Sunday, August 29, 2010

MAGPIE TALE: Spice Interrupted

Our contribution to this week's Magpie Tale.

When Gaetan moved into the little cottage on the edge of the Laurentian Mountains, he welcomed it as a welcome -- and likely permanent -- respite from the excesses and decadence of Montreal that had seduced and grounded him 25 years earlier. Today he took solace in sipping Lung Ching Dragonwell, sketching the local butterflies and birds, and watching the tip of Mount Raoul Blanchard emerge as the morning sun burned off the fog while he worked on his latest article for the Spice Scholar Quarterly.

The spring issue featured his 2,000 word "The Quest for Libyan saffron in the 8th Century" as its lead article, and he was now under pressure to top it with a piece on the stealth trade Melegueta Pepper and Calamus between Marakesh and Timbuktu during the heyday of Taureg cattle cults. Typically hidden beneath camel blankets, there were horrid stories of families selling their children for just a few ounces of these prized spices. Gaetan had employed a small studio of illustrators in Brunei for the accompanying graphics and was toying with the idea of a trip to Bamako to do more extensive research and expand the article to a book.

Just as Gaetan was close completely what he felt was a very effective sentence describing the gait of camels, he spotted a figure in the garden, startling him from his contented morning of productivity. Gaetan let out a disturbed sigh as he spotted his cousin Cedric, who always had a habit of appearing unannounced after months or years of absence and no communication, bring a sense of tension and disarray to the household. He turned off the desk lamp and closed his eyes, taking in a few slow, quiet breaths to summon the calm strength to confront his cousin.

"The persimmons were rounder last year," Cedric said, munching on the remainder of the fruit, juice slithering from his hand and mouth.

"How do you know they haven't been sprayed? Wouldn't you be putting yourself at risk?" Gaetan asked.

"I've put myself at much more risk than a few pesticides, and I know you'd never use them anyway. I think the whole scare about pesticides is overblown."

Gaetan took another breath and regarded his cousin's consistently disheveled appearance -- the mismatched boots, one gray and one brown; his beard that seemed a full inch longer on the left than it was on the right; the cap that seemed to be coming apart at the brim. The order he had worked so hard to restore to his life was about to be blown to shreds.

"There are wild blackberries along the creek," Cedric said.

"I don't remember seeing them. Are you sure." Just as soon as Gaetan said this, he realized that there were never greetings when Cedric returned, just as there were never any farewells. Five years might pass, and it seemed they were picking up their last conversation just where they left it, as if it were a cup of tea Gaetan had kept warm in case Cedric returned.

"Well, maybe they weren't blackberries. But from a few feet away they sure looked like it. I may go back down there this afternoon." With that, Cedric opened the kitchen door, and Gaetan saw him make his way down the hall, to the guest room where he had stayed five years ago, without asking, without explanation.

Gaetan strolled back to his desk, not a word coming from down the hall from Cedric. For a moment he thought about calling his sister Sabine to see if she might take in Cedric this visit, but she always managed to have a way to shield her life of order no matter what hit her. For the moment silence had returned to house besides the muted sound of Cedric unzipping his bag from behind the closed guest room door. With that comfort, Gaetan returned to his article and began working on a lengthy description of the sands of Mali.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Debbie. A Hammer. Sets by Eames.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Those We Lost Young

Sepia Saturday posts are often tinged with a bit of sadness since the subjects are typically no longer with us on earth. What strikes me as that so many of the family members in yellowing photo albums are not only gone but left at an young age.

Several posts back, I wrote about my great-uncle Claude who took his life in his 20s. His half sister -- my maternal grandmother -- also lost her "baby" brother Frank Cain, above around 1935. Born in 1907, he was the youngest of four children (not counting half brother Claude who was gone by the time he was in kindergarten). He is the baby in the photo below, taken in Kansas around 1908.
Though the baby, he assumed the role of the patriarch in the family when his father passed away when he was a teenager and was very close to my grandfather. Though brothers-in-law, they felt almost like brothers, equally ambitious and hardworking. Although his older brother was the first born, he was an eternal drifter and alcoholic, spending most of his adult life in and out of residential hotels and plasma banks.
Exactly what took Frank was never clear to me, a mysterious illness before he was even 30. His widow and three children left Kansas City for northern California, and I heard about them second had for years. She never remarried and was said to have been in mourning for the remaining 55 years of her life. I finally met her children in Fairfield when my parents first visited me in San Francisco in 1997. As we drove away, my mother said, "It's like they never left Missouri. I bet things would have turned out differently if Frank had lived."


Thursday, August 19, 2010

There Is Something

Dropping into Lost Weekend video this evening, I was really tempted to stick around for this, even though I'm not very fond of the featured flick. But a chance to see and sing-a-long with Jonathan was rather tempting.

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Monday, August 16, 2010


Here's hoping this adaptation succeeds at being faithful to the book in its transition to the big screen.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jeanne and Rubber

For years I have hoped that Jeanne Eagels with Kim Novak and Jeff Chandler would be released on DVD. So I have been thrilled to have the chance to watch it this weekend. I have only seen it once on late night TV when I was a pre-teen with an odd fascination with early 20th stage and silent film stars. Kim Novak has always been one of my favorite not-so-great actresses who managed to be great in a few superior movies. Jeanne Eagels is not one of them but fascinating all the same. Jeff Chandler was a huge presence back in his day but virtually forgotten today. As a teen I thought he seemed ancient, but his silvery silver screen appeal suddenly makes perfect sense today.

Now I am hungry to see more of the real Jeanne Eagels. The above clip from The Letter looks like a fascinating performances in a pretty bad production of a pretty bad Maughan story. Jeanne's take on this role makes Bette Davis' 11 years seem downright subdued by comparison. I particularly love her faux high toned accent typical of early talkies and how she wraps herself around the line: "Rubber! Rubber! Rubber!"

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Yay! Newsies

We never saw the film Newsies and never delivered the paper. However, we've always loved newsies and their fashion sense. Even if the printed news is a dying breed, the clothing is forever "with it".

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Today's Hokkaidō Fact

The inscription under the statue of William S. Clark in Sapporo is: "Boys be Ambitious".

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Do You Think It's Possible for a Woman to Be Both Jewish and Psychedelic at the Same Time?

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Sunday, August 01, 2010


"Life after 55 is defined by taking inventory," Hugo's mother, Isabel, said as she pushed the small key across the table. "And after 20 years of doing you the favor of being so meticulous I hope you will at least do me the favor of checking it out."

Hugo smiled but had no intention of going out to the little cottage at the back of the yard behind the pussy willows and Japanese maples. Its barn hinged doors fascinated him as a child, but now he dreaded what was inside, too much Biedermeier and eiderdown and the heavy scent of family dysfunction passed down through half a dozen generations going back to ancestors in Provence.

As he thumbed through the Courier-Gazette in an attempt to ignore her, Hugo saw the police report from Thursday about a break-in at the chemistry lab of his former employer, making him wonder if Yvette had actually gone through with those long ago iterated threats that he never reported to HR. He hadn't worked there in five years, but he knew Yvette was still there and bitter as ever. This was by no means his first time to ignore impending doom.

"Really, Hugo, just take a glance inside so you know what in there. Not that I'm saying you'll need to anytime in the foreseeable future, but it's just wise..." Isabel pushed her hair back, the way she had for years, revealing deep lines in her neck Hugo had never noticed. These ravines of aging flesh frightened Hugo, knowing that this woman whom he felt had for too long imprisoned him in a role that did not suit him yet could look so vulnerable. Her skin seemed so fragile, crumpled onion skin paper intended for another charcoal sketch but suddenly discarded in anger.

Finally relenting, Hugo took the key and let it slip slowly into the colorful lock that embodied everything he hated about that tiny little house and the larger estate -- every door knob, each inch of hand-crafted molding, the artisan tin paneled ceiling, the paintings that were already bequeathed to the Nelson-Atkins Museum -- had too much meaning and intent. Stepping inside Hugo saw the stacks and stacks of his Isabel's sketch books and journals. He didn't bother opening any of them since he knew so many were filled with the drawings she had made of him through the years, each with an exaggerated depiction of his leftward swaying eye, the slight downward crook of his nose, a thickened interpretation of his pouting lips. It was only in her sketches and oils that Isabel looked at Hugo, a caricature of who he was but the blurred image that she carried at her breast from the time he emerged from the womb.

Hugo sneered at the spine of the tower of journals in the bookcases just past the French doors, each dated precisely with the exact dot between each month and year, like a beauty spot applied with the manic precision Isabel invested in each of her creative endeavors, all technique and no passion.

He stepped into the tiny kitchen and regarded the dozens of emerald green tea sets on the bank of shelves -- some ceramic, some glass, a couple of painted metal. Each was of the same precise color, and a hand lettered card was attached to every one with the provenance of its purchase date, location of origin and value at the time of the last appraisal.

Stepping towards the back door, Hugo took certain delight in discovering a stray, blank canvas. He touched it with relief. Its absolute lack of history or ornament was cleansing. He stepped out the back door, through the tiny gate and into the service alley, simultaneously aware and oblivious of the key dropping into the gutter as he walked westward until he merged with Archer Avenue.