Thursday, December 31, 2009

What will 2010 bring?


Goodbye 2009

You can go now, 2009. It is time. It's not your fault--you just got filled up with a lot of ugliness and what seems to be the beginning of some kind of New Dark Ages.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Christmas Eve, 1944"

Christmas Eve, 1944

I wanted something
to warm me up.
I asked the waitress
for a cup of coffee.
There is none.
Then I asked her
for a cup of tea.
“But it’s on the menu,” I said.
“There’s a war on Mister,
ain’tcha heard?”

The man on the radio
with the RKO voice
reports that Glenn Miller
is still missing--
not a scrap of the plane
can be found.
Where is he?
Somewhere with
Amelia Earhart
having tea.

©JEF 1986

Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican, 1944

American soldiers at Christmas Eve Mass, the Vatican, 1944

Christmas Eve letter from soldier, 1944, via Macy at Picasa Web

On Christmas Eve in 1944, the war in the Pacific Theater was raging. I said goodbye to my husband, Steven Turner, at the train station in Los Angeles, California. We had been married only a year. A photographer and chief petty officer in the Naval Air Forces, he was off to San Diego for his next assignment aboard an aircraft carrier.
Amid a horde of people—men in uniform and women crying, hugging and calling goodbyes—I stood, holding back tears and panic as he stepped on the train. He turned at the last minute and shouted above the din, “I’ll be home for Christmas, I promise.” “Promise,” I mouthed. Steven smiled his lovely honey smile and nodded.
I went back home to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and took up my job at the local welfare office. I lived with three other “war brides” in an old antebellum home presided over by a dear, elderly lady.
I waited for his letters, letters that often told of distant islands under a different sun, of Japanese suicide plans that missed their mark, of loneliness and longing.
The “brides” and I felt blessed to have one another, sharing our fears and loneliness, offering comforting words when letters didn’t arrive, keeping one another company at the movies or on long walks, keeping a radio vigil when news came of battles in far-off places.
Suddenly, the war was over—Japan had surrendered! We laughed and yelled and ran down the street, talking to strangers and even hugging them. Then we settled down to wait.
Time passed, and the letters came telling me about Japan and POW camps they flew over, dropping food and supplies. This was good work, I knew, but I wanted my husband home.
And then it was December and Christmas Eve. I stayed late at work, packing food baskets that would be distributed the next day to some of our clients. I returned to an empty house. The “brides” had gone to their homes for Christmas. I would go south tomorrow to have dinner with my family.
My landlady and I ate a solitary meal together, and she spoke of Christmas past, and I thought of Christmas last. Finally, sadly, I climbed the stairs and went to my room. Later, listening to the radio, I heard Bing Crosby singing I’ll Be Home for Christmas. The music made me weep.
It was almost midnight and still I could not sleep. I moved over to the window seat and looked out at the street. The icy moon seemed to light up the world.
A car turned the corner and came slowly down the street. It was a taxi, which stopped in front of my house. Curious, I leaned against the window. A tall figure emerged from the back. The driver came around the car and shook his hand. Suddenly, I knew.
Miraculously, I knew.
Forgetting my feet were bare, I ran down the stairs, out the front door and down the sidewalk, not even feeling the freezing concrete beneath my feet. He turned, opened his arms and picked me up. I was laughing and crying. He asked the cabbie, “Will you please bring my bag into the house? This lady has begun to go barefoot in freezing weather.”
Then he whispered to me, “I promised, remember?”
And the year we’d spent apart vanished like a fleck of foam.
—Dean Harding McGarity
Duncanville, Texas


Author Dean Harding McGarity with her husband, Steven, Christmas 1945

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

--Robert Frost

Top to bottom: unknown animated film cell; photo by JEF;
photo by Dutchnatasja, on Flickr; unknown animated film cell.

Just watched...

..."Fantastic Mr. Fox" directed by Wes Anderson.

I love the films of Wes Anderson: "The Royal Tennenbaums," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," and "The Darjeeling Limited." They are quirky, sweet, touching and honest. So it was a tremendous pleasure to see his filmed version of this classic children's story by the wickedly subversive Roald Dahl, author of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

The story, which children will enjoy but which was not neccessarily made with children in mind, is sweet and kooky. But what made it truly memorable was the fact that it was made in such an "old-fashioned" way: in stop-motion and NOT CGI. It is such a beautifullly hand-crafted look, lovingly rendered--so warm, real, rich and full of life. It reminds me of the kind of holiday specials I grew up watching on television, where puppeteers painstakingly moved models with an inner armature one frame at a time. When you watch Mr. Fox move, you can see the fur move on his face and the fabric of his jacket crinkle as he turns. It's a lovely effect, and a nice, welcome respite from the often too-slick blur of CGI.

And the film boasts a stellar voice-over cast: George Clooney as Mr. Fox, and Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, along with Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, and Owen Wilson. Several of these actors are familiar faces from other Anderson films.

The lovely thing about "children's films" is that the story moves right along, from one thrilling event to another. The running time for "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is listed at 87 minutes, but it felt less than half that... it whizzed by.
See the trailers for yourself at the official website:
The "making-of" featurettes are fascinating as well!

Recommend? If you like delightful, charming, hand-crafted animation, by all means!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Early Christmas Memories

Something that always signaled the beginning of the holiday season (Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas) was the yearly showing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” To me, the tone, look and feel of those children and their life and environment was captivating—it was real. It looked like the East coast, like the schools and houses and places I knew. So I would sit, hushed and reverent and watch the bittersweet story unfold. Many weeks later, I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with the same melancholy tenderness. At the end of each program, an announcer would tell me that the show had been sponsored by Dolly Madison cakes and cookies—seeing the logo always filled me with a sort of sadness. It meant they were leaving and I wouldn’t see them again until next year. I just wish I could’ve gone with them, to help them—to cheer up Charlie Brown or to be Linus’ friend.

My first clear memory of winter is connected to our house on West Main Street. My mother hung wreaths of red, crinkled cellophane with a single tiny red bulb in the front windows. We had a fireplace and my mother and father helped me make a long chain out of colored construction paper to hang from the mantle. Mom made her Christmas butter cookies and I associate their warm, safe smell and luscious, enveloping taste exclusively with Christmas. We mixed white frosting with food coloring to get red and green and I got to frost a few cookies, and then sprinkle on the multi-colored decorations. I ate several before bed each night with a glass of milk and it was heaven. And of course, Santa had to have some on Christmas Eve so my mom and I would leave a little plate for him—and a carrot for the reindeer.

Mom’s Christmas Butter Cookies
Sift together three cups of flour, one teaspoon of baking powder and half of a teaspoon of salt. Then cream together one cup of butter and three quarters of a cup of sugar; stir in one unbeaten egg, two tablespoons of milk and one and a half teaspoons of fine vanilla extract and mix well. Add the dry ingredients a third at a time. Chill the dough for one hour. Roll the dough onto a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Roll to one-eighth of an inch thickness. Use cookie cutters and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake them five to eight minutes at 350*, watching carefully. Frost and decorate. Enjoy.

I loved riding in the car at night to see relatives because I got to see the Christmas decorations that covered downtown. Garlands wound up lampposts, jumped from one side of the street to the other and zigzagged up Main Street. Enormous wreaths dotted with colored lights were suspended from the garlands down the center of Main Street. Even the traffic lights seemed to sparkle a little more as though they were part of the holiday show. The biting air mixed with the smell of exhaust from the car, and the brown, wet snow slushed under my galoshes.

After a good snow, my father would ask, “Didja hear the weather report? Chile today, hot tamale.” Then he’d take us to the golf course at the edge of town with its gentle (and a few not so gentle) slopes for tobogganing. He bought me a red plastic sled and we played in the snow, both of us riding down the hills, tumbling, laughing, and me getting the shock of snow in my mittens and down my snowsuit.

One Christmas, my parents took me to Rochester to visit many Santas at many different department stores, ending up at a particularly big, grand department store to see the final Santa. I sat on his lap and like all the other children, I must’ve told him what I wanted but I can’t remember what it was that I asked for. Actually, I don’t remember asking any of the Santas for anything. I had my picture taken sitting on his knee, looking calmly, stoically, with resignation at the camera. I remember all this not because of Santa but because of the surreal event I experienced afterward. I was taken to Santa Land in the basement of this department store and I boarded a small, child-sized train. I saw my parents disappear behind me as I slid down narrow, dimly lit hallways. Now and then the hallways would let out onto a large space that held a tableau of Santa at the North Pole or of Santa and his reindeer or of Santa delivering presents to a house while everyone was asleep. I’m fairly certain this was my first exposure to a ride like this and I was enchanted. I was frozen, watching, taking it all in. It made an indelible impression on me and I’ve been fascinated with rides ever since. I have some electric, visceral reaction to rides that make me hold my breath. It’s the idea of being entertained—someone has plotted an experience to excite or to calm me. It’s a performance really, and I consider it to be a gift from its creator to the ones who are riding. Now, I dream of that basement, the hallways sometimes turning into tunnels that connect different parts of the world, the tableaus becoming sections of rides from carnivals and amusement parks I’ve been to in my life.

Holiday Tableaux

Top to bottom: Photo 1: Min Lilla Veranda by Marie Delice Karlsson, ;
Photo 2: unknown; Photo 3: JEF

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Winter Scenes

Top to bottom: Photo 1: Via; Photo 2: Larry Price; Photo 3: JEF

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Currently listening to...

...the hypnotic, tribal "Apply" by Glasser.

I've had it on repeat for several hours and can't seem to get enough.

I accidentally discovered the music of Glasser through this ethereal, eerie, enigmatic Victorian/ Edwardian fairy tale, "Spell":

Winter In London

Top to bottom: Photos 1 and 2 taken in a February 2009 snowfall.
Photo 3 of the London Eye:

BEAUTY: Interior--Katie Ridder

Layered style and unexpected color from Katie Ridder.

BEAUTY: Clothing--Odyn Vovk

Scary post-apocalyptic darkness and paranoia from the very atmospheric Odyn Vovk (Ukrainian for "One Wolf"), Austin Sherbanenko's clothing line. F-W '09-'10.

BEAUTY: Man--Those Lips, Those Eyes...

Just a handsome guy.
That is all.
Carry on...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Christmas Tree

I love winter and the tradition of the Christmas tree. When I was a little boy, it always felt so connected to the time of the year, the elements, the snow and darkness. Even then, I sensed the pagan roots of this tradition and now that I am an adult, I love it even more.

Descended from the Roman festival of Saturnalia, and from Pagans and Druids from all over Europe, the tree is an expression of the season: deciduous trees, plants, flowers and crops die off (or go dormant) while the pine remains magically alive, the only thing that stays green in the natural world. It only makes sense to honor the earth, the season and the fir itself by bringing it inside to decorate and echo the look of the land.

This is the time of the Winter Solstice, short grey days and long dark nights, where twinkling stars are visible for so much longer. As an homage to the winter sky, lights are put on the tree, again echoing the natural world. It’s also reminiscent of the bonfires many different pagan cultures lit around the countryside to ward off the darkness and chill; lights on the tree bring some light and warmth to this lifeless time of year, and speak to a time when the days will eventually grow longer.

Happy holidays!

Just finished reading...

...CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese

For about a year now, I have been acquainted with Dr. Abraham Verghese in a professional context at Stanford University. In my interactions with him, I have found him to be a pleasant, kind and gentle personality—immensely knowledgeable, patient and respectful. I was therefore very surprised and pleased to discover that he is also an immensely talented writer. On one of our last encounters, he presented to me a spectacular gift: a signed and dedicated copy of his first novel, CUTTING FOR STONE.

The book, whose title cleverly references the sixth item of the Hippocratic Oath (“I will not cut for stone…”) as well as several surgeon characters in the book whose surname is Stone, is an engrossing, sweeping story, at once epic and highly intimate. It spans generations, cities, continents, political regimes and the inner landscape of the soul. Possessing an effortless descriptive style, Dr. Verghese has created lovely, fully realized, individual characters, each with their own unique self-contained worlds. The synchronicity he employs to propel the story forward seems not only probable but inevitable, given the orbit and gravitational pull of the characters: the way he weaves them around and through each other is certainly the stuff that literature is made of. The medical information and knowledge peppered throughout the book is quite interesting and accessible, presented in a completely understandable way. Dr. Verghese clearly understands the inner workings of human beings—both their viscera and the abstract, intangible feelings of love, loyalty, hatred and the thing that seems to make life matter the most, unutterable loss.

I am thankful and honored that Dr. Verghese gave me the gift of his first, and hopefully not his last, novel. Reading it was a beautiful experience. Thank you, Doctor, for sharing this vision with me.

Recommend? Definitely.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

BEAUTY: Interior--Kara Mann

Kara Mann of Chicago is my new favorite Interior Designer. Her work is mysterious, dark, intriguing, textural, and dramatic; an unexpected but sublime mixture of what seems to be Mid-Century Modern and almost Gothic! Her muted color palettes and use of unique art and objects make her an Interior CREATOR, not Designer. Marvelous.

BEAUTY: Tableaux--The Society Inc.

Gorgeous global groupings courtesy of The Society Inc.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Winter Scenes

Winter lane by Solea on Flickr