Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reading is sexy XVI

A young girl reading (1776?) (image is A Yong Girl Reading by Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) via Guarda chi legge)
Well, I am home sick again today. I hardly ever take a day off sick. In fact, I hardly ever take a day off period - occupational hazard. I have checked my email remotely and the like. I have my laptop and could be working on the paper I should have finished, but I figure my brain is tired and busy fighting what ever bug it is that has taken up residence in my throat.Plus, I feel like death warmed over. The least I can do though is catch up with my record of what I have been reading... because I have. Been reading. If I don't write it down I feel like I will forget.

6. The Pharmacist's Mate by Amy Fusselman - I bought this book because of the rave review by Zadie Smith and the cover by Marcel Dzama. It is short but moving book. It is a memoir of sorts. She is breathtakingly honest. She grapples with her father's death - the titular Pharmacist's Mate, having been rejected by the Navy because he was in medical school, and doctors were needed, he signed up for the Merchant Marine and ended up in the dispensary - and her and her husband's quest to conceive a child. She intersperses her life, her grief, with excepts of her father's journal while at sea. This is a little gem.

7. The Troll Garden by Willa Cather. This is a book of short stories I bought at the U of T bookstore because a) it was some ridiculously nominal price, like $2 and b) I had not read any of her work, so I thought I might as well. It is one of those University Press editions with erudite introductions. I did not read all of the introduction, because while part of it was helpful, it was bent on systematically spoiling every plotline of everything she ever wrote. The stories themselves are mainly about artists and rustics, civilization and rural existence. They are not vastly different from contemporaries such as, for instance, Henry James.

8. Tortoise by Peter Young. This is a cultural history of the tortoise. A bit Anglo-centric, light on science, heavy on history. I learned some interesting things.

9. The Brie Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. This book is as good as they say. Read it. Oscar, is an overweight, hapless, scifi-obsessed Dominican nerd, living in New Jersey. Sadly for Oscar, he is not one of those nerds who are oblivious to women- no, Oscar loves women. This is an incredible story. It is the story of Oscar, and his family - his mother, and how and why she left the Dominican Republic, his sister, his abuela, interwoven with the history of the island and its fukú (or curses), violence, love and tragedy. And golden-eyed mongoose. The story is told by a narrator who eventually becomes part of the story and relates the story as Oscar himself might think, in scifi, pop culture metaphors and extensive footnotes- in a gripping, high-energy style. Later part of the story is told by his sister. What I know about the Dominican Republic and its former, brutal, dictator, "the failed cattle theif", El Jefe, Trujillo, I learned from Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat, a novel referenced a few times here, and which I will never forget. This novel explains more of what happened to some people in this community after Trujillo, those who immigrated and those who remained, and how the country is still recovering. Mostly, though, it is about individuals. This novel, amazingly, is about love.

10. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. It took a little while for me to get into this novel, but once I did I was hooked. It weaves together Florence under the Medicis with the Mughal Emperor's court. A tall, yellow-haired man in a magician's coat, decorated with lozenges and filled with hidden pockets, arrives at the Mughal court, to deliver a message, tell a story and claim kinship. The story is about what is real, what is make-believe, east and west, religious tolerance, love, beauty, treachery, family and friends. Not 14 pages in, we have Scottish pirates, with what some on the f-list might call slashy angst, and the rollicking tale goes on from there. An enjoyable read.

11. Cloud Atlad by David Mitchell. I got this book on the suggestion of . She is also a Haruki Murakami fan, so I was intrigued. It is quite an amazing book. I do not want to tell you too much about it. You need to read it for yourselves. Its structure is musical in six parts, life stories in different times and places, subtly woven together. The story takes place in the 1850s in the south Pacific, in the early 1930s in Belgium (near Bruges, fresh in my mind having just watched In Bruges and being in nearby Holland while reading), in 1970s Buenos Yerba, more or less contemporary England, and into the future. The story is about humanity, society, consumerism and freedom. Just read it.

12. Scribbling the cat by Alexandra Fuller (author of Don't let's go to the dogs tonight). Scribbling is African slang for killing, as in curiosity scribbled the cat. The hero of the memoir, Bobo, is home in Zambia, visiting her parents (her husband and children, safe in Montana), where she meets their neighbour K. He is a veteran of the wars of the region. He fought in one of the elite corps for the Rhodesians and also for the Portuguese in Mozambique. Bobo gets it into her head that the two of them could return to where he fought these wars. She wants to understand what could make this violent, estranged, born again man. He, for his part, thinks he is in love with her. The narrative voice is strong and recognizable from her last memoir. I am not sure what this will all tell us.... People are rotten? War changes people irreparably? Yet, in some senses, some people (especially men) thrive on it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

wandering Amsterdam part III

Conversation on Saturday night went till closing time. Apparently, in his spare time he is setting up an internet shop for his best friend, a painter, so KS told him about my etsy shop. Our Dutch friend proceeded to tell us all about his personal life and then asked several personal questions of each of us. It is not the way I am used to speaking with people I have just met, but I did appreciate his frankness. Also, it was interesting because this seemed such an obvious cultural difference - here it might have seemed like a stranger prying, but there it was more like it had never occurred to him to communicate in any other way (despite his American education).

Sunday, I was pretty tired, but we went for one last walk before I took the shuttle to the airport. Mercifully, my stop in Frankfort was less terrible than previous experiences there. I was back in Toronto and home by 9 pm.

Today, I think I will not try anything more challenging than grocery shopping. Afterall, I worked Saturday to Friday last week, not including all the hours spent travelling to and from meetings - I have decided I have earned a day off.

perhaps an elf
gnome home graffiti
smoking gnome
Even the gnomes are smoking in Amsterdam.
blue mural
duck on the Amstel

wandering Amsterdam part II

We had walked several kilometers are were dead tired and so we took the streetcar back out to the hotel and lay there chatting for an hour before dinner. We met a friend of K at the Rembrandtsplein and went to a popular, tiny Italian place for dinner, after waiting for a table in the pub across the street. Over dinner we discussed our jobs and science issues but then we continued for another drink, um, or five. He asked what Canadians thought of the Dutch. I managed not to say that we thought they were blunt and recognized how much it was appreciated that the Dutch always seem to remember how the Canadians freed their country at the end of each of the World Wars. Also, that the Dutch queen was born in Ottawa (during WWII) and our Parliament is now surounded by tulips from Holland.
houseboat and canalhouses
boats, big and small
Boats in the windows and in the canal...
big jaw
artsy houseboat
asian graffiti Amsterdam
collection in window
Collection of those whatchamacallits - the crochet rope tools, in a window.
Explosion of Delftware.
varied scale canalhouses
I love the variety of scale in the canalhouses and the graffic effect of all the cream-on-black.
seagull on angel
Seagull perched atop the angel on the rooftop.
wheatpaste Amsterdam
mackerel sky over Amsterdam

wandering Amsterdam part I

We left our workshop at 3:30 pm and ran to catch the ferry to the mainland. We missed the bus connection to the train station, so we took cabs and ended up on the 4 pm train to Amsterdam, with the slowpokes who missed the ferry. The funny thing was that with the exception of a couple of locals our train car was filled with visiting scientists. The Scandinavians all sat together (perhaps because a Belgian teased them that it must already be dark at home). We sat in the Canadian-German-English-Belgian group. Then there was a foreigners-who-work-in-the-UK (Kiwis and Canucks, mainly) group behind us. I enjoyed our conversation and getting to see a little more of the townships and countryside in the daylight. Though conversations started with the usual topics (i.e. science from the meeting, are Canadians really different from Americans and how long was my flight home, language issues) it became quite animated. The Belgians were Flemish so they translated the announcements for us. They wanted to know how our language differed. They claimed that Québecois french was incomprehensible and I argued that it really depended, though I acknowledged that sometimes it was 16th century and people drove their char rather than their auto. The only English Canadian word I could think of was ribbit, which lead to a crazy conversation about sounds animals make in different languages. Also, strangely, none of them knew the word meme, and thought I had made it up.

After reaching Amsterdam and taking a streetcar to our hotel (in the same neighbourhood as our houseboat from the last trip), we found an Indonesian restaurant, one of the benefits to Holland of their former colony. We were going to go for a beer, but passed a theatre and randomly decided to watch Revolutionary Road. Then Saturday, we mainly wandered and shopped till dinner.
canal with reflections

fist doorknob
Check out the fist door knob, and requisite bikes.
Ernie and Bert
Ernie and Bert down the alleyway...
corner building
must have tulips
The necessary tulips (even if artificial) where we stopped for coffee on a canal.
stylish hotel
There was a beautiful Art Nouveau style restaurant in this hotel.
stone people
more people as pilasters
the Jordaan, Amsterdam
I returned to the Jordaan, because I enjoyed walking there previously. There are many shops and galleries, and artisans working in felt.

Dem Hoorn, the Netherlands, on Texel island in the North Sea

So I went from the Pacific to the North Sea. The flight from Vancouver to London was very long. It is somewhat frustrating to go all that way and then have to sit in Heathrow for four hours to fly the remaining 45 minutes, but that is the way it is.
cloud waves
I wonder if anyone else thinks about gravity waves and dispersion relations when looking down on clouds.
the whiskey bar
I went from Victoria with its bunnies, to Dem Hoorn and rabbit soup at the whiskey bar.
thatch roof hotel
This is where I stayed, in the squat, tiny white building with the thatch roof. It was rather cute, but cold. Every day I went out and they would open the window while I was gone. I never figured that out. KS teased me because it did not occur to me that I could turn up the heat. She says this is because I am Canadian. Instead, I slept with two duvets on and a pillow on my head to hold the heat in.
green truck
churchyard 1646
little houses
typical barn
This is a typical barn with its tile and thatch roof.

It was good workshop, if a little Euro-centric. One of these days I will get myself sent to the arctic (topic of our meeting).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin Day

Darwin Day, is a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.

Since the Mad Scientists of Etsy had already selected "mycology" as our theme for February, we have put off the Darwin challenge until March. But you, gentle reader, get a advance hint: tortoises & surfing. :)

Monday, February 9, 2009

poodlebreath pendant I love etsy seller poodle breath's beautiful ceramic work. I bought myself this pendant, wore it once and broke the ring at the top by which it was suspended - through my own clumsiness. I think I shall epoxy some fitting on the back so I can wear it still. It sucks being clumsy. :(

fly agaricframed proofI made a two-colour proof of the fly agaric block and framed it in a small wooden vintage frame. I leaned it up against the cd's on the bookshelf rather than putting it on the wall. I had intended for the print to be two-colour, but pulling the prints proved problematic. It is important to choose your battles; brown ink consistency was not the battle for me. The print, after all, is more about texture and line. I have gotten a great response to the print in solely red. With printmaking, knowing when to quit is half the battle and usually for me that battle is about line; this time it was about colour.

Yesterday, I asked my father how he could possibly hate Jane Austen. He said that if he googles his name, what he finds are references to one of her novels, wherein his namesake's character is none-too-flattering. This made me laugh.

I am considering doing a series of prints of poisonous things. Perhaps I want to say that all that is natural is not necessarily good for you.

Well, back to the multiplexer data sheets for me.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

home is where the art is

octopus and jellyfish prints
I actually collect prints of soft sea creatures (encephalopods and jellyfish and such)- really specific, but surprisingly easy. This is my woodblook moku hanga "Little Boat, Big Ocean", a 4-colour screenprint by animalsleep, and my jellyfish lino block print in my hallway. The hallway is a bit dark and narrow, so the photograph does not really do these prints justice; I think they look better in person.

The art in the bedroom is supposed to suggest sleep, including the starry kite constellation screenprint of labpartners, Emma Kidd's origami bear, Di's painting of the animals on the duvet and the birch trees at night etching.
night time art

boy and giant hawk - animalsleep print
I love the particular brand of magic of etsy printmaker animalsleep and so I bought this screenprint of a boy and giant hawk against the night sky. One can imagine the fairy story to go with the image.
I framed it using some printed Chinese paper as a matt. Not a propos but I have been enjoying using patterned patters in framing and the colours are exactly right.

This night time image is also on the bedroom wall.

girl with swan from animalsleep

This was a bonus with the animalsleep prints so I framed it somewhat idiosyncratically in a vintage oval frame with some Japanese washi papers as matts, and added the night scene with crescent moon to the bedroom wall.

puppets, horses, psychic owl and bunnyfish

By the table, I have the kozyndan photo of bunnyfish and koi, the found giant Indonesian shadow puppet, a plate, a half horse on a plaque, a tiny water colour, a horse paper doll from the PinPals, a Dutch silhouette, a painting by Di and the Yeehaw Industries psychic owl calendar.