, visuals, and dialogue that it's easy to leave the sensory indicators of place, time, character behind--which is odd as these are probably my favorite things to write. One more thing to consider as I work on the draft of the WIP. I was reminded as well how, when we are seeing (and smelling and tasting and hearing) a place through a character's eyes, what they perceive and how it connects to them can say more about character than even their actions, when placed correctly.

That's enough of me pontificating on the obvious--time to go outside and enjoy the spring weather.