Tag Archives: Home

Green and White

Summer has come to Salem over the last few days and everything is very green–and white, the perfect colors of renewal. The viburnum is so dominant this time of year, but so are spirea and white dogwoods, along with azaleas, deutzias and lilacs. And those are just the shrubs and trees: you can look up, down, and over and see a trail of white just about everywhere at this time of year. The Peirce-Nichols garden has a field of pink bleeding-hearts, but just a few steps away at the Ropes Mansion are my favorite white ones (my own, sadly, did not come back this year), along with beautiful border of white irises. I’m off to replace my bleeding hearts (if I can find the white ones–pink are far more plentiful) and look for some new shrubs for the perimeter of my garden, as I am very tired of my boring forsythias as well as a sad espaliered crab-apple tree. I am open to suggestions: not just for white-flowering shrubs, but no pink please!

White flowers 6

White flowers 5

White flowers 3

White flowers 2

White flowers 4

White flowers 1

White flowers 7

White flowers 10

White flowers 8

Green, (black) and white around Salem, late May 2016.


Elizabethan Caterpillars

Oddly enough, I was thinking about caterpillars before the big Tudor revelation of last week: the confirmation that a lavishly embroidered cloth-of-silver altar cloth in a small church in Herefordshire was fashioned from a dress which might have belonged to Elizabeth I. The cloth was discovered by Historic Royal Palaces Joint Chief Curator Tracy Borman, who has included it in her newly-released book, The Private Lives of the Tudors. Uncovering the Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty. Apparently Elizabeth had a reputation for casting-off her clothing to favorites, and her faithful servant Blanche Parry hailed from Bracton, the small village where this luxurious cloth has been hanging for over 400 years. The photographs of the cloth, particularly close-ups, show familiar Elizabethan flora and fauna (in a pattern that does indeed look very familiar to that of the dress which Elizabeth wears in the famous “Rainbow” portrait), including a rather conspicuous caterpillar hovering over a bear.

Caterpillar Cloth HRP

Jacobean Jacket METThe Herefordshire altar cloth (@Historic Royal Palaces) and a fitted jacked from a bit later (c. 1616) featuring a caterpillar among a world of flora and fauna, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

So why was I thinking about caterpillars in general and Elizabethan caterpillars in particular? For the usual mix of scholarly/materialistic reasons. I am prepping for my summer graduate course on Elizabethan England, while at the same time spring cleaning the house and indulging in a bit of seasonal decoration, which for me means swapping out Spring rabbits for Summer bugs and snails: I had just replaced a John Derian glass tray featuring a card-dealing rabbit with one bearing a colorful caterpillar when I read the news about the Herefordshire discovery. And I’m rereading one of my favorite books, Deborah Harkness’s The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution which captures perfectly the dynamic world of fledgling naturalists and “scientists” in later-sixteenth century London. Harkness is probably better known for her fictional bestsellers of the past few years but for me, this is her jewel. I really had a hard time conveying to my students just how focused Elizabethans were on the natural world before it was published; certainly you can see–they can see– this preoccupation in Tudor decorative arts, and most particularly textiles, but I’m hoping that Harkness will really bring it home to them.

Caterpillar Tray John Derian

Jewel House Cover HarknessJohn Derian’s caterpillar tray & Deborah Harkness’s The Jewel House.

So back to the caterpillar, which is such a distinctive creature in terms of both appearance and activity: it transforms and consumes, dramatically. Which quality determined their metaphorical characterization in Elizabethan England? Definitely the latter: when Shakespeare writes of a commonwealth of caterpillars in Richard II, he is referring to devouring parasites whom Bolingbroke has sworn “to weed and pluck away”. Another Shakespearian reference is to false caterpillars in Henry IV, Part 2: a rebellious group of “scholars, lawyers, courtiers, gentleman” who (once again) are preying on the people: prey, “pill”, pillage: the caterpillar is hardly the wondrous creature of the first British entomologists Thomas Penny and Thomas Moffett, who maintained a more empirical perspective. The latter’s great work (which is largely based on the former!), Insectorum sive Minimorum animalium theatrum (posthumously published in 1634), is more focused on metamorphosis than munching.

Moffett collage

Thomas Moffett’s Insectorum sive Minimorum animalium theatrium (1634–but largely based on Thomas Penny’s 500-page manuscript from the 1590s).


May Flowers for Mother’s Day

Yesterday I went searching for some May flowers for Mother’s Day and it was a more difficult task than you might think on May 7. Our cold and wet (well, this last week at least) weather has pushed flowering back quite a bit here in Salem. I checked out my three most dependable spots for flower shots: the Derby House garden, the Ropes Mansion garden, and my own garden. I did not yield too many flowers as you will see below: a few bulbs at Derby, just one fringed Bleeding Heart at Ropes, and my beloved and dependable lungworts are the only spots of color out back (except for my neighbor’s newly-red shed). This is not surprising for a week in which my radiators were radiating every single morning when I woke up and every single evening when I came home. The flowering trees are especially far behind: my dogwoods are barely opening although I see spots of color across the street in the Chestnut Street park. Lady’s Mantle–a particularly appropriate plant for Mother’s Day–needs no flower, especially when it’s wet, as its velvety leaves catch and turn raindrops into diamonds.

Mothers Day

Mothers Day Narbonne

Mothers Day Derby House

Mothers Day 5

Mothers Day 6

Mothers Day Derby

Mothers Day Ropes

Mothers Day 9

Mothers Day lungwort home

Mothers Day Derby Lungwort

Mothers Day 8

Flowering in Salem, May 7, 2016.


Animal Adaptations

I don’t think I will ever tire of anthropomorphic animals, no matter how old I get. This weekend, to mark National Handwriting Day (not really, but any excuse to shop), I purchased a print of a letter-writing fox from the Litus Gallery, and then went back for more. The very dynamic discussion in response to my Samantha statue post last week referenced the word “whimsical” several times, so I wanted to reorient myself to that word and sense and to me, these works are most definitely whimsical, fanciful, even dreamy. But beyond the aesthetics, many of the Litus images (as alluded to by their titles) are also referential: the title of my fox is “Michael Drayton writing the Second Part of the ‘Poly-Olbion’, Fleet Street, 1617 and I also purchased a print of a clerk-like cat titled “John Selden leaving Hare Court, Inner Temple, August, 1614.” I don’t think that either the poet or the jurist was painted in these situations, but other examples of the Gallery’s work are based directly on particular paintings. I thought it would be interesting to match up the originals with the adaptations. The differences are not hard to discern!

Fox Writing Letters

Animal Adaptations Collage 1

Animal Adaption Collage 2

PicMonkey Collage 3

PicMonkey Collage 4 Rembrandt

Animal Adaptation Collage 6 Blake

Animal Adaptations Collage 5

Weighing the Fruits after Jan Vermeer’s ‘Woman Holding a Balance’; Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, 1664, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./ The Turnip Spinner (After Chardin’s ‘Gabriel Godefroy watching a top spin’/ Jean-Siméon, Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweler, Watching a Top Spin, c. 1735, The Louvre/ The Eight Lives of Mr. Tybalt (after Nicolaes Eliaszoon’s ‘Portrait of Nicolaes Tulp’; Nicolaes Eliaszoon Pickenoy, Portrait of Nicolaes Tulp, 1633, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam/The Book-Keeper (after Rembrandt’s ‘Young Man at His Desk,’); Rembrandt, Scholar at his Desk, 1631, Hermitage Museum/ I want, I want, after William Blake; William Blake, “I want, I want” from For Children: the Gates of Paradise (1793)/ Il Ladro di Fragola (after Jean Baptiste Chardin’s ‘Basket with Wild Strawberries’; Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Basket with Wild Strawberries, 1731.

All Animal Adaptations available at the Litus Gallery.


History by HBO

Much, most, actually all of the last week was spent in bed with the world’s worst cold, which dragged on and on and on. At first I thought fine, I need a break, I’ll just lie here and read, but I was so stuffy and sneezy and miserable that I couldn’t really concentrate on most of the books I had on hand, so I gave in and turned on the television. Hours passed by staring rather blankly at the screen, and my beloved TCM let me down by showing too many Marx Brothers movies and musicals, so I became my own programmer and ordered up a bunch of HBO movies. I know we’re in the (second) Golden Age of Television, but I really couldn’t commit to an entire series–after all, I could have died at any moment. I started with Elizabeth I (2005) which is actually a miniseries, but I have seen it before so I thought I could commit (or live through) four hours–and it always makes me feel better to see or think about Elizabeth. This particular Elizabeth is characterized by a rather plodding narrative of events during the latter half of the Virgin Queen’s reign, but Helen Mirren (of course) gives a tour-de-force performance and the production values are amazing: you don’t feel as if you are jettisoned into Tudor World as completely as with Wolf Hall and its natural light filming, but Tudor texture is definitely there. Nevertheless, I grew increasingly weary of the exclusively romantic focus: the hardest thing to govern is the heart reads the film’s tagline, but that’s not really true.

History by HBO 5

Once I left Elizabeth I, I started searching for something that was a bit more foreign to me–and that brought me to films about the twentieth century. I’ve actually watched some of HBO’s films about the very recent past (Recount, Game Change, Too Big to Fail), but I wanted to go a bit further back: the twentieth century is my least-familiar, least-favorite century, so I knew I wouldn’t grind my teeth over every little detail as with a Tudor film. I landed on a rather inanely titled film named Conspiracy (2001) which I had never heard of but which almost immediately caught my attention–and held it, rapt. Conspiracy is about the January 1942 Wannsee Conference which settled upon the Final Solution in a single afternoon, actually only 90 minutes as it was more of an announcement that a settlement. The whole movie is Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil in action: the conversation about “evacuation” happens during a long lunch in the beautiful dining room of a suburban Berlin villa. Not just the idea, but the logistics of the Final Solution are discussed while horrible men (played by wonderful and familiar actors, including Kenneth Branagh, Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, and Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle) are eating and drinking. A really chilling film that deserves a less generic title.

HBO History Collage 2

HBO History Collage 1

Conspiracy was so good I wanted more, but I didn’t really find anything that came close among my options: John Frankenheimer’s Path to War (2002), about LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War, probably came the closest because you felt a bit of a chill (when American generals were talking, rather than German Nazis) but it still seemed like more of a “made-for-television-movie” rather than a film. Michael Gambon as Johnson was riveting, though, as most British actors playing American presidents are. Most, but not all: Kenneth Branagh’s performance as a pre-presidential FDR dealing with his diagnosis of polio in Warm Springs (2005) really pales–I suppose it has to–in comparison with his haunting characterization of SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the so-called “Hangman” and/or “Blonde Beast” and chair of the Wannsee Conference, in Conspiracy. Nevertheless, I felt sorry for Mr. Roosevelt and grasped the empathetic development of his social conscience, just like HBO wanted me to. Still in the mood for statesmen, I finished my HBO history film series with two biopics about Winston Churchill: Winston in the wilderness in The Gathering Storm (2002, featuring Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave) and Winston at war in Into the Storm (2008, featuring Brendan Gleeson and Janet McTeer). Both were fine, with the first better than the second, which suffered from the Elizabeth I problem: we are not satisfied to focus exclusively on Winston when World War II is on in full force. By that time, even with my foggy brain, I had discerned the HBO formula for a historical film:

  1. A lavish budget: to purchase the services of the best directors and actors, and realistic sets, perfect in every little material detail.
  2. A focus on personalities. “History” is represented solely as the acts or reactions of people, with little or no attention given to larger environmental or intellectual forces, or context. This approach works best with individuals, which is why so much of HBO history is biography. Conspiracy is an exception, as multiple viewpoints are represented, and even though the context is assumed, there is an underlying subtext of SS infiltration of the entire Nazi regime which enhances the complexity of the presentation.
  3. Narrative. Given this biographical approach to history, departures from narrative can be as confusing as multiple perspectives.
  4. The more recent, the better. Because of the reluctance to engage in complexities and the personal approach, the better HBO histories are going to be focused on relatively recent topics and personalities where there is some familiarity or expectation on the part of the audience. This is why, despite all of the above, Helen Mirren, and a reliance on the BBC’s 2005 Virgin Queen series, Elizabeth I seems rather soul-less and unsatisfying.
  5. Intimacy. Ultimately, HBO wants to get us into the room where it happened. And of course, we can’t go there.

Calm Descends on Salem

It always takes me a few days to recover from Halloween here……two nights ago I had an all-too-vivid nightmare about a bacchanalian orgy in the Charter Street cemetery. But I woke up to a calm and beautiful day: Election Day, always a hopeful day for me. You’ve got to love off-year, local elections when the big issues are new trash barrels and cobblestones! Actually I am trivializing our election quite a bit: the large, looming development projects that I’ve been writing about all year are also big issues (but trash is big too). After I voted, I walked to work and checked the cemetery and Witch Trials Memorial along the way: all was calm and a few respectful people were walking around, really looking at the grave- and memorial stones rather than sitting on them! Salem has been returned to its residents, the dearly departed are not being trespassed, and I slept much better last night.

Calm Descends 519

Calm Descends 514

Feeling fortunate that two great, smart people ran for councilor of the ward that I live in, and that I can walk by the beautiful PEM garden on a 70-degree day in November.

Calm Descends 525

Calm Descends 384

Calm Descends 527

Calm Descends 373

Calm Descends 528

Calm Descends 379

Feeling fortunate that all those disrespectful people are GONE………

Calm Descends 535

Calm Descends 543

and that someone left an appropriate memorial to their ACTUAL ancestor, and that I get to walk by my favorite Salem house, now artfully adorned with pumpkins, several times a week.


Turnip Ghosts

There is a great quote from the prolific and eminently quotable British writer G. K Chesterton about ghosts–or really belief– in general which references turnip ghosts in particular: I am quite ready to believe that a number of ghosts were merely turnip ghosts, elaborately prepared to deceive the village idiot. This is from a column in the Illustrated London News in 1936: the assumption is that his audience would immediately understand the phrase “turnip ghost”, and as they were British, they probably did. An American audience would and does require some translation. A turnip ghost refers literally to a Jack o’lantern made out of a turnip (but I would also include turnip-headed scarecrows)–something out there in the fields that was not a real ghost but that could create fear–a bugaboo (the best word ever). Old World turnips predated New World pumpkins as the material of choice for All Hallows Eve Jack o’lanterns, and remained predominate for some time, both in the British Isles and on the Continent. And you can easily see why: turnips are scary.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Turnip Seed Packet Ghosted

Turnip Jack o’ lanterns from Work of Fiction (+directions); my own ghosted turnip seed packet.

The turnip-headed scarecrows are equally eerie: they turn up on Halloween postcards from the early twentieth century in both the United States and Europe, but are not exclusively tied to the holiday. Turnips just easily lend themselves towards anthropomorphic expressions.

Turnip Halloween Card

Turnip Head Howl's Moving Castle

Turnip Head Shakers

Vintage Halloween card, c. 1920; the Turnip-head scarecrow from  Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle; Vintage salt & pepper shakers available here.

I bought some turnips the other day–larger ones from a farm up north and smaller ones at our farmers market–with the intent to carve them into something scary, but I’m not sure I can do it–even with Martha Stewart’s assertive advice. They don’t have the soft insides of a pumpkin, and they are much more diminutive. I might chicken out and merely draw on them, because I’m not sure that I want to put in the time and effort: every single time I’ve carved out a pumpkin it has been stolen days before Halloween, and I’m sure my little turnip lanterns would be even more vulnerable!

Turnips 093

Martha Stewarts Turnips

My turnips and Martha’s creations: I might just settle for the turnips (and radishes) in a dish decoration, lower right. See a very scary traditional turnip Jack o’lantern here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,734 other followers

%d bloggers like this: