Thursday, November 29, 2007

Those Alluring Brontës

I recently came across a book called H: The Story of Heathcliff’s Journey Back to Wuthering Heights by Lin Haire-Sargeant. It is a great deal of fun to read if you are a Brontë fan and, what she did was so diabolically clever that I found myself grinning as I read.

Basically she used the tale-within-a-tale technique to describe a train trip that a fictional Emily Brontë was taking back from France when an ill-fated love affair ended. On the train she encounters a man who tells her about a trip he is taking to visit an old friend on her death bed. Soon he persuades Miss Brontë to read a series of letters sent him by this lady and the fun begins. Of course using such a construct for a novel is extremely clever because you can cover any gaps in credibility with missing pages to letters or letters to another party or simple human error but this story doesn’t really rely on this at all.

All lovers of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights know the story --- Catherine Earnshaw has become enthralled by Edgar Linton and, while talking with their housekeeper Nellie, complains that while she loves Heathcliff, it would “degrade her” to marry him. Heathcliff overhears this and flees. Some years later Cathy is now married to Edgar and Heathcliff returns --- wealthy and a gentleman (though sort of in the sense that Tony Soprano can act like a gentleman at times) --- but it is too late. Everything goes downhill from there.

Well, Haire-Sargeant picks up the story at the moment Heathcliff flees, ragged, filthy and furious, and finds his way to London where he is discovered outside an insane asylum by the mysterious “Mister R”. Mister R takes a liking to Heathcliff and invites him back to his home where he sets about the process of making a gentleman of him. The rest of the story is genuinely enjoyable.

What makes it so clever is that any devoted Brontë fan will, in short order, begin to recognize names and places and, grinning madly as you read, say “Ahhhhhh, ‘R’ for Rochester!” The magnanimous Mister R lives in Thornfield Hall and has a dog named Pilot and pretty soon Mrs. Fairfax shows up followed by Blanche Inghram. So now Emily Brontë’s story has merged with her sister, Charlotte’s story Jane Eyre. Great fun! I wish I had thought of it! As the story progresses there are a lot of things that are perhaps wild and improbably but then both stories are wild and improbable so who cares. My favorite part was once Rochester hired the “governess” that he falls in love with and she and Heathcliff do NOT get along. Frankly, the only two people who ever got along with Heathcliff were Cathy and now Mister R.

Anyway, I loved the book because, having read both of the books from which it grew many times, it was like spending a weekend with old friends and discovering all kinds of astonishing new things about them!

The Brontë sisters had clever imaginations and, in keeping with the times in which they lived and wrote, a deliciously gothic sensibility. I realize now, reading their work and Haire-Sargeant’s work that evolved from it, that those gothic shivers are something I really love and want to weave into work of my own. In a sense I always have. Recently a reader who read The Old Mermaid’s Tale said she became somewhat obsessed by the tavern, the Old Mermaid Inn, that is the focal point of the tale. She said it looms large in her imagination, much like Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre and The Grange in Wuthering Heights, and she wanted to know more about where it was and if there were any pictures of it left. It’s always hard to tell a fan that the product of your imagination lives only in your imagination. Saint Gabriel’s Abbey in Each Angel Burns is shaping up the same way.

Since my recent purchase of a DVD player I’ve been watching a lot of favorite movies that also have that brooding sense of the slightly mad and slightly supernatural with an over-arching sensuality and sense of place. I think my next project, which is shaping itself in the back of my mind, is going to play with all of that. I have the characters and the place... the plot is evolving but that always works best when you are actually on the page.

So I thank Lin Haire-Sargeant for her delicious book. It gave me a new appreciation of two classic favorites and an idea of how the lessons I learned from them can be used in the future. Those Brontë girls were clever and readers have been loving their work for years and years, I know they shaped much of my work.

This entry marks the 500th post on this blog. Since its beginning, this blog has had close to 60,000 visits. Thanks to all my wonderful readers for coming back to see what is new here!!! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Feel Like Alexander...

Wasn't it Alexander who had the terrible, awful, horrible, very bad no-good day? Well, I had a day like that today.

Okay I'm exaggerating but any day that starts off with a computer snafu is a pain in the neck. I woke up this morning with plans to spend the whole day working on a project I am trying to wrap up and I booted up and everything went flooooeeeyyyy. All my drivers were wacko and I have some king of registry problem. I hate this stuff.

So after hours and hours and hours of screwing around like I know something I realized that the only really immediate problem I had was that my mouse wasn't working. A quick trip the Radio Shack fixed that. And managed to sort out a few of the other problems but I still have to figure out this registry thingie. But, for now, I can at least work enough to make customers happy --- I think.

So, if I don't post for a few days, don't worry. I called my buddy Doug who knows everything about computers and, eventually, we'll get this figured out. The real irony in this is that I just bought myself a much-longed for MP3 player and I hadn't even hooked it up when this thing went wacko so I am going to have to wait awhile longer until I get to play with my new toy.

However, the good thing is I discovered something very cool. The young knitters who come up with endless varieties of cool stuff have been designing adorable "cozies" to carry around cell phones, Blackberries, iPods, etc. and I had been thinking I was going to have to make one of those for my new gizmo. But then I remembered a beaded stash bag I made years and years ago when I was caught up in the beading craze. I found a darling little black velvet bag lined in gold satin and covered with beads that I kept because of the endless hours of work I had put into it. Guess what? The MP3 player and headphones fit perfectly. So now I have an MP3 player in a very chic bag. I can't connect to my computer at the moment but so what, it looks great!!!

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Soft, soft, soft......

Over the long holiday weekend I decided to finish up a number of knitting projects before I started any new ones. I've had several thing languishing for quite some time now and I spent several hours doing the hand stitching I needed to do in order to make use of these new beauties. All of them are unimaginably soft.
The first one (left) is a vest I knit out of alpaca from KnitPicks. This is their Twirl in Fog and it is so warm!!!. It is just a plain, straight vest with a shawl collar that comes down to my hips and has two pockets in it. I just knit it in stockinette stitch with the collar, armholes and bottom in garter stitch. Since the temps her went down below freezing this week I have had it on ever since I made it and I don't plan to take it off until April. Warm and soft is my idea of joy.

I also finally finished the black cocoon at right that I started ages ago and finally finished. I knit it holding one strand of sportweight cashmere and one strand of fingerweight silk together. It is soft, warm and has a gorgeous drape to it. I knit it in one long piece and then folded the ends up and crocheted around the edges and the cuffs. It is absolutely beautiful with a white, long-sleeved tee and black silk trousers and I am planning on wearing it a lot over the holidays. The back (left) gives a better idea of the pattern.

Otherwise I am mostly working on Christmas presents. I made the scarf at right from Knit Pick's Crayon in Pink. I had five balls left from a bed jacket I made last summer and I just knit it up in a 3x3 rib pattern and gathered up the ends. Because it is Pima Cotton it is as soft as cashmere or alpaca and
it is a nice light weight. I have no idea who will get it but I'm sure whoever does will love wearing it. Pima Cotton is my new favorite yarn to knit with. I bought a ton of Knit Pick's Shine Sport in the most gorgeous colors --- Sky, Hydrangea, Aquamarine, Crocus! I have an idea that it might be fun to knit some lacy camisoles out of it to wear in the summer but first I have to get Christmas out of the way. I am hard at work on the Gryffindor Scarves for the nephews and they are coming along. I also want to make some gloves for my sister Lisa. I bought some Gloss in A deep green from Knit Picks for those.

As I was rummaging in my stash I found some leftover Ambrosia and Elegance from knit Picks so I knit up a pair of ear-warmers (left) out of those. Good presents for girlfriends. I worked with two strands of yarn and knit on small needles --- No. 5 --- so they are nice and snug. Since they are alpaca and cashmere (the lilac) and alpaca and silk (the rose) they are deliciously soft also. I realize these days i am big on yarn that is warm and soft. Mostly soft.

Like all serious knitters I am in an on-going battle with my stash ---
mainly trying to get a grip on it and convince myself that I don't need anything new. I am losing that battle. After the success of my snuggly warm alpaca vest I am now lusting after another one and I have my eye on the yarn called Quarry from Knit Picks. But I need to get the present inventory down a bit first. As I was rummaging I came across a half a cone of lace-weight cashmere in a deep purple from ColourMart and a ball of leftover laceweight wool from Handpainted Yarns --- they have the softest wool I've ever touched. I decided to wind them together and see what I came up with. I also had a small ball of KnitPick's Gossamer, a silk-alpaca blend in Stained Glass leftover so I added that. The thing is there is a ton of the cashmere so I keep adding another strand and then another and then another --- I'm up to 8 now and think I can actually get 2 more out of the leftovers. So I am making a ball of a really gorgeous yarn. Right now it is 8 strands of cashmere, one of wool and one of alpaca-silk. I think it will make a great hat! I'm going to keep adding strands until I run out of cashmere and then see how it looks (above right). Who knows?

So that's it from Gloucester where the ocean is cold and the winds are bitter but the knitting is keeping me warm. Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Passion of Gilbert Kaplan

Some years ago I had a friend who told me that one of her goals in life was to sing in a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. You know the Carmina Burana, it’s that deeply stirring choral work that you hear in movies all the time as Vikings land their boats on the rugged shore of a country they are about to rape and pillage or as a band of Knights Templar saddle up to invade the Holy Land. Lots of deep chanting and escalating tension. Actually Orff composed Carmina Burana as a vocal exercise for voice students to help them build up strength in their lungs and throat. Listening to it, I’m sure it worked.

Anyhow, my friend talked about this a lot. One day I read in the Gloucester Daily Times that Chorus North Shore was holding open auditions for a performance of Carmina Burana. I called my friend immediately and said, “Here’s your chance.” She was strangely quiet. I offered to go to the audition with her. She made excuses. Finally, I realized she wasn’t going to do it so I dropped it.

Gilbert Kaplan is not that sort of person.

Gilbert Kaplan made a good career for himself in the publishing industry and, in fact, was so successful that he had the resources to pursue the passion that engulfed him. Early in his professional career a friend had invited him to attend a concert of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, called The Resurrection. Kaplan was enthralled. He went out and bought a recording. He played it and played it and played it and, as he went about his career and his life, he thought endlessly about it. A dream began to form in his psyche. Someday he would conduct Mahler. He would conduct The Resurrection.

This is quite a goal for a man who knew virtually nothing about music and had never even so much as taken piano lessons. But he didn’t see those things as impediments.

Finally he came to the place in his life where he could afford to take time out from career and everything else and hire someone to teach him to conduct --- but to conduct one thing, The Resurrection. It took him a year to learn the music note by note, page by page but he was the sort of man who knew how to focus himself and to discipline his mind. Within a year Kaplan was ready to accomplish his goal.

That was just twenty-five years ago in 1982 at New York’s Lincoln Center. His performance was so enthusiastically received that one of his reviewers said it was one of the greatest interpretations of Mahler’s Second that he had heard in a quarter century of reviewing music. Kaplan was triumphant.

He went on to perform all over the world --- in London and in Vienna where he received resounding applause and overwhelming appreciation. Kaplan had not only conducted the Second Symphony and achieved his goal but had become one of the world’s leading authorities on that piece of work. Today he is on the faculty at Julliard School of Music where he lectures on Mahler’s Resurrection. In the world of music he may well be the world’s most specialized specialist.

I only heard this story recently. Yesterday my copy of the Second Symphony conducted by Kaplan and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra arrived in the mail. It is on the CD player now. It is magnificent though I realize coming from me that doesn’t mean much. The story was told to me by my friend Gordon Goetemann, a distinguished artist who is himself possessed by that same piece of music. He is preparing an exhibition of paintings based on it.

There are two things that I think about when I hear these stories. What must it be like to fall so in love with a piece of work that it becomes your sole focus and passion and what does that say about you as a person? I think it is beautiful, admirable and speaks of a spirit capable deep commitment and intensity.

But, even more, what must it be like to be able to create such a work? Mahler seemed to have a capacity to reach into people’s souls. I wore out a copy of his 9th Symphony at one period in my life.

To me music has always been the most mysterious of all the arts. I love it but I don’t understand it at all. But then that is often the situation with all our most enduring loves.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Simple Gifts

It was a quiet November weekend here on the island and that always makes me happy. There was some sunshine but the low, calm, diffuse sun of November which I love. It was a weekend of simple gifts and quiet pastimes.

Saturday morning I spent time writing emails to those people I want to send longer letters to but don’t have time during the week. That’s a pleasant thing --- hot coffee (I found a coffee cup I always loved but had somehow worked its way to the back of the cupboard) and scrambled eggs, time to spend with far away friends. That is sweet. It kept me busy until it was time to meet Jane for lunch.

We went to the new Azorean Restaurant up the street. What a treat that was. Good, somewhat exotic food --- I had the Azorean style tuna served on a bed of greens with a light pineapple dressing, olives, an assortment of Portuguese cheeses. A good thing to linger over while talking books with a fellow author. We are both writing books --- mine fiction, hers non --- and talk about writing.

I had to go to the library. I love our local library, It is a treasure trove of wonderful things. Lately they have started lending books, lectures and other audio programs loaded onto MP3 players. You just buy the earbuds for $1 and can listen to all sorts of things. This week is there annual Food for Fines program. I had run up a bunch of fines so stopped at the market and filled a bag with non-perishable treats to donate to the food pantry in exchange for them forgiving my fines. What a deal! I came home with a bag full of audio books, which I love, and two new needlework books. Even though I rarely crochet, I brought Lily Chin’s new book of crochet designs home as well as a new book on lace knitting from Vogue. So much to knit, so little time.

Even though I’ve already read Regina McBride’s beautiful The Nature of Water and Air, when I found the audio book version of it, I had to take it out. Listening to a book is often an entirely different experience from reading it. I wanted to do some knitting and listening to audio books while knitting is a delicious pastime. So I settled in with that book read by Terry Donnelly in her soft, mellifluous Irish accent and my new alpaca vest that I am busily working on.

I love warm vests in the winter. I have a Polar Fleece one that I wear all the time but I decided I wanted a hand-knit version of it and selected Knit Picks’ Twirl, a bulky 70/30 blend of alpaca and wool, in their Fog, a soft, lovely gray color. The vest is nearing completion and I am eager to finish it because I want to wear it now that the temperatures are sinking. So knitting and listening to a story about seals and tinkers and restless women on the coast of Ireland was lovely.

Sunday I spent most of the day working on Each Angel Burns. More good coffee, more good music, unplug the phone, put a pot of soup on. Wrap up in a warm shawl and work. Wonderful. I am revising, polishing, trying to manage the revelation of story in order to intrigue the reader but not give away too much. It was good writing. It was four o’clock before I knew it. I was invited to Clare’s in the evening and needed some time to do some straightening up around here.

And then there is that soup. Italian Fish Stew is a popular dish in local restaurants. Halibut Point’s is very good, Maria’s is better. I wanted to make my own (at left) so I did. Even though this should probably go on the cookbook blog I’ll add it here. It was worth it. So here we go, a simply delicious soup for a simple weekend:

Italian Fish Stew: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy soup kettle and add 1 large onion, chopped up, and 2 red peppers, cleaned and chopped. Sauté until just tender. Add a large can of diced tomatoes in puree, plenty of chopped garlic, and a bottle of clam juice. Stir in seasonings to taste. I like a good-sized spoonful of red pepper flakes, some Italian seasoning and some extra thyme. Let this simmer until the whole house smells like heaven. Add a cup of chopped clams and a pound and a half of stew fish (this is a local specialty that is composed of the trimmings of white fish --- haddock, cod, halibut, etc. but you can use any white fish if your fish store doesn’t offer such delicacies.) Simmer until the fish is cooked through and serve with a nice red wine.

A perfect, simple treat for a perfect, simple weekend.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mailer on Hemingway

Hemingway’s style affected whole generations of us the way a roomful of men are affected when a beautiful woman walks in ---their night is turned around, for better or for worse. – Norman Mailer

My copy of Mailer’s The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing arrived in the mail yesterday and so, naturally, I immediately skimmed the Table of Contents and flipped to the chapter he wrote on Hemingway. He actually mentions Hemingway fairly often. I was glad to see the statement above because, first of all, it’s true, and second, it is pure Mailer and Hemingway would have liked that analogy.

My first encounter with Hemingway was in an anthology of short stories that my father was reading when I was a kid. For some reason I picked it up and decided to read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, heavy stuff for someone as young as I was and I doubt that I got the story but I loved the way the man wrote, that pure clarity of word use and prose that were so clean and articulate you just had to pay attention. Later, when I read A Moveable Feast for the first of many times, I knew that this was the way a person should write. He could describe so clearly with such an economy of language. I will probably always remember his description of the fruit-flavored liqueurs that Alice B. Toklas made and served. And his travels around Paris on foot in the company of Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Scott Fitzgerald --- I hadn’t read any of those guys then but I knew if they got to live the life Hemingway described they had to have done something extraordinary as a result.

I love that Mailer holds Hemingway up in this light and also that he was so curious about the man behind the words. In the chapter that he wrote Mailer bemoaned the fact that none of Hemingway’s biographers ever give you a real sense of the man until finally Hemingway’s son Gregory wrote Papa. It makes me like Mailer more that he esteemed Hemingway so much.

In my usual fashion I have half a dozen books going at the same time. It’s like I have to give my mind different ideas to chew on and coordinate rather than load it with one thing and then another and then another. Consequently I’ve started reading Ernest Becker’s 1973 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Denial of Death. Becker wrote it heavily influenced by the work of psychiatrist, playwrite, and lover of Anais Nin, Otto Rank. Rank once said about his obsession with creativity, “I must give birth every day or perish.” I’ve always loved that.

Anyway, Becker talks about the longing of all people to be heroes. Deep in our psyche there is a desire to do something wonderful or noble or redemptive that will, in some way, make up for the failings in other parts of our lives. I think this is very true. It doesn’t have to be grand heroism. It can be heroism on a very small scale --- like sitting down to write. To write, as Hemingway always said, “one true thing, to write the truest thing you know”.

So Mailer looks to Hemingway and Becker looks to Rank and I love all of them because I’m no different --- I want to be a hero, too. I want to look at my life and, despite all the messes I’ve made and all the people I’ve neglected and all the things I should have done and just didn’t, I want to feel like I’ve done something good that will seem heroic and meaningful to someone. I guess that’s why I write.

Mailer also said of Hemingway, “No matter how serious or superficial a reader you are you quickly sense that you are in the hands of someone who writes so well that your wits are keyed afterwards to the flaws in the bad writing of others, and worse, yourself.” That is an important point because in this era of self-absorption and self-reference, it is good to be reminded that there are those who do things better --- not that they ARE better but just that they can do something better. Mailer and Hemingway have this in common, they were both men who screwed up a LOT in life. And yet look what they could do. That gives me hope.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Revisiting Desmond Morris

Back in the Seventies when everyone was reading The Naked Ape I did too and, like a lot of women, I was distressed by his contention that the male of the species was biologically designed to scatter his seed as far and wide as he was capable of doing. At the time I was in my 20s and dating and thinking, at least half-heartedly, about mating and breeding and all that stuff. I have since gotten better.

Recently I came across Morris’ six-part BBC series The Human Sexes and I have been watching it. And I realize that, if you listen to ALL of what he says, not just selectively, he makes a lot of sense. The male of the species was never designed by nature to be what women today expect him to be. In primitive cultures the women were the hub of society and everything that had to do with so-called civilization revolved around them. They kept the home and the neighborhood, reared the children, raised the vegetables, cooked, visited with neighbors, and generally kept the tribe happy, contented and prosperous. The men went off into the jungle and hunted. They hung out together or by themselves, peed (standing up) in the bushes, killed critters and carried home the meat. They had a good meal that wifey prepared, checked on the progress of the kiddies, spent the night trying to make more of them, and left before dawn to go kill more stuff. Everybody was happy. He didn’t interfere with how she ran the house and the village and she didn’t worry about what he was doing off galavanting in the woods. This worked just fine for a few thousand years.

But, as civilization progressed the natural order got screwed with. Men came into the village to set up shop but the only way they could succeed at that was by locking wifey in the house. That’s when all the trouble started. Nobody needs me to go into the history of the battle between the sexes but here we are in the 21st century and things are still confusing and stressful. Half of all marriages end in divorce, cheating is now practiced by both partners and women are doing more and more of it, spousal abuse is on the rise, and there are millions of single adults still trying to find a mate. It’s very weird. Our primitive fore-parents would think we were all nuts.

One of the things women often say to me after reading my short stories and novel is that they love the men in them and wonder where I ever met such interesting men that I can write so lovingly and appreciatively about them. Well, I’ve spent a lot of my life around men and I really like them. I had three really great brothers growing up. We fought as siblings will do but they were always nice guys and I got to see the other side of relationships through them --- the excitement of falling in love and the heartbreak when it didn’t work out. They are men like any others --- good in some areas, weak in others. I also had a bunch of really nice uncles. My Uncles Buddy, Custy, John and Tommy were all special men in my life and I’m grateful for that.

Plus I spent most of my working life in male-dominated businesses, Houston Natural Gas/Enron in Texas, MITRE and two fiber optic manufacturing companies here in New England. Well, like I said, men have never been a big mystery like they are to a lot of women.

Recently I was talking to a woman friend who is divorced for the second time and has been going out with men from an online dating service. She is disappointed in the fact that they seem like great, desirable guys at first but then turn out to be less so. They are in their fifties and sixties and having a ball with the super-abundance of females available to them through the internet. They have learned to play the game perfectly, they say all the right things and are masters at being cute, charming, sincere, and alluring --- and they are that way to LOTS of women. That’s the problem.

So I think Desmond Morris may have had it right. When men are young and they have to choose between scattering their seed and pair-bonding to make a family, they are capable of making the choice but once the family imperative is gone they may well revert back to that primitive behavior.

I’m writing all this because I think we just expect too much of one another. We lead lives that are so far removed from what nature designed us for and, while we are evolving slowly, we are also living too closely bound and too fast for our own good. I like men but I’ve never wanted to own one. For me that is a healthier way of life. I don’t know what the answer is --- I never do but I think we have to pay attention to guys like Morris and realize that very few of us actually intend to hurt one another. We’re all playing a game we don’t really understand the rules of --- especially because they are changing day by day. Relax. Be nice. Get to know yourself.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thoughts on the Passing of Norman Mailer

I don't think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for. - Norman Mailer, 1923-2007

Norman Mailer is dead. That’s hard to write. Mailer, though not a particularly large man, always seemed larger than life to me. I’ll be honest and say I haven’t read most of his work. I read The Executioner’s Song and just couldn’t put it down. And I read Ancient Evenings which was something of a bizarre effort. On the one hand I had to make myself pick it up every time I sat down to read but I also had to make myself put it down. I don’t understand that --- it was almost as though the scope of it and the intensity was something I had to brace myself for.

Ironically I had recently ordered two more of his books from Amazon, The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing and The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker. I love books on writing by writers and, lately, I have been fascinated by essays. That is a thing I blame on blogging. It takes a lot of nerve to believe you have something worth saying day after day after day. I love to read what other writers feel compelled to write about.

But anyway, Mailer is gone and that is sad because he was someone who took a bite out of life and contributed greatly to the landscape of American literature. Whether or not you liked him you have to admit he was formidable. In fact, it is the fact that he was formidable that made a lot of people dislike him which is sort of what I want to talk about.

In the few days since his passing I have read a tremendous amount of Mailer-bashing and I personally find it pathetic. Mailer had a reputation as being pugnacious and difficult as a person. He went through a lot of wives, was a hard-drinker and was known to throw a punch. He was probably a womanizer, I don’t know. But none of that can diminish even for a minute the fact that he had a remarkable brain, a towering intellect, and was a literary genius. The problem is that we live in an era when people have lost all site of the magic and are only interested in the personal behaviors of the magician. This is a commentary on our current Society of Resentment.

I’ve been watching this for a long time. It started out in politics. President Clinton coined the phrase “the politics of personal destruction” and who better to do that than he? He was publicly eviscerated by a sensationalist press and a resentful Republican party because he was a popular and effective president who had a weakness for women --- not something unique in the White House by any means but suddenly that is everyone’s business.

Since then people have become obsessed with ferreting out personal flaws and failings in virtually every public figure, celebrity, artists, politician and more and holding them up to the world as proof that, “yeah, he might be a great (fill in the blank) but he sure is an asshole.” What a sad and telling commentary on the people who feel the need to do that.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that there is an increasing need among many people not just to succeed, which is an admirable ambition, but to be better-than, which is pitiful. There seems to be a massive core of resentment that lives inside too many people and, strangely, it seems to be most prominent in those who have a lot rather than those who do not. That’s the thing I don’t understand. It is somewhat understandable that those who have had a hard struggle and failures might feel resentment but the resentment of the privileged is hard to comprehend. Is it a need to feel smugly superior? Is it a need to believe that they could be as accomplished as the person they resent if only they were willing to stoop to bad behavior? It mystifies me.

So Mailer is dead and many of us mourn and some sorry folks will bash and say the world is better off without him. Mailer once said, “In America all too few blows are struck into flesh. We kill the spirit here, we are experts at that. We use psychic bullets and kill each other cell by cell.” He heard the detractors and saw them for what they are.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Indie" Published Review: Camille Claudel: A Novel

Since Parlez-Moi Press is an independent publisher, I am well aware of the boom in independent publishing and the challenges it presents. Because this blog has been around for such a long time now and because it is fortunate to get the amount of traffic it does, I have decided to use it to occasionally publish my reviews of independently published books here. If you are an indie author or publisher and wish to know more about this service, please contact me by email at:

I also want to add that I have created a page where interested readers can find two sample stories from my books and the first chapter of The Old Mermaid's Tale. I realize that one of the biggest concerns some readers have about buying indie books is uncertainty over the quality of what they are buying. I don't blame them. So I hope that these three stories will give you a taste of the style and quality of my work. They are:
"Flynnie & Babe" - one of the stories included in My Last Romance and other passions
"Home-made Pie and Sausage" - my 2005 story for Level Best Books' annual crime anthology
Chapter One from The Old Mermaid's Tale

I hope that you enjoy them. Now, on to our review:

Camille Claudel: A Novel by Alma H. Bond

To write the story of Camille Claudel, one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of art, is an ambitious and bold undertaking. Claudel, who was born in France in 1864 and died in an insane asylum in 1943, was arguably one of the most gifted sculptors of her time and one of the first distinguished female sculptors of the modern era. Alma H. Bond’s book Camille Claudel: A Novel, though written as a fictionalized biography, is a thorough portrait of Claudel.

Written from the perspective of the aged Claudel, confined to the Montdevergues Asylum for over thirty years, the story begins when the child Camille shows an interest in making shapes out of mud, much to the chagrin of her conventional mother. The recounting of Camille’s formative years through her early education in Paris and apprenticeship to the sculptor Auguste Rodin, is filled with detail and awareness of how the interrelationships of her family members shaped her personality. As she begins her career as a sculptor, as well as her role as both muse and lover to Rodin, the story is meticulous in recounting the development of her art and her unique and independent personality.

Bond has done an impressive job of researching her subject and her descriptions of the places Camille lived, studied, and worked are thorough and exacting. The author’s portrait of the fiery and temperamental artist and the many personalities who filled her world are rich. Bond’s knowledge of Claudel’s day-to-day life and the growth of her art is breathtaking in its scope and completeness. She paints a vivid portrait of a ferociously independent and rarely talented young artists struggling to overcome the prejudices of her era and to deal with her passionate and ultimately obsessive love for Rodin, her mentor and the great love of her life.

Written in the first person, Camille has a "voice" that is at times elusive, the only flaw in this otherwise richly-crafted story. The author’s use of contemporary expressions and figures of speech and some American slang seem somewhat out of place coming from the pen of a seventy-nine year old French artist raised in the Victorian era. Still, Camille was a woman out of time and perhaps some readers will find the contemporary voice more accessible.

Though Bond’s research on Claudel’s early years is impressive, she is at her best and most authoritative as she describes Camille’s slow and painful descent into madness. Bond, herself a psycho-therapist, describes a surprisingly fragile psyche traumatized by her inability to accept Rodin’s choices and the increasingly intense paranoia that led her to believe that Rodin was persecuting her even after his death. Complicated by a painful relationship with her mother and a possibly incestuous relationship with her brother, Camille slipped deeper and deeper into self-destruction until she was removed to an asylum where she remained for thirty years.

Camille Claudel: A Novel is an ambitious work in both detail of the life of the artist and in a study of her decline. The world will never know the extent of Camille’s genius as an artist because she destroyed so many of her own works but Bond has given us a sensitive and richly detailed account of a life that was too afflicted by tragedy to achieve the greatness that was its right.

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Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Generally speaking as a knitter I tend to work with natural fibers and am highly partial to alpaca, pima cotton, silk and cashmere. But, every once in awhile a girl’s just gotta have fun. With the abundance of fun, funky, furry, sparkly yarns out there it is very tempting to try new things. So I decided to post a few of my experiments. Nothing is particularly original but they are fun items made with the new, funky yarns available.

The first project is a pair of black burn-out velvet gloves that I bought at Marshall’s for $2. I added the frou-frou cuffs knit from a double strand of Fun Fur in black. I just knit a small tube and stitched it to the hem of the glove but they are so funky and cute. I feel like a poodle when I wear them.

I liked that so much that I made another pair of gloves from an old Vogue pattern I’ve had for probably 10 years. I had some leftover lilac stretch velvet so I made the gloves and then made lilac cuffs for them. They actually match beautifully though you can’t see it in the photo.

Some time back I made a sweater for my sister Lisa using one strand of violet boucle wool and one strand of a pastel “ladder” yarn I got from eBay. She loved the sweater and there was a lot of the pastel yarn left so the other day I decided to just knit it up. It is really just a long rectangle about 12” wide and 40” long but it looks really pretty draped around the neck or over the head. It’s totally useless for warmth but it is cute and that’s all I ask of it.

The other two items shown here are also long scarves that were very simple to knit. What makes them interesting is the combination of yarns. The first one is about 8 ft long but only 6” wide. It looks like a boa draped around and around the head and neck. I used four different yarns --- a pretty blue faux fur, a sparkly pink and gold metallic yarn, a lilac mohair and a sparkly, multi-colored yarn in shades of blue. I knit on the bias because I wanted it to drape and it certainly does that. I should photograph it draped around someone so you can see how it looks.

Finally is my striped scarf that was knit lengthwise by casting 120 stitches on a circular #10 needle. The yarns in this are really pretty. I used four different faux fur and faux feather yarns in blues, teals and violets, and a ball of Eros in black with white “beads”. I finished it with a fringe of black raw silk left over from my black lace cocoon made from a strand of silk and a strand of cashemere.

So that’s what silly stuff I have been working on lately. They are quick projects and fun to make and a terrific gift for the young ladies on my list who are into frou-frou. And that includes this old young-lady. I have spent the last couple of evenings curled up with a video and knitting which is a wonderful thing to do when you have a horrid cold. Last night I finished the first of my Gryffindor scarves while watching a DVD of Masterpiece Theater's 1998 production of Frenchman's Creek. Anthony Delon (son of actor Alaine Delon) played Jean Aubery, the pirate, in that. Oh, be still my heart! Johnny Depp should eat his heart out. So that's it from the land of frou-frou and o-o-la-la!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Words that Sing

Sometimes I read things that just leave me breathless --- and speechless. I found this on another site but had to repeat it here. I can add nothing so today I turn my blog over to Pablo Neruda:

You can say anything you want, yes sir, but it's the words that sing, they soar and descend . . . I bow to them . . . I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them . . . I love words so much . . . The ones I wait for greedily. . .they glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew . . . I stalk certain words . . . They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem . . . I catch them in midflight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives . . . And I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them . . . I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, like pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves . . . Everything exists in the word.

~ Pablo Neruda

Thanks for reading and thank heavens for Neruda.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

O fraptious day!

Look what just showed up on my doorstep!
The box contains the yarn I need to begin the Gryffindor House Scarves I am knitting for Christmas so I will be getting to work tonight. I also plan to make a few pairs of the half-finger gloves that I am crazy about to give as gifts.

Luckily I also received a DVD I ordered. I have been hearing wonderful things about the film Into Great Silence so I ordered that, too. Tonight will be a knitting and movie night as soon as I finish the project I am working on.

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Blogger has lost its mind today...

I had prepared a scintillating blog today on my adventures in knitting frou-frou but Blogger is off its rocker and I can't post any pictures so it will have to wait. I thought about writing a real actual blog entry but it is cold and raining and I have a cold and am very crabby and hard to get along with today.

However, I have received a few emails asking how I am doing with the low carb diet and I have to report I am doing very well. I am going to need to start acquiring new clothes soon. My formerly tight blue jeans are hanging off my hips and last Tuesday I wore a gorgeous pale rose cashmere sweater that has always been too snug. It's now a tad large. I never measure anything in pounds --- only in how clothes fit.

So I'm going to tell you about my latest discovery in low carb living. Lately I have been craving --- I mean CRAVING --- cinnamon rolls. Maybe it is the time of the year, I don't know. I bought some of Bigelow's Christmas Teas, Eggnog'n and Gingerbread, and they are both delicious. I kept thinking they would be perfect with cinnamon rolls which are off my list. But, ever adventurous, I invented something that isn't a bad substitute.

Mission makes a soft, white flour taco called Carb Balance that have only 7 carbs each in them. So I took a taco and spread it with butter and sprinkled on Splenda and lots of cinnamon. I sliced an apple into very, very thin slices and laid it on the cinnamon and then carefully rolled up the taco. I sliced it in 1" pieces and nestled them standing upright in a small dish and popped them in the oven for 15 minutes --- just long enough to heat through and soften the apples. While that was cooking I mixed together a couple tablespoons of cream cheese, more Splenda and a few drops of vanilla. When the "rolls" were toasty and warm I took them out of the oven and spread the cream cheese on them. Oh my gosh! Yummy.

Well, I don't feel like fighting with Blogger any more so I am going to hope that this will publish and hope that you can see my frou-frou photos in a couple days.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 05, 2007

After the Storm

Saturday the remains of Hurricane Noel arrived. It was one of those days when Gloucester is most Gloucester-ish, winds and rain and the trees thrashing around and the surg churning. Those of us who live here love these days. I am mostly inclined to stay home and cook and knit and read and write and work but others can’t get enough of the wild weather and cruise the shore marveling at the waves they way have marveled at them a hundred times before. Frankly you just can’t marvel at waves enough.

So Saturday was a wildly tempestuous Gloucester day. Sunday, however, dawned bright and glorious --- more bright and glorious because, during the night we acquired an additional hour thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time. I like this better. I don’t mind the early dark when the mornings are bright.

And, as is also often the case here in Gloucester, the first bright day after a storm is a day in which everyone goes out to revel in the sunshine. We revel in both here --- the wild, gray tempests and the bright, scintillating sunshine. I gathered up a book I am editing, a Sunday newspaper and assorted other entertainments that I would likely not need, and headed for my favorite coffee shop. As I expected everyone was there.

This is a beautiful thing and what I love most about it is that I get to connect with people who, like myself, are always engrossed in various passions that they become so absorbed in that they forget there is a world out there. But it is good to find time to share.

I got to talk to Carolyn who is always active in local politics. She knows everything and everyone and had just attended a tea for a local mayoral candidate and was full of information about who was there and what they had to say about the upcoming elections. I love talking to Carolyn --- she is a living encyclopedia of Gloucester history. She lived most of her life on Rocky Neck and knew many of the artists who lived there when it was in its heydey. She tells me wonderful stories about parties and feuds and antics and hijinx. It’s always a joy to see her.

I also got to spend time visiting with Gordon who also lives on Rocky Neck. He as a painter and his wife is a batik artists who was off rafting in Africa as we spoke. Gordon has been engaged in creating a series of paintings based on Mahler’s Second Symphony. He is preparing for an exhibition at the Cape Ann Historical Museum in 2009. His right hand was in a huge bandage following a canvas-stretching accident that has slowed down his painting. But even without a hand Gordon is more interesting to talk to than just about anyone you will meet.

From the coffee shop I went to Jane’s house. She had invited people in to see a collection of handmade lace from Brazil brought to this country by a young Brazilian woman living in Boston who has started a business selling lace here to help support a tribe in the mountains of Brazil. Jane’s living room and dining room were awash in a sea of exquisite white and cream delicacies. Such beauty! Uma, the Brazilian woman, showed me photos taken during her most recent trip to Brazil. The indigenous people of the village have a hard life and are still persecuted by a government that has little regard for the native people of that country. They live in simple huts amid dirt and chaos but the women have magic in their hands. The lace that spills from their fingers is dazzling. You need a web site, I said. She smiled.

After Uma had packed up her lace and headed back to Boston with plans for us to get together and talk about her web site, Jane and I went to Maria’s for dinner. I am in love with their Italian fish stew --- a spicy, fiery concoction of tomatoes, red peppers, onions, garlic and lots of white fish. I need to learn how to make that.

We spent a couple hours talking about our respective books --- both of us are actively writing and critiquing back and forth for each other. It was great.

So the weekend passed as weekends do in Gloucester and I am back at work. I love this place and weekends like this remind me that storms have the potential to useful and their aftermath can be glorious.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 02, 2007

All Souls Day / Knitting Day

Do you know how hard it is to photograph your own right hand? Well, it is. Today is All Souls Day, the third day in my annual inward journey, but today I am just thinking about knitting. Mainly because I have 2 projects going right now that I’m really in love with.
I have never before tried to knit gloves and I’ve never owned a pair of those gloves with half-fingers but I always thought they sounded extremely practical so I decided to try and make a pair. And I decided to use that Pearl Silk Chenille from Webs that has been nagging at me for years. I have just been making up the pattern as I go along but I think I like them. I am working on size 3 needles and I think next time I will go down a size or two but, even though these don’t photograph as well as I would like them to, I like them a lot.

In fact I like them so much that I placed an order with KnitPicks for three more sets of skinny wooden dp needles and more yarn. I decided, since the gloves only take 2 skeins, to indulge in luxury yarns --- silk and cashmere and superfine alpaca. I can’t wait for my order to get here and start knitting.

I also ordered quite a few skeins of their Wool of the Andes in Cranberry and Wheat. I am going to make a couple of Gryffindor house scarves for a couple of favorite little people for Christmas. That should be easy fun. I found a design online at and think I can wing it without a pattern.

And, FINALLY, after massive ripping out, I am back at work on my Shawl of Falling Leaves and Shooting Stars. I worked a few inches of faggoting and am now beginning the shooting star pattern and I think it is going to be lovely. The pattern will be more apparent once the shawl is blocked.

I am also working this in KnitPic’s Wool of the Andes in the color they call Tulip. I think it is just beautiful. And warm! I have no idea how big I want this shawl to be but I want a few more repeats of the shooting stars so I may have to order more yarn! Oh no!!! I’ve sort of been lusting after their Twirl in the Moss color. I’d love to make a vest for winter and I think Twirl might give the look and the warmth I want. Alpaca is such a delicious fiber to work with and to wear. The first alpaca thing I ever made was my Mermaid Shawl and I still love it more than any of my other pieces.

So that is it from Gloucester today. Throughout the Caribbean it is Día de los Muertos and people are dancing and picnicking in the cemeteries of their ancestors. My workroom here overlooks an old cemetery but it seems pretty quiet and peaceful out there.

It always is.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Feast of All Saints

November 1st, the Feast of All Saints, has always been a special day in my year. I don’t know why. I think, spiritually, it is the beginning of my year. It is also a day that I associate with music. In The Old Mermaid’s Tale it is on All Saint’s Day that Clair meets Baptiste, the mariner/musician who transforms her life. He invites her, quite spontaneously, to attend a performance of Gregorio Allegri’s beautiful Miserere and she falls in love with the music and with him.

Of the concert Clair says: he was lost in the heavenly voices. They soared and fluttered, feinted, and intertwined like birds in an autumn sky weaving a pattern of joyful praise. When the promised line came, when the voices of the first choir softened and the celestial voices of the second soared, trembled, and then fluttered to a sigh, he took my hand and squeezed it. I held my breath as that last, tremulous note quavered in the fading colors of afternoon light and felt transported, trapped between centuries.

I went a little nuts yesterday and ordered a number of CDs, music I had been wanting and just didn’t buy and then yesterday I thought, why not? I’ve been working long hours lately and it seemed like some music would make a good reward. I ordered Tomas Luis de Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium, and some gorgeous choral work by Samuel Barber and another version of the Allegri's Miserere. How many times can one piece be interpreted? As many as it takes…

The Feast of All Saints is interesting because it is sort of a catchall feast. It is designed to honor all those saints who don’t have a day of their own. It falls between Halloween, Samhain in the Celtic tradition, the feast of summer’s end when the walls between the worlds grow thin, and All Soul’s Day or the Day of the Dead as it is celebrated in Mexico and throughout the Caribbean. There is something very intriguing and seductive for me in these days. There is the omnipresent awareness of they Beyond, the Other Side. These days it is not fashionable to think about such things. We have become terribly intelligent and practical and scientific and things that can’t be measured and quantified are considered childish and silly and the people who believe in them are unsophisticated. Personally I have no problem being unsophisticated.

For me there is Another Place --- I don’t know where it is, maybe it is another dimension that exists concurrently with the one I inhabit or maybe it is an undeveloped lobe of my brain. It is populated by characters waiting to be written about, ideas waiting to be explored, dreams waiting to be born, and creativity. Lots and lots of creativity. There are souls of those who have gone before in that place. Perhaps not literally but then, when I think about it, what is literal about a soul anyway. And there are the unhonored saints, too. People who did something good and beautiful and worthy, even if it was only living a good life, who linger in that world and they are worthy of remembrance. Today is the day to do that.

My friend Jane said that she likes the way I write because it is so “Catholic” in a time when Catholic is scorned by many. But one of the things I have always loved about having been raised Catholic is that it made a place in me for the mysterious. From the ordinary mysteries of everyday life --- the little saints and the souls in purgatory --- to the great Magnum Mysterium.

There are a lot of explanations that scientists posture and pontificate about concerning that odd function of the human brain that longs --- longs and yearns and fills that longing and yearning with what we have come to call God. We all know that religions have done a disservice to humanity in many respects but still --- ah, that longing.

Today and tomorrow too are good days to contemplate these things. The light is low and contemplative, there is glorious music to be listened too. The world is quiet after last night’s festivities and the Great Mystery is as close as we allow it to be.

Thanks for reading.