Monday, November 29, 2010

Pleasurs of Flesh

The best part of Thanksgiving, for me, are the days after, when fine turkey sandwiches are available until there's nothing left but the carcass. The perfect turkey sandwich is made as follows: white bread, mayonnaise, white meat with a sprinkle of salt, accompanied by a glass of cold milk. I have done this with whole grain bread, dressing and cranberry sauce, but this year the dressing was so good we ate it all on Thanksgiving Day, and the cranberry sauce didn't jell properly, so I'm back to the traditional as described and pictured above. John and I went up to the West Side Market Saturday and bought some wonderful Hungarian crusty white bread, which makes the ultimate old fashioned turkey sandwich. By the way, I think the dressing was so good is that I was out of sage, so I went out into the garden and picked some parsley, rosemary and thyme and used that instead. Excellent.

I spent the first half of my life (so far) under the Catholic church's ruling of no meat on Friday. This meant agony on the day after Thanksgiving, with the turkey sitting in the refrigerator, exuding all its roasted turkeyness, untouchable. If I spent the day with non-Catholic (that's how we described those not lucky enough to be born into the true religion) friends, when their mother would get out the turkey and slice off those luscious pieces of white meat for luncheon sandwiches, I had to eat peanut butter and silently offer up my suffering for the lost souls in Purgatory, as the nuns often advised us to do when in pain. Or I could just curse my ill-born religious luck. We'd stay up until Friday midnight, and as soon as the minute hand moved past twelve, we'd all race to the kitchen and attack the turkey, scarfing it down like those poor starving children in China we were always hearing about.

The irony of all this was that, if we went to Mass on Friday, we could partake of the body and blood of Christ, which if you believe in Transubstantiation, which we' re bound to do, we were eating meat, or flesh and blood, actually. Whichever pope infallibly made up these rules was not much of a logician. I asked our parish pries about Transubstantiation once, asking if it wasn't meant to be symbolic, and he said that it was one of the basic tenets of the Church. In fact, I used to lead the congregation with my guitar in a jaunty little song with the chorus, "Eat His Body, Drink His Blood, Allelu, allelu, allelu!" Well, both the priest and I left the church soon after, he to marry an ex-nun who looked like Elizabeth Taylor at her most gorgeous, I to become pretty much a Druid, never more to urge people to participate in cannablism. Then Pope Juan Two Three opened the windows of the church to let in some 18th century air. and we started having hamburgers on Fridays, and turkey on the day after Thanksgiving, the day that merchants call Black Friday. Yes!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Obscure Connection to Fame

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I would be having a couple of pieces in the Cleveland Museum of Art, drawings I did during the Drawing in the Galleries class. It's not exactly the same as being featured in an actual gallery, but there you are. It's quite a nice exhibit, featuring works from all of the classes from the fall schedule. So we can all brag.

The Degas is one of the dancers from the "Frieze of Dancers," one of my favorite things in the museum. The mask is from the African gallery, and it caught my eye because of the fine hat, made of woven straw, very complex and interesting. As I mentioned before, it was used in a circumcision ceremony and is not a happy face. But the hat is perky!

Annual Turkey Fest

The other day, when I was checking out a bunch of candles for the Thanksgiving table, the check out lady mentioned that she was having 22 people for Thanksgiving. I told her that I would have to lie down with a cold cloth on my head if producing such an event were up to me. My parents had moved far away from their families, so we never had droves of relatives showing up for holiday meals, just our nuclear family of seven, which I think was quite enough for my mother. My job was polishing the apples and arranging the center piece fruit bowl, drapmg the grapes picturesquely. When I married and had my own children, we never went away to relatives' homes at Thanksgiving and that's the way it's always been.

I had only one experience with one of those large, extended family affairs. It was the first year we were married, and my husband and I went down to a small town on the Ohio River, where most of his aunts lived. They were all large women, named Frieda, Ernestine, Beulah and Genevieve. They didn't much like men, a consequence of their father , the local school superintendant, having left their mother in 1915 to marry his secretary and start a whole new family, none of whom were ever mentioned. They themselves had all married, presumably in order to have children, since there didn't seem to be much evidence of affection or even friendship between the spouses once they had each produced one or two children.

We met at Aunt Genevieve's big house, which contained Uncle Herb's general store and the village post office. When my husband and I went into the dining room, with its groaning table, I realized that I was the only woman in the room, among the silent and hungry men. "Where are your mother and the aunts?" I whispered to my husband. "Oh, they'll eat in the kitchen," he said. "They like it that way." Occasionally one of the aproned sisters would come into the room to see if we needed anything. I could hear them in the kitchen, laughing and chatting away, while I sat amongst the men who ate more food than I'd ever seen a human being put away. It was good country food, much of it home-canned. There was no turkey on the table; the women had sliced it in the kitchen and put in on the table in a huge mound on a platter. (My father had always carved the turkey; it was a guy thin in our family.) Needless to say, everything was delicious. But I muttered to my husband that there was no way I would ever eat Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen wearing an apron.

When I went into the kitchen to help with the dishes, the women were all sitting around the large room on straight chairs, with their plates in their laps, gabbing and laughing. All of the men had left the table and waddled into the parlor to watch football. As soon as the kitchen was clean there came the request for some of that good pie and coffee, which the women dutifully provided on trays for the stuffed sports lovers in the parlor. (I could just see how my mother would have reacrted to these men: "You want pie? I'll give you pie!--Right in your face!") I have a feeling the air in the parlor was not too fragrant, given the amount of food and the speed with which it had been ingested. I didn't venture in, but went outside and had a cigarette with my husband. He had grown up with this holiday pattern and was a bit surprised that I found it strange. But I never ate Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen on a straight chair wearing an apron. And men can get their own damn pie and coffee in my house.

Others in my family do the big Thanksgiving dinner and have a lot of fun with it. My brother Micheal and his wife have about 40 or so people, all relatives, and my sister Mary Lucille with just her kids and grad kids can add up to about 30 if everyone shows up. Everyone pitches in and nobody eats in the kitchen wearing an apron. We will be just four here, and that will be fine. After dinner we'll watch one of those movies we all love: this year I think it will be "To Kill a Mockingbird," which I'm DVR-ing tonight while I'm up in Cleveland seeing "Billy Eliot."

Good times.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Music! Drama! Theater!

Every once in a while, there's a period of a few days when there are all sort of interesting things happen one after the other. This past week-end started on Friday night with the KSU production of "Brigadoon." Now this is probably the lamest musical ever written - and by Lerner and Loewe yet, the guys who wrote "My Fair Lady." I only went to see it because the university theater department puts on simply splendid musical productions - with the exception of that terrible "Jane Eyre" a couple of years ago. So off we went, not expecting anything too wonderful. BUT the thing was just delightful, thanks to the excellent dancing and singing, the costume design and the lighting. They even did a half way decent job with the Scots accent, usually the downfall of college productions. Way entertaining!

Saturday afternoon, a friend and I went to see "Don Pasquale," the latest HD transmission from the Met. A Donizetti opera, there was fine bel canto singing and a lot of cornball Italian comedy, with the diva a magnificent Russian, Anna Netrebko. I love these HD productions. Between the acts, you get to see them moving the massive sets into place by a team of some hundred stagehands. It was a fun comic opera and nobody died.

Sunday afternoon I went to see "For Colored Girls." I had seen the play years ago and just loved it. When I heard that they'd made a movie of it, I wondered how they would do that, since the play is basically poetry. I had also heard that Tyler Perry was producing it and he is the guy who dresses up as a bossy woman and that he had played the Chittlin' Circuit for years with comedies amid a the Black community. Since this isn't a comedy, I wondered what he would do with it. I must say he did a good job and respected the original work. This is not an easy story to watch, since it involves not only the impact on women of racism, but of sexism and violence against women as well. The cast is first rate, consisting of some of the best actresses in film and theater. It is certainly not and Italian comedy.

Sunday evening I went to hear the KSU symphony up on campus. The first piece was probably the most annoying music Beethoven ever composed. It was a triple concerto for cello, violin and piano and consisted of the same melody over and over again - not even variations, just the same damn melody in the first and third movements, with about ten possible endings that never happened....well, until it finally did after I had given up all hope of that happening. The players were great, but someone needed to tell Ludwig that it was really boring. Maybe he compose it after he lost his hearing and he didn't know he was being repetitive. The final piece was Brahms' 4th symphony, which started badly but ended perfectly. It was a fine evening.

So that was my week-end of music, drama and more music. So tonight I'll watch "Dancing With the Stars" and come down to earth. With a bang.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Poetry on the Cheap

When my mother was growing up in the early days of the 20th century, one of her main pleasures was reading. Her own mother had always read to, and sung to, her children. There was a great library in their small New England city and my mother treasured the opportunity to explore the shelves and find books to enjoy.

When my mother was in her eighties, she received letter from a long ago play mate, someone she hadn't seen or heard from in probably 65 years or so. This woman had lived with her grandmother next door to my mother's family. Her father was a vaudeville performer, a widower, and often away on the road for long stretches of time. She was writing after many years, to tell my mother how much she had loved coming to their house, because there was a love of books and music, and that she had gotten her life long love of reading from listening to my mother's mother reading to her children, or anyone else who happened to be there. This pleased my mother n o end, and I thought it was just a fine thing to hear.

My mother took after her own mother, and when we were little, she would read to us every night at bedtime. She'd also sing us songs she had learned in her childhood.One of my favorite poems was "Winken, Blinken and Nod." A few years ago, I found a copy of the very Eugene Field picture book of poems from which she read to us. It has in it, "The Sugar Plum Tree," "The Calico Cat and the Gingham Dog" which she also read. The book has the most bizarre illustrations in it, which used to fascinate us, and finding's this book in a used book store, simply swept me away into the past.

One song that she sang was "Babes in the Woods," a terrifying tale of two little children who were stolen away on a bright summers' day and lost in the woods so I've heard people say. Well, they end up dead, of course. The tune is mournful and somewhat lugubrious, and we would wail and Mother would say, "I'm not ever going to sing that song again." I mean,, my sister and I were two little children! It was only a few years later, after we had moved to Georgia from New Jersey that the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped. In New Jersey! Anyway, a few nights later, we'd beg her to sing it again, she would, we would wail, and so on and so on. I think we finally got over it when we reached our teens.

When the Depression hit, we moved to Atlanta, where my father had been transferred by Fairbanks -Morse. In the move, we lost our "Winken" book, but mother found these fine little books of poetry in the dime store. These are not our original copies, but ones that I once again found in used book stores Again , looking at then is another step into my childhood. The poems range from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot. They are amazing, given the general illiteracy of out current time. These little books probably cost all of 15 cents.

The ones for children have all the wonderful children's' poets of the time: Rose Fyleman, Rachel Field, Cristina Rossetti, Robert Lois Stevenson, Eleanor Fajeon, Edward Lear and more. Along with them, were Robert Frost, Yeats, Wordsworth, John Masefield and other poets who wrote so wonderfully about life and nature in ways that children could appreciate. There were quite a few poems about fairies. That would never go over now. I think today's kids would even let Tinker Bell die.

One little book that mother bought for herself had several poems that I liked to read because they made me sad: Poe's "Annabel Lee," a mournful tale of lost love- and death, and a truly heart-breaking poem, "Four Little Foxes," tiny newborn kits whose mother ..."Her feet within a trap, her blood upon the snow.." has left them shivering and blue with cold... I tell ya, it's unbearable! I guess I had a morbid streak at 8.

It's all about words and imagery, and all in these cheap little books with black and white illustrations!

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Hab a Bad, Bad Code

"When I was sick, and lay abed,
I had two pillows at my head .."

Thus begins one of my favorite poems from Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses," a book my mother read to us when we were small. There is a wonderful illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith, of a small boy lying in his bed, with a toy village placed her and there in his "Land of Counterpane." Oh, it is ever so cozy.

That's what it was like being sick when I was a kid. Oh, I didn't have a toy village, but there were books and crayons and no school. There was Campbell's chicken rice soup, soda crackers, ginger ale and Jell-o - and paper dolls. When I moved to the couch in the living room I could listen to the soap operas on the radio: "Vic and Sade,""Ma Perkins," and "Pepper Young's Family." Having a cold then was fun. Then.

Now it is a miserable, painful, messy, awful condition that seems to last forever until you can't remember what feeling well is like. The head aches, the nose hurts, the eyes burn and the sneezing and coughing go on forever and keep you awake at night. I've got all the herbal teas, the ginger ale, the crackers and chi ken soup and throat lozenges which provide only temporary relief. Right now I'm missing the spaghetti night at the First Christian Church, but I don't have much of an appetite anyway. My house is littered with snotty tissues and I want my mama.

I know it will end sometime in the near future, but that looks rather bleak after the rotten election results. Wothell is wrong with people? Has this country gone nuts? Even when the damn cold is gone, I'll still have to cope with living amongst people who think it's better to go back to the stone age of the Tea Partyites.

Well, I gotta go blow my dann nose.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Messing Around in the Museum

I just finished an 8 week class (one a week) at the Cleveland Museum of Art, called "Drawing in the Galleries." We started out with five students, but ended up with only three. We began in the Rodin Sculpture Gallery, which is located in a new part of the museum; it's basically a glass box, so the lighting is perfect. Unfortunately, their Rodin collection is not particularly distinguished, but it was a good exercise to begin with, if a tad boring.

We worked with charcoal the first two sessions, working in black and white to get a sense of values. Since most of the time we were in the new East Wing, we were only allowed to use pastel pencils. Before all the new construction, students were able to bring in paints and regular pastels, but now everything is so new and shiny that such messy media are verboten.

We drew in the Egyptian exhibit, the African exhibit, the Impressionist gallery, the Post Modern gallery and the American Impressionist gallery. Along the way, we had to do quick timed drawings of some sculptures by various artists. I think we all liked the more modern galleries best, although the instructor had promised us the Dutch Masters, too, but we never got there. There's a Franz Hals there that I wanted to try.I discovered a Gabriele Munter which I'd never noticed before, so I did that one. I don't know how long they've had it, but I was glad to see it.

At the end - yesterday- we had a general critique and the instructor chose several of our things to hang in the student gallery, just down the hall from the classrooms in the education wing. But it's a hall which visitors to the museum have to pass on their way to the main galleries, so we can all say that we have work at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Mine are a drawing from the Degas "Frieze of Dancers" and an African mask used in a circumcision rite. Needless to say, it does not portray a happy face.

Above are the originals of the Gabriele Munter painting and the Picasso from the museum and at the bottom are my copies, more or less. You can see that even copying what you see, it's the real artists who knew what they were doing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

To Get Into My Yard

This past Saturday was the last day of the market for the year. Oh, they will have an indoor market for a couple of days in late November with Christmas goodies - cheese, jellies, soap, maple syrup, but the fine summery things will have to wait until next year. My friend Susan was here for the week-end, so we went and bought peppers and kale and squash. I had already gotten a lovely pie pumpkin the week before, in hopes that John would make one of his fine pies. He has been too busy, so the pumpkins is sitting on the counter with a couple of butternut squash which one of us will make into soup soon.

When Susan and I got home from the market, I heard the unmistakable sound of a clucking chicken. Susan thought it was probably a goose flying over. It seemed improbable that that a chicken would be anywhere in the vicinity of my backyard, but it sounded like a chicken to me.

Then, when I looked out of the kitchen window after I got in, there WAS a chicken, a beautiful white, fat chicken strutting around the backyard, pecking at the ground, and checking out John's truck. A live chicken!

There has been move in this town to allow people to keep chickens. It's all part of the urban farming movement. City council is fighting this move, claiming that rats are attracted to chicken coops on account of the feed. To say nothing of hungry coyotes after the rats.
When I was a child in Atlanta, many folks kept chickens in the city. Hearing roosters crowing in the morning was common. I'll never forget when I was at a playmate's house (her name was Dorothy Crawford and she had a big brother named Beau) and their servant came out with an axe, grabbed one of their chickens, took it to the chopping block and decapitated it with one blow. The headless creature then hopped about, spurting blood everywhere around the yard for a while before collapsing and being taken into the kitchen for dinner. The family's, not the chi ken's. Cold blooded murder! I was six, and I can still see it. We never kept chickens, and bought ours already dead, so I never saw that again.

So anyway, we had this white chicken in the back yard, strutting and clucking and no idea where she had come from. Susan and I went off to see "Waiting for Superman, an excellent documentary, and when we came back, the chicken was gone. John went around the neighborhood and found her owners, who apparently are raising chi kens, and have been doing so, in spite of City Council's refusing to allow it. Good for them. If we start seeing well-fed rats or coyote we'll know whom to blame.

So the chicken is back with her sister hens, but she did cross the road to get to our back yard, which answers that age old question. And I hope she never gets her head chopped off for some one's dinner.