Sunday, July 27, 2014

diego rivera's judas figures

Here's me and a Judas head in Mexico City. Where else would that blue wall be but at Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul?

Judas figures belong to an old Catholic custom of making papier-mâché figures, representing Satan and Judas, which are burned, exploded, or flogged on the Saturday before Easter. 

I'm thinking of them now because I was leafing through an old notebook and came across the drawings I did in Diego Rivera's studio. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside the building, though no one stopped me from sketching--which, admittedly, is not one of my fortes. Still, you get the sense. 

The bodies were about 10'/3m high, made of papier-mâché, adorned with buttons, bones, horns, stones and teeth, brightly painted and propped before a window of many panes. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo collected them. I suppose it was a way of never being alone in a room if you don't mind the company of demons. 
I sketched this fellow too. I liked his metal-hoop ribs. I couldn't tell if his limbs were made of bone or wood. I didn't forget his eyes and nose. He didn't have any. Or maybe it was a she. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

first books

I didn't grow up with children's books in English. I had no access to a library and avidly wanted to read. I took up the books my mother was using to teach herself English. They were:
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Jonathan's Swift's Gulliver's Travels
Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth

I don't know if these were the best choices for her to learn idiom in Canada in the 1950s and 60s, but that was what she had. The Jonathan Swift is a green hard-cover book that purports to be a reprint of the 1735 Dublin edition. Nouns are capitalized and the meaning or use of some words would now be considered archaic. For example--and I can open the book at any page to find an example--"But I shall not anticipate the Reader with farther Descriptions of this Kind..."

I think my mother realized that Gulliver's Travels wouldn't help her navigate the grocery store, so that book at least became mine.

As a child, I suspected the lands described in Gulliver's Travels were fictitious--but I also wasn't really sure.  

How often did I reread Pride and Prejudice? Often. By adolescence I expected potential boyfriends to be Darcys. I was ready to play scornful Elizabeth. Guys never got it. That was one way I learned the difference between real life and books.

By early adulthood P&P had become my emotional equivalent for thumb-sucking. When I felt depressed, I picked it up. I loved the language and consoled myself with the story.

I haven't read it for a while now, though I listened to it as an audio book about a year ago--when I was trying to decide whether I was game for the audio book experience. I looked for a free service online and found Librivox, which is good depending on the skill of the reader. (Even if it's a free service staffed by volunteers, I don't think people learning English as a second language should be practicing by recording Middlemarch, for example.)
I do highly recommend the recording of Pride and Prejudice by Elizabeth Klett: 

Today I was in a secondhand bookstore with a friend and I saw the same edition of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth that I read at eight years old. I'm pretty sure it's the same because it's the same cover with an original sale price of 35 cents--as I remember.

I was fascinated by the world described in this book. Although it was foreign, I believed it was real in a way that the lands Gulliver visited weren't. How much was description of social conditions, how much romanticized, I don't know. I'll have to reread the book. I bought it for $2. When I was eight, I couldn't understand what a concubine was. I think I know that now.

I was an adult before I discovered Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

rapunzel's garden: update

In Montreal it's hot and humid. Rather than complain about the heat, Rapunzel would sooner think about her garden.

You have to remember she lived many years in a tower hanging her hair out a window. She doesn't always know what she's doing in the garden. She takes advice from strangers. That funny, fabric-looking stuff around the zucchini is something a man at the gardening center said would help keep the moisture in the soil. Does it? Who knows.
She still gets startled by worms and sow bugs, though she doesn't shriek anymore when she touches one.
It's a big incentive to see how the dried peas she poked into the soil a mere 5 wks ago have grown into plants almost as high as her shoulders. (Okay, she's short.)
The carrots, beets, basil, lettuce, beans are growing. There are flowers on the canteloupe.
The eggplant hasn't flowered yet and she worries because one of her all-time favourite things to eat is barbecued eggplant. She slices the eggplant, brushes it with a paste of olive oil, paprika and mustard, grills it slowly. It's good right off the grill and even more delicious cold the next day in pita with cheese and arugula.
So far she's harvested arugula, red leaf lettuce and a Boston lettuce.

There weren't enough snow peas to make a meal, but enough for a snack. The white tissue bits on the tips are the flowers. Rapunzel thinks they should be eaten with the snow peas. Growing her own produce has made her hyper-respectful of all aspects of a plant.

Nevertheless, she knows she has to nip suckers, prune lateral stems etc. Or at least, that's what she's read. When she actually trimmed some vines off the cucumbers that were threatening to choke the beans, the women in the saris stopped gossiping to cluck disapprovingly and shake their heads. Rapunzel tried to explain. "The cucumbers--the branches are getting too big." She waved her arms to demonstrate. "Big," the women agreed. But they would have done something else to control the cucumber, Rapunzel can just tell.

Off to the side of the garden allotments is a wooded area with picnic tables and a hammock--a very comfortable hammock. Look, there's a man having a snooze right now. 

And yeah, isn't it amazing: all this in the city.