They Might Be Giants
A trip to the new home improvement center (see previous post) gave me the willies. What was once a shambling patchwork of glorified storage sheds had been transformed into a "Megastore". I'm not against progress, per se, but this place was way beyond any sense of human scale. The tubs you see pictured were 25 feet up- with no way to get close to them. I should have brought binoculars perhaps? Perhaps the tide of progress has passed me by, perhaps these stores are meant for a race of cyber-robots, thirty feet tall, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound etc...
The place also sells groceries and pet food.
"Ya I'm goin' down to the lumber yard to pick up some grub for dinner, dontcha know..."
I suddenly feel uncharacteristically small.
Skip to my Loo
Home improvement: the Nitty Gritty.
Some things are taken for granted.
The humble commode, the "necessary", the "pot", the "bog" or whatever term you may use to refer to Mr. Crapper's wonderful invention, may well be the pinnacle of modern civilization. Ours had been found lacking in enthusiasm of late and so, feeling "flush", I "took the plunge" and installed a new one. A vision of loveliness in white porcelain, with an "ionized silver glaze" and it works!
Almost alarming in its action.
Domestic harmony has been restored.
Your majesty, the throne awaits.
Biltmore Estate, Asheville
This cozy little getaway was built by an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune in the late 19th century. A perfect vacation site on ten square miles of prime North Carolina acreage, complete with swimming pool, bowling alley, dining hall with 20 foot fireplace and full-sized pipe organ, dozens of faux-European rooms in various styles maintained by a staff of 80. Comes furnished with a library with 23,000 valuable books, antique European furniture, paintings and engravings from the masters, they'll even throw in a couple of Renoirs. Also has full winery and stables, an artist's village, and much, much more. This could be your home away from home, all yours for a small down payment..
Dinner With Bill
Back at Spoonriver Restaurant for another "Salon", this time with the noted poet, essayist, and bon vivant Bill Holm. This was a most informal occasion, the six of us were clustered around Bill- eating, drinking, listening to Bill's stories, with an occasional poem thrown into the mix. Bill even passed the lamb stew (which he was enjoying immensely) around the table, so that we could all savor it.
The conversation's arc spanned a wide range of subjects: Peer Gynt at the Guthrie, Robert Bly, Iceland (of course), but also to Norway and Denmark, with a few side trips to Minneota, Minnesota, where Bill grew up and currently lives when not in Hofsós. As the dinner wound down, the talk turned to Halldór Laxness; some of the people there had never read any of his work, but I saw more than one person writing down his name and the titles which had been mentioned.
One reader at a time, Rose, one reader at a time.
This classic IBM Selectric was found sitting alone in the Asheville Public Library.
Limit one hour.
The microfilm reader behind it looks to be lonely as well, but probably gets a little more attention.
These two orphans of technology, what could they be thinking?
Dreaming of the glory days, when they were in constant demand?
When research was WORK, and you'd better get it right the first time, Jack!
Or just waiting, dreamless.
Waiting to serve, selflessly.
Quest For Fiber
Saturday's itinerary had left us with a few additional hours in Richmond, a perfect opportunity to resume THE QUEST. On most of the trips the Weaver and I take together the search for that perfect yarn shop is always a sub-theme. Both Rose and Comica had steered us toward the Carytown district, a wonderful mix of small shops and eateries, with apartments on the second floors. We saw the mighty Byrd Theater (right- No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood, both for $1.99!), went through a great antique store (the Elephant and Toe?) and had a cuppa while waiting for The Yarn Lounge to open.
It was worth the wait.
Two long walls lined with bins of the grooviest yarn, personally selected by the owner from all over the world. The vibe was laid-back (with a definite overlay of estrogen), they accepted my presence- maybe it was my sweater. In the back of the store was the lounge itself, a clubhouse ideal for cabalistic 'nittin' rituals. How cool is that?
And then it was over. Zipped back down to RDU, and arrived back in Minnesota to a half-foot of new snow.
Richmond, Virginia. After driving past the train station, we decided to start at the beginning, with a visit to the Poe Museum, which included The Old Stone House, the oldest building in the city:
A modest museum, to be sure, but not without charm. Poe's handwriting and early editions were on display, along with furniture and other effects from the father of three literary genres (horror, mystery and science fiction!) The old stone house (which Poe had visited) was from 1731, and looked it. It didn't take much imagination to begin hearing the beat-beat-beat of a tell-tale heart.
The rail station in Richmond has been recently restored and it is absolutely gorgeous- both inside and out. It was a little eerie to walk through; although still in active use it was nearly deserted. We strolled about the nearby Shockoe Bottom area, oozing with history and also being rehabbed, but with a much longer way to go. The laughter coming from the barbershop there showed that it was still a social center of the city. After a quick nap at our hotel we walked a couple of blocks to Beauregard's Thai Room restaurant to have dinner with my two dear blog pals, Comica (with beau in tow) and Rose:
The food was great, the conversation stimulating, and as we talked I mused on the meaning of it all. Each of us is at a different stage of life, with each of us moving in a different direction. Getting together here, even though our only previous meeting was in "virtual" reality, seemed natural. It is funny thing to follow someone's blog for a while. A little room is created in your head for that person, a room you can visit from time to time, with each visit learning a little more about its resident (and yourself) in the process. Similar to writing letters, I suppose. If blogging is the modern replacement for that activity, then I would say that alone justifies its existence.
Rose shares my passion for Iceland. Comica my interest in off-beat stories. Her generation is the first to have grown up with the internet, and although she's too busy finishing school to be able to write much now, I suspect she'll be coming into her own in the near future- look out world, this fish can sing!
It is hard to express in words what a subtle joy it is to have "met" the two of you, first "in virtual" and now "in vivo" so I'll simply say "Thank You."
This Little Piggy...
Back in Raleigh. This cute little fellow had greeted me earlier in the week with the somewhat deceptive offer of a "Streak O' Lean" for my Sunday breakfast. Think bacon, only grayer, hard enough to break a tooth on, and about as salty as a lick. Similar to "Fat Back" but with a "streak o' lean" running through it. Today's culinary adventure involved Big Ed's City Market Restaurant. This is a huge local favorite (see reviews in link), complete with a "Heroes of the Confederacy" exhibit, including weapons. I had the turkey and dressing(?) with sides of applesauce, biscuits, creamed potatoes and gravy. At least the applesauce wasn't greasy and salty. I'd be dead in a week if I ate this stuff every day. I don't want to knock this food, but man!- it was either pure starch, grease (lard), salt or some unholy combination of the three.
Maximum culture shock.
Absorbing some Southern Culture at Big Ed's
The Grove Arcade
"As we move through buildings, towns, and cities, we mentally connect visual cues from our surroundings to our needs and expectations. The satisfaction and richness of our experiences are largely the result of the ways in which these connections are made."
The Grove Arcade in Asheville, North Carolina, is a delight to senses- harmonious in proportion, sensuous in its details, with a interesting variety of shops and restaurants on the ground floor. The upper levels house offices and other non-retail businesses. Whether or not these businesses can survive in an internet-driven commerce will remain to be seen. Still, what a treasure to be able to buy furniture, clothing and even groceries in the same location! The opposite of suburban sprawl, its continued existence gives one hope for the future vitality of cities and urban life.
Living In Style
French wines, fine cheeses, a splendid assortment of fruit and other dainty comestibles greeted us on our arrival at the Princess Anne Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina. This could become a very bad habit, but it would be one which it would be so delightful to fall into.
The hotel is a delightful throwback to the 1920's, virtually unchanged in its form, with just a sprinkling of modern amenities tastefully blended into the classic lines of this gracefully aging princess.
The dining room's refined elegance augurs a memorable breakfast. Even the room furnishings bring you back to an era of refinement. You are living the high life Batty, the trip has only begun...
Sunday found the Weaver and me in Raleigh, North Carolina. Our hosts, Michael and Cecilia, had recently moved there from Minnesota, Michael is a professor (a REAL professor) at UNC, Cecilia is retired and the mother of two of our nephews. We had spent the day touring Raleigh- the farmer's market, the University, took a whirl about the downtown area and then we returned to their big yellow house nestled in a wooded development south of the city. We were joined for dinner by several of Michael's graduate students: Italian, German, Turkish and American. With Cecilia's Polynesian heritage it made for quite the cross cultural gathering. The conversation was lively, these were some smart kids.
Later, after the students were gone, Michael spoke of how driven they were: studying far from home, speaking in a foreign language, in a vastly different culture. He lamented that most of the American students were "9 to 5ers", unwilling or unable to put forth the extra effort to compete globally in the world of today. We talked a bit about the recent testimony that Bill Gates had given in Congress, how Microsoft had to open a large center in Vancouver because of the post-9/11 restrictions which had been placed on hiring of alien workers in the tech industries. The Senators interviewing Mr. Gates just didn't get it. Innovation and excellence is leaving the U.S., the foreign students we train here leave and enrich Europe and Asia.
Safe and sound (a week later), vacation a success, my dinner "dates" were charming, my breakfasts and lunches no so much (...and the password is: "Streak 'O Lean") ... Much more on Monday... Posts will be pre-dated to time-align my impressions...
Out the Door...
... and I'll be back in a week!
Calm Before The Storm
My placid mind will soon be buffeted by that quality which it fears the most and, paradoxically, desires most: change.
Change from my routines, change from my environs, even a subtle change in culture, for I will be traveling to the "Old South" on Saturday, on a trip with the Weaver that is only about half-planned- this will be a "winging it" type expedition. A few days in Raleigh, North Carolina, a few in Asheville, back to Raleigh, and then up to Richmond, Virgina, to meet with the ghost of Poe and two very much alive spirits named Comica and Rose. I'm not dreading that part of the trip at all!
The Ocean in the Closet
A late afternoon of shopping for items for an upcoming North Carolina/Virginia trip ended at the Spoonriver Restaurant, with me gently nursing a Glenlivet whilst* attending a reading by Yuko Taniguchi, from her novel The Ocean in the Closet. It was a very intimate affair, Yuko, her publisher, and an audience of six.
Listening to her read the beginning of her story put me in a mellow mood (mellower than the Glenlivet) thinking of my childhood, when I would listen to my kindergarten teacher read to the class. Yuko's story was told from the point of view of a child, in simple language, adding to the warmth of the atmosphere. I had planned on buying a book to read on my upcoming trip and had received notice of this event from the restaurant. I thought: "What better way to preview a book than to listen to the author read it?"
It worked. I bought the book:
*Affected British usage caused by the whisky...
The current movie Penelope concerns itself with a young woman cursed with a porcine proboscis. Not the worst curse, but an obvious one. While I was watching preview of it, it struck me that the nose which Christina Ricci's character sported was really kind of cute and certainly nothing to get upset about- there are worlds of ills that this mortal clay suffers with that are worse than this. In the movie Penelope presumably overcomes her affliction to become "normal", what ever that means nowadays. I might pass on this film.
An old girlfriend was endowed in a similar fashion and it never mattered to me in the slightest, in fact I can't recall that it ever came up in conversation with anyone who knew her. To paraphrase the words of the old Bachrach-David song:
I love you
Yes, I do!
You and your piggyface lips!
You and your piggyface eyes!
You and your piggyface nose!
Batty Finds The Key(s)
The Hólavallagarður cemetery in Rekjavík is actually not as sinister a place as this photo would seem to suggest. There is a broad sidewalk going through it, and it is used as a thoroughfare for the locals for it connects the University district to the Old Town area, avoiding the noise and traffic of some busy streets. It is actually a very nice place.
I was on this sidewalk one fine October morning, taking pictures while on my way to the swimming pool. I espied a couple of young mothers, pushing prams laden with children and shopping bags. They were at the other end, near the bell tower, and one of the women had stopped to get something out of a bag. They continued in my direction, and I in theirs, until we were in the same positions as when I first saw them, only now reversed. I spotted a ring of keys with a car fob, evidently dropped by the woman when she searched through her bag. I called out- "Pardon Me, you've dropped your keys!" (What is that phrase in Icelandic?) They didn't acknowledge me, being engaged in animated conversation. I began to trot toward them- they were about 100 meters away and moving fast. I finally did catch up with them as they were about to leave the cemetery, I returned the keys, they barely acknowledged my presence. My good deed for the day.
(... another post about an Icelandic Cemetery, in response to Rose's response to my post of last week!)
The Winter Project is a success with completion of the Tremolo (AKA "Vibrato") circuit in my Fender™ Deluxe Reverb amplifier. I'm so elated words fail me - I'll give you quotes from various "tremolo experts" instead...
"Tremolo, a.k.a. amplitude modulation, is a very pleasing effect..."
"Classic, warm, mind-boggling..."
"Buttery, seductive tone..."
"Extremely creamy and alluring..."
"Go really slow and really deep..."
"Switch between soft and hard..."
"Adjust the speed and depth knobs...
"Slow, chewy pulses zig-zag in and out...""
"From a delicate, shimmery, flutter to a pounding low end throb..."
"Absolutely gorgeous, providing a deep, syrupy-thick pulse..."
"Provides insane chop or subtle, smooth waves..."
"Pulsating just the way you've always wanted..."
"You get the tremors the first time you use it..."
A humble graveyard in the shadow of Snæfellsjökull holds an Icelandic Snow White, attended by her faithful seven dwarfs. This is a place I revisit often, if only in my minds eye. It all comes back- the windswept plain, the emptiness, the mixed scents of moss, grass, lava stones and sea air. There aren't enough moments such as this in my life, I must make room for more, for time is running out.
Back To The Future!
More notes from The Great Late-Winter Stillwater Antiquing Excursion:
I met up with some old friends from childhood- the Tom Swift book series. I had read many of the follow-up Tom Swift Jr. series as a child before I discovered the original series, published from about 1910 to 1941. In the series Tom and his chum Ned Newton traveled about upstate New York and, in the later books, around the world, using technology that Tom had improved or invented. Some of the early books were simple in the extreme- Tom Swift and his Motorcycle, Tom Swift and his Motorboat- giving one a boy's view of the world before World War I. During the war, the books changed to reflect current affairs (Tom Swift and his War Tank)and after the war they became more fantastic- such as Tom Swift and his Photo-telephone.
The ones I found most intriguing were the ones concerning technology that was futuristic at the time of its writing but had already become obsolete- i.e., Tom Swift and his Airship. I still think that a proper Airship (dirigible) would be just about the coolest thing in the world in which to take a round-the-world trip. Many titles in the series are downloadable from The Gutenberg Project. While hardly great literature, the stories do possess a certain charm, being crude time-machines that look forward to what is now the past.
Old Town, New Town
This hand written note describes my current state. Spending a Saturday in the quaint river-town of Stillwater, Minnesota will do that to a person, as one tries to come to grips with this town as a place.
In recent years it has changed from being a small, old town of practical stores to a trendy NEW TOWN, full of undistinguished condominiums and gift shops full of things no one really needs. There are still the antique stores, however, and as they fill up with things I once could have bought new I find myself wondering if it is me who should be on display. I find fascinating those stores which are arranged as if they were someone's house: a living room, a kitchen, children's room, etc., all full of stylistic mash-ups of objects, it's as if one were visiting a mad pack-rat. It makes me want to go back home and empty my basement and take a shower.
There is, occasionally, some item from the past that is of such glorious design that it makes the trip worthwhile:
Alas, not for sale...
O! Lady Winter!
O! My harsh mistress!
You of the icy grasp and heartless disdain.
Stay a while longer.
Let your frigid beauty inspire me one more day.
Spring, your kind sister, will be here soon enough.
Her love is freely given, and appreciated for what it is.
Your affections come with a painful price.
The pleasure of your pain is ineffable.
Sit with me now.
Sit with me in our beautiful frozen bower.
I love you.