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Bright Spots of 2016

21 Dec
della_tramutatione_metallica_sogni_tre-a184

From Della tramutatione metallica sogni tre by Gio. Battista Nazari, 1571

Dang it. Despite world affairs being horrendous, I’m going to relish some good things that happened in 2016. First, I achieved my goal of obtaining 100 rejections (106!). If you’re not getting rejecting 90% of the time, you’re not aiming high enough–so goes the wisdom from Creative Capital. The fruits of this labor paid off with eight publications. Here they are, plus other goodness. (Find the zoetrope!)

 

My plans for the holidays including gorging myself on kreplach, cholent, pizza, and rainbow cookies and devouring Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters. Happy winter solstice!

Netherlandish Birds

15 May

bosch-pond

Thanks to the tremendous generosity of the Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award, I spent the earlier part of this month in the Netherlands, researching my third novel. M came as my trusty research assistant, furnishing highlighters, snacks, and sweaters with alacrity. There’s a lot of information crammed in my skull right now, which I am organizing as best I can, hoping it seeps into the crevices of my subconscious fruitfully.

What struck me on our trip: the birds! (I know, I know, put a bird on it.) Egrets, loons, swans, geese, ducks, grouse, crows; white-breasted, brilliant blue, long-tailed, plump and shimmery; raucous, trilling, warbling, chortling. Fact: the first painting acquired by the Rijksmuseum features a bold, angry swan.

Jan_Asselijn_-_De_bedreigde_zwaan;_later_opgevat_als_allegorie_op_Johan_de_Witt_-_Google_Art_Project

In the moat by the citadel in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, an egret bullied ducks until a trio of geese chased the egret to the boardwalk where it loomed. This continued on a loop for a while. A seagull swooped down to chase the egret further and when the egret returned, the geese trailed it, sinister and slow. Sinister, at least, until we realized there were goslings near.

In a canal in Rotterdam, three loons had a lovers’ spat. Slapped wings, held heads beneath the water–murderous! Not far from there, we strolled past the “swan bridge,” soaring and modern.

On our last night in Amsterdam, we stayed at a fanciful b&b on the Western Canal Belt. Our hostess could not greet us when we arrived. She hid our keys in a flowerpot. Up two steep, narrow flights of stairs, we flung open the door. The lights were on, the doors and windows open, a gust of wind coming from the terrace, which led to another room with another open door, and the flutter and chirp of green and yellow parakeets, in a big cage looking down upon the Keizersgracht canal. Old books stacked everywhere, art on the walls and leaning upon the books, a laptop left on a long wooden table, half open, as if our hostess had left in a hurry. It had the feel of that computer game Myst, where mysterious rooms, empty of people, always suggest a presence, a place quickly abandoned. We did meet her late that night and in the morning at breakfast the birds flew freely about the room and she would call to them and air kiss them and talked to us about Argentina and Barcelona and photography and her love of Amy (Winehouse).

Apropos of birds, on the flight back, I finished Noy Holland’s debut novel Bird, a raw gorgeous thing. Here, I leave you with an excerpt:

She was hungry again and gorged herself on chicken fried steak and skittles, on vermilion faces of canyons, cliffs you could dig with a spoon.

 

Medieval Botany

18 Sep

M took a picture of rose hips at the Cloisters

Medieval medicine and quackery has been slowly piquing my curiosity. Perhaps it started in Freiburg in 2003, where I took in an exhibit on the history of trephination, a peculiar if somehow logical cure for all manner of headaches and madness. Hieronymous Bosch, incidentally, warned against such quackery in his painting “Extraction of the Stone Folly”.  But there is a less gory and more charming side to this era in medicine. Yesterday, while visiting the Cloisters, I learned a great deal about the medicinal herbs kept in a monastery as well as general medieval beliefs about health and beauty. Should you find yourself plagued with freckles, for instance, you can rub them right out with honeysuckle. The poisonous, paralyzing belladonna plant could be used in small doses as a general anesthetic  – this  might have been what Friar Laurence gave Juliet to fake her death. Women ate figs, strawberries, pomengranates, and other many-seeded fruit to increase their chances of conception. And rose hips and other parts of the rose were believed to shrink tumors (and/or pimples); but there may have been something to this, because apparently some aspect of this plant is still used in chemotherapeutics today.

In other botanic news, I finally saw the second installment of the High Line. It certainly has a wilder look about it, with metal walkways overlooking dwarfish trees with large leaves; they seem somehow prehistoric. And there is a large abundance of some very fragrant herb. The scent actually made me a little sick, so I had to hurry away before looking into what it was, but I’m looking forward to returning in another season, when other wild plants take precedence. The closed off, still uncultivated third section of the High Line seemed more intriguing to me than the newly opened portion. That spur along 30th Street won’t be open for another five or six years.

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