Monday, February 25, 2013

pink, orange, purple

A dear friend came for dinner Saturday. He brought me tulips and asked if I prefer my flowers cut, like the women in his life do, or potted, which he does. I replied that I like flowers any way I can get them, which is both diplomatic and true.

Sunday was cold and sleety and I wanted to stay in my flannel pajamas all day. I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, recommended by Amelia in my search for books by Spanish authors. Slightly gothic, with an antiquarian bookstore at the center of the plot, it was perfect for a quiet winter day. I looked up from the book occasionally to watch sleet and swirling snow. That night even the tree trunks were white with icy snow, like frosting.

There is still a foot of snow on the ground. Is it any wonder that orange candles and purple hyacinths in a room with pink walls seemed like a good idea? When I was a child, my best friend, Dorothy, had red hair and was told never to wear pink. I think those days are gone. (And I never hear the name Dorothy any more.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

real life

 *Venetian blinds
  messy desk
  pictures taped to wall
  crooked lampshade
  kitty circle

(Surely they didn't originate in Venice?)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Sweet pea love continues.

Painting by Patrice Lorenz, a friend from the Catskills.

I started reading Gulag, but don't think I can continue. Too much sadness, horror, inhumanity. I've read and enjoyed plenty of grim books, but can't finish this one now, so I've detoured from Russia to Ireland, started a collection of stories by Maeve Brennen, which I first read about here on Jane Flanagan's blog. They are charming, and remind me how much I love short stories.

Here are some of my favorite collections. Also, Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett, and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahari. Those and all of the books pictured are wonderful, and continue to resonate with me long after I read them, but the ones I am most eager to re-read are Julie Hecht's, Do the Window's Open? followed by Ship Fever. According to the New York Times (so it must be true) short stories are experiencing a resurgence. I'm looking forward to reading St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell.

Do you ever read short stories? Once I had a job reading slush (unsolicited) stories for a women's magazine. I lived in Brooklyn then and took the subway to the magazine office in Manhattan and picked up a carton of stories, which I carried back to the subway and home. I got paid 50 cents a story and rarely found one worth passing on to the editors. Sometimes I got frustrated that everyone thought they could be a writer, but other times found poignant the image of women across the country at their own kitchen tables, writing their stories, knowing they had something to say.

Monday, February 18, 2013

I've been reading...

As light snow swirls in a heavy wind, I try to imagine the vastness of Siberia, a place fraught with meaning and legend. Yesterday I finished Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert Massie's biography/history of the last decades of Russian Imperialism and now I'm embarking on one of my occasional theme reading binges. I bought Nabokov's Lectures on Russian Literature, lectures he gave when he was a professor at Wellesley College and Cornell University in the 1940's. I haven't decided which of the books in the lectures I will read, or re-read, but I look forward to imagining myself in the classroom with Nabokov.

I next plan to read Gulag, Anne Applebaum's history of the Soviet labor camps, a book that I've wanted to read but been terrified of. Historically it picks up where Nicholas and Alexandra left off, so I've decided to tackle it. Needing a quick break from the heaviness, I am now reading The Dogs of Rome, an Italian crime novel. (That a murder mystery is light reading gives you an idea of how I feel about approaching Gulag.)

Let's talk flowers for a minute. I really cannot pick a favorite, but if you made me do so today it would be the sweet pea. So delicate, so lyrical. Are they hard to grow?

As for non-Russian books, I've finished and recommend Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue, which you will love if you are a fan of Chabon or Jonathan Lethem*. If you haven't read Chabon before, I recommend starting with The Yiddish Policemen's Union or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I also recommend Dennis Lehane's Live by Nightmy favorite of all his books, and one of the best non-genre, a/k/a literary, crime novels I've read.

*I've never laughed out loud as much as when I read Motherless Brooklyn.

This blog's been drifting a bit since I closed the store, and since I read so much and you seem to like when I write about books, I'm going to do so on a regular(ish)basis. Okay?


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

orange crush

Sometimes, when I can't sleep, or am scared, or in pain, I recite flowers:

sweet pea, violet, daffodil, pansy, crocus, cherry blossom, lilac, lily, peony

Like a mantra, a poem, a prayer,

bluebell, poppy, marigold, zinnia, snapdragon, hollyhock, forget-me-not

Not just saying the words, but seeing them, the flowers,

buttercup, apple blossom, ranunculus, rose, daisy, freesia, dahlia, iris...

Has anyone invented flower therapy yet?
(Imagining a new business card: Jen, Flower & Kitten Therapy.)

This flight of fancy was brought on by the flowers pictured. Outside I'm knee deep in snow, but inside it's an English garden. I've grown cynical about Valentine's Day, sick of being bombarded by the commercialism of it all. But...

  I'm feeling the love this year, and sending it to you, my friends.


flowers from Bow Street via my sweet husband ~

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

almost a loneliness

A day when I long for retreat, a winter beach cottage, a lonely boat,
I make do with my rocking chair,
and a page from an antique speller.
Words from The Death of the Flowers--Bryant.
melancholy, rustle, sisterhood, smoky...

I am more interested in the words chosen, and the title of the poem,
than the poem itself (too baroque for my mood this night,
 though it has some wonderful lines). What did the children make of it,
when their teacher read it to them some autumn morning?

I prefer the astringency of Emily Dickinson:

 I hide myself within my flower,
That, fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me
Almost a loneliness.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

real indian stuff

My trip to New Mexico (posts here) piqued my interest in American Indian culture and contemporary life. It is a complicated, evolving topic, and one that there is little discussion on or depiction of in popular culture or journalism.

Louise Erdrich's novels have probably been my best source of understanding the realities of life on a reservation today. The complexities of honoring the old ways while living in the new ones. The poverty and prejudice. The Plague of Doves, which some consider her best novel, has characters who reappear in her latest novel, The Round House, which I recently finished and highly recommend.

The Round House is a crime story and a coming of age novel that takes place on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. The narrative is more straightforward, with less magic realism, than Erdrich's earlier novels. It's a beautifully written story filled with interesting characters--multi-generational and multi-layered, bittersweet and uplifting. 

*Pictures taken at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.

p.s. Lest you think I am not being politically correct, a couple of conversations I had led me to believe that the term Indian or Tribal Member is preferred to the p.c. Native American. I have no idea if that is widespread, but it's what the Indians I spoke to indicated.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

snow day, continued

We got about 2-1/2 feet of snow, a goodly amount. But
our power didn't go out, and there's plenty of food in the house, 

The Governor banned travel for 24-hours 
except for emergency vehicles and plows,
and public transportation is shut down

giving us an excuse to read and eat and nap.

I feel bad that I'm out of birdseed-- 
that will be my first errand, when our little world wakes up.

Friday, February 8, 2013

snow day

Blizzard on the way. Turkey and sweet potatoes in the oven. 
Books, candles, and chocolate handy.
Anticipation and quiet.

Today's storm via NASA

Monday, February 4, 2013

flowers in the house

My go-to winter flowers from the market-- 
tulips, daffodils or freesias in my favorite pitcher.
Simple and sweet.

I've been looking though my art books at flower paintings, and keep going back to this one--The Flower Market, Tokyo by Robert F. Blum, 1891. (Click for a better look.)

Such an intriguing scene. I think back--where did the flowers come from? forward--where are they going? historically, what was going on in Tokyo at that time? 

And how the loose abundance of flowers contrasts with the formal, meaningful art of Japanese flower arranging that is really all I'm familiar with from that country. Has anyone written a book about flower arranging across the globe?

Flowers on a Windowsill, by John La Farge, 1862;
best known for his stained glass windows, but I love his delicate flower paintings.

Lilac, by Otto Franz Scholderer, (about 1860-1902). 
Such lovely simplicity reminds me of the Manet flowers I posted about here
(in my second post, almost exactly two years ago).

Now brighten up your Monday and jump on over to Jane's
for more Flowers in the House.