new stuffs coming soon

I keep meaning to tell you all that I’ll be back semi-regularly all-proper-like soon. I’ve been going through a weird phase, naturally. For the first time in a long time I’m not struggling with a serious health issue, and in ways that I’m still trying to understand, the process of learning to think of myself as well again has been nearly as unsettling for me as my diagnosis was in 2011. It was a strange and difficult mental hurdle to clear, to learn to think of myself as under attack and in grave danger, when I wasn’t in any pain and didn’t look or feel any different. It’s apparent now that I’ll have to make as big a leap in a different direction, to learn to think of myself as someone who is free to get on with her life. It feels great, of course, and it’s exciting, but the scariest and most disquieting moments changed me forever, and having already suffered a recurrence during the first portion of my treatment, which in itself was full of bad surprises, my new normal feels extremely iffy. I suspect I’ll feel more at home in it the longer I’ve inhabited it, but the process, so far, requires endless and unseen adjustments on my part.

This whole time I’ve looked the same as ever, which is both comforting and misleading. If anything I’m leaner and healthier-looking than I was two years ago. Many of the people in my day-to-day life have no idea how improbable this sometimes feels for me. I’ve mostly been quite alright, physically; my treatment and its side effects were more disruptive than any of my symptoms were, and compared to others I got off easy. I’m endlessly grateful for this, but it’s alienating, too; I’ve been swimming in deep water, and nothing about my appearance reflects that about me. I’m calmer, a lot calmer, but I’m not necessarily more accepting of people; I know with certainty, for example, that very few of them are capable of saying something when they don’t know what to say. I’m closer to some of the people I love the most, but perhaps more dismissive of people who aren’t genuine than I ever was. I’m sure there have been other changes I’ve yet to notice. I find myself cataloging them as reflexively as if it were part of my day job. There, at least, I have a repertoire of lawyer apps to work with, with names that belong in a David Foster Wallace novel: TextMap, CaseMap, Concordance, Stratify, Relativity.

All of this alternates between being a lot to think about, and a lot that I try not to think about too much. I’m likely to resume not saying much about this aspect of my life here on my blog! I like my privacy, and my struggles with this stuff have already taken up far too much space and energy, far more than I ever wanted to give. I’ve long doubted there’s much value in writing about this stuff at length, anyhow. Serious illness is a separate world, a distinct territory parallel to all others, and even the most generous visa wouldn’t allow you to see the parts of it that changed my outlook forever. I could point to where I was robbed, and I could probably describe the curious and terrifying things I sensed I was surrounded by during my longest nights there, but putting a slide show together is near the bottom of my things-I’d-like-to-do list at the moment. Not to mention that parts of it would be untranslatable no matter how much effort I put in.

As this brief blog post is in urgent need of cheering up, I’ll show you a little something I’ve been working on lately. It’s a wool felt sun for my cat Vivian, who I’m madly in love with. It’s just about ready to be stuffed with wool and catnip. It has her eyes, of course, plus a third, for extra perceptiveness and good luck.

sun for Vivian

the reverse of Vivian's sun

What are you doing on New Years Day?

I’m jointly throwing a party with my friend Ami and NYC-area readers are invited. I feel reasonably certain you’re not a bunch of creepers. Our friends aren’t creepers either, they’re all quite nice, so why don’t you come over? It’s a low-key thing with drinks and food and you don’t have to bring anything. It’ll start around 4 pm and end around 8-ish, or whenever. It’s in the East Village. Email me at lunarcamelco at gmail dot com for details.

vintage "swingers" invite

Unrelatedly, I’m sorry it’s been so quiet around here. I’ve been working on the same litigation for the past two and a half years and we had a whopping big deadline just a couple days before Christmas: a dozen expert witness reports were due. They were written by the experts who are helping us and the judge understand the very complex financial stuff that’s at the heart of our case, but we lawyers had to check each and every source, and neurotically put all the citations into Byzantinely-intricate Bluebook format and whatnot. I don’t mean “like a dozen” reports; I mean there were twelve of them, each with between fifty and three hundred and fifty footnotes or so. Oh man. It’s a good time for a party right now for me, now that this is done.

Vintage invitation from airdrome’s Flickr stream.

introducing a new associate

Here is Vivian Peanut Severin, who just came to live with me yesterday. I haven’t had much of a chance to photograph her yet, but I’m eager to introduce her to everyone so these will have to do.

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I’ve been on a Scottish Fold cat rescue mailing list for the past three years or so, and my patience has finally been rewarded: In a somewhat unusual move, Vivian has given up the ocean views in her Connecticut home to become a New Yorker.

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She’s mostly called Viv. Her middle name is a sort of tribute to my much-loved dog Vishnu, who died about a year ago. He was often called Peanut.

Vivian and I have only just met but I can tell she’s intelligent and polite, and I hope we’re going to be good friends.

my new friend Vivian making herself at home

hands up if you’re interested in writhing

Jaquet-Droz-automata-10

Something I’ve only just now found out about, and that may be of interest to NYC-area readers: There’s a Oulipian writing group that “meets weekly to practice and discuss the techniques of constrained writing.” It’s called The Writhing Society and it’s led by Wendy Walker and Tom La Farge. Meetings are Wednesdays at 7 at Proteus Gowanus. Not this coming Wednesday, because of the hurricane, but they’ll be doing something at the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday November 10th (yes, tomorrow), and according to an email that went round they may try to find an alternate place to hold their regular meeting this coming week. Their space got some Sandy seepage under its door, and right now they’re planning to reopen November 15th. I suggest contacting Proteus Gowanus via the info on that Writhing Society page if you want more information about their irregular activities in the meantime.

I’ve been working on my own little Oulipo-inspired project for a couple weeks now, actually, when I can find time. It involves Apple’s voice-to-text technology, which to my perpetual delight doesn’t always work all that well. Hopefully it will be finished soon. I’ll post it here when it’s fully cooked. I’m very curious about The Writhing Society, though, and do intend to check it out soon. Getting a Manhattanite out to Gowanus for a meeting can be like pulling tleeth, but in actuality the journey is not a lengthy one.

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Unrelated, but also possibly of interest: the Center for Tactical Magic is holding a bank robbery contest in partnership with Southern Exposure. Not to see who can rob an actual bank the fastest or who can grab more monies, but to see who can come up with the most visionary and well-thought-out proposal. The idea, basically, is that our collective “heightened antagonism towards the big banking establishment deserves a creative outlet,” and that now is the time “to re-visit the romantic representation of bank robbers in relation to the current economic and social crises, including: income disparity, unemployment, housing foreclosures, federal bailouts, the LIBOR scandal, and a wealth of other egregious economic indicators.” The prize is $1,000 in real-life U.S. clams.

bank robbery contest

Click on the poster to see the submission guidelines and FAQs.

I learned about it via Arthur magazine, though their link seems to have gone dead. I’m still in the early stages of working on my own proposal but it’s OK; the deadline isn’t until January 31, 2013.

Years ago my ex-boyfriend and I invented a character called Jerry B’Jerry. We’re still best friends and we still discuss Mr. B’Jerry from time to time, and I think this heist is probably a job for him. He’s definitely got antagonism towards the banking establishment, and he’s a really sketchy guy. He’s never had a life on paper — he has only an oral history — but the promise of cash might be just what’s needed to draw him further out into the world. If you’ve got a character or two casing your own mental joint, I encourage you to enter them in the contest. I have a feeling some of you people have the potential to clean up.

Close-up of Jaquet Droz’s “The Writer” automaton above from A Blog to Watch.

new thing

Mark E. Smith is surprised

The little project I mentioned in that last post is open to the public now: a new site, under my actual, real life name. I created it because I realized that the assorted reasons I had for blogging anonymously were no longer meaningful to me, and because I wanted a place where I could pull together the content from this blog, my food blog, and whatever other little projects I involve myself in. I briefly considered abandoning the two existing blogs and doing all my blogging over there, but it didn’t take long to decide against it: They have their distinct audiences, and I’m fine with that. What I’m going to do instead is cross-publish the content from both blogs over there, which I started doing with my last Lunar Camel Co. post. There may be some other, unrelated initiatives that take shape over there. Not sure yet.

Photo of surprised and delighted Mark E. Smith from Fuck Yeah, The Fall-uh!!!

October mixture

I hope that you and your loved ones emerged from Sandy unscathed, and that you’re not reading this while plugged in to the first working street lamp or dangling set of twinkly lights you encountered in midtown. (I’ve heard those are popular sources of power for my fellow New Yorkers as of late). I’ve been high and dry in Lunar Camel Co. Towers the whole time, baking bread and watching nature documentaries and whatnot. Friends from Evacuation Zone A have been coming and going and will continue to be welcomed, even my friend Jim, who graciously informed me in advance that he “only sleep[s] in the nude.” Anyone who can’t squeeze in on the sofa with Jim and has to stay downtown will soon be on the receiving end of as many warm chocolate chip cookies as can fit in the storage compartments of a Vespa.

I hope you’re having a happy Halloween too, or will have a happy one whenever you get around to celebrating it. My neighborhood, as you can see below, has been getting ready for some time now, but the storm complicated things. If you’re in need of an extremely last-minute costume for a postponed or fashionably late-night party, I posted a few ideas last year, and if you’re in need of some candy-eating music, I posted some good stuff on my food blog a few years back, along with a vegetarian, pumpkin-centric dinner recipe.

Harlem's bikers are ready for Halloween.

Madison Ave. near 120th St., Oct. 5th.

I’ve been a delinquent blogger lately and I’ve scarcely had time to feel bad about how shabby my rattletrap urls were looking — I’ve been alternating between working sixty-hour weeks and getting out of town. I’ve also been preoccupied with a few little projects, one of which I’ll tell you about very soon.

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Applemania is coming soon on my food blog, though it’s not the little project I meant.

sweater scan

I’ve also taken up knitting html sweaters for my blogs,
but that’s not the little project I meant either.

I’ve been reading a lot too, though far more fitfully than is usual for me. I’m generally a one- or two-books-at-a-time woman but there are five or six I’m dipping into at the moment. Among them:

Love is a Pie cover

Love is a Pie by Maude Hutchins has been on my shelf for many years and I’m just getting around to it now. I’m not deeply engaged with it at the moment such that I have a lot to say about it yet, but I wanted to show you the cover, which I love. It’s the New Directions 1952 edition designed by Andy Warhol. (There’s a tiny bit more about his work for them here). I think I paid about $7 for it, partly because hardly anyone knows who Hutchins is, and partly because Warhol isn’t credited for the illustration anywhere in it. The NYRB blog describes Hutchins as the author of “peculiar psycho-sexual novels,” among other things, but Love is a Pie is a collection of short stories and plays, eminently suitable for reading a few pages at a time. My experience with it so far is that it is also peculiar and psycho-sexual. Five of the stories (“The Missing Papers of an Extra Man”) are narrated from the point of view of a bachelor, who wonders, at one point, whether “there [are] gastric juices in the brain?” There’s an interesting essay about Hutchins over at the LRB here, by Terry Castle, whose essay collection Boss Ladies, Watch Out! is also on my bed-side table. I was moved to buy it after reading her review of Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives — a biography of three obscure and under-rated lesbians — and I’m really digging it.

I’ve also been haphazardly delving into vintage sci-fi. Doubtlessly this is influenced by an ex-boyfriend who often reads at random. Or what appears to be at random, but in actuality reflects a practiced and discerning eye for strangeness. He used to teach critical reading, actually, but (or “and”?) many of his books are ones he found on the street or in the cardboard box at his gym. After close observation I decided this is a worthwhile manner of reading, but I’m not sure I’ve gotten the hang of it yet. I’m still a bit too purposeful. I picked up the two below because both feature R. A. Lafferty and he was recommended to me years ago. I’ve never been a sci-fi person in the slightest but I sort of like the idea of becoming one. I could definitely get into the illustrations, at least, whether they’re good, terrible, or merely really weird. Plus it seems like a good time, with Singularity & Co., for example, pointing the way towards some of the more interesting bits of the genre, and the rest of the internet readily coughing up oddities.

Alpha 3 cover   Alpha 3 table of contents

Alpha Three (ed. Robert Silverberg, Ballantine Books 1972).
Click on either image to enlarge.
I don’t always buy books with no idea whether I’ll like them or not, but when they’re cheap and have interesting covers, sometimes I do.

if sci fi cover 1961   if table of contents

if Science Fiction (ed. H. L. Gold, Digest Productions, Jan. 1961),
with its table of contents apparently signed by Phyllis Gotlieb. And apparently she ranked all the other stories in order of . . . quality? Or suggested reading order?

Semi-relatedly, a selection of some of the titles I’ve seen on that ex-boyfriend’s shelves / floor / desk:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. I idly flipped through this one morning but there wasn’t much that held my attention. A few weeks later I happened to read a fascinating article in the Independent about a supposedly-elusive mafia tradition whereby two men in the same crime family will promise not to snitch on each other by sharing a passionate kiss. I asked D. whether this was covered in the Guide and he said yes of course, there is an entire chapter on it. So there you have it: Some of those idiotic-looking idiot guides are well-researched and worthwhile reads.

mafia kiss

a mafia-style kiss from the Independent, June 10, 2011

How to Draw Dynamic Hands. Actually I borrowed this one and now it’s sitting on my floor. I keep meaning to scan a few pages from it for a draft blog post that doesn’t really have anything to do with hands but needs some imagery. I’m hoping to learn something from it too because my drawing skills are not what anyone would call “dynamic.”

The Stain Bible. I remember we were both disappointed that this does not explain how to remove stains from that green kombucha that looks like pond scum. It’s one of the best flavors but also one of the most explosive, and its stains are not the same as grass stains.

Hide Your Assets and Disappear: A Step-by-Step Guide to Vanishing Without a Trace. I realize that for some people, seeing this in a man’s bookcase might be a red flag. But aren’t you curious to read it too now that you know it exists? I should maybe point out that it was surrounded by some really good stuff, like Flaubert’s Sentimental Education and The Lyrics of Leonard Cohen.

• Menander’s Dyskolos. Wikipedia tells me that this title is translated from Ancient Greek “as The Grouch, The Misanthrope, The Curmudgeon, The Bad-tempered Man or Old Cantankerous.” It’s a comedy, though.

Anyhow. Now that the storm has left us it’s a fine time for music from a wonky magic carpet, don’t you think? Here’s Manolo Sanlucar, “Diálogos.”

Michele Redolfi is perhaps more grounded: he’s been performing underwater concerts for years. Specifically, he composes, manipulates, and records experimental music and sounds under water, in pools and natural settings. The immersed participants listen through their bones, as explained by a knowledgable commenter over at Lunar Atrium. I was reminded of him recently when Connie Hockaday posted her underwater wrestling video. Here’s his “Grand Nocturne de Musique Subaquatique” at Grenoble in 2008.

In terms of everyday listening, I’m still pretty into wan and melancholic French synth pop / electro-yéyé. Long-time readers will remember that I was enthusing about Elli et Jacno in my very first post at Lunar Camel Co., and I still love them. (These days I only love them for about twenty minutes every three weeks or so, but still, it’s serious).

Main dans la main

Elli et Jacno “Main dans la main” single

Not related, but seasonally appropriate: the Mo-dettes cover of “Paint it Black”:

While we are on the subject of music, you should try to get to the Metropolitan Opera to see Thomas Adès’s adaptation of “The Tempest.” I’m basically poor people, but I know someone who knows someone and I managed to get in to a dress rehearsal. It was pretty spectacular! I used to go to the opera more often than I do now and it was lovely just to go again, but I came away thinking this was one of the more effective productions I’ve ever seen. I say that as someone who made sure to get herself to that Peter Greenaway one about Vermeer with actual rain and live cows in it. I do love a spectacle, but “The Tempest” was compelling in a character-driven way as well, and the music possessed more subtleties than I could ever hope to intelligently discuss after a single performance. It’s gotten very mixed reviews (WQXR said “eh”, while the Times gave it at least two very positive write-ups), but I say you should go if you can.

Manhattan-20121019-02148

Another recommendation, this one straight out of my superstorm playlists: The birds of Papua New Guinea are sublime. The mating dances they do are too bonkers for words, and there’s one that can make a sort of satellite dish with the feathers on his head and neck to pick up chicks, a satellite of bird love. Here, this short film from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some terrific-looking birds in it.

If you’ve got more time to devote to bird-viewing, seek out “Nature: Birds of the Gods.” It’s about the same birds but it’s with David Attenborough and it’s about an hour long.

Lunar Camel Co. field guide to nature, ch. 5: North Haven

As I explained in my last post on the subject, my mornings on the island of North Haven always begin with a stroll around the perimeter of the house, coffee in hand, Looking At Stuff. Apparently I’m part of a long-standing tradition. As the North Haven Historical Society explains, the island was discovered by “rusticators” in the 1880s, first coming from Boston, then from New York and Philadelphia, and what is it I’m doing if not rusticating? Sometimes I rusticate all day long. In the years that I visited the nearby island of Vinalhaven, my viewing tended to focus on osprey fishing dramas, with the occasional hairy moth for comedic relief. The location of the house I’ve been renting on North Haven is not situated quite so close to osprey fishing grounds — a pity, since they’re vigorous and adroit in nearly everything they do — but it’s been very good for moth and spider-gazing.

luna moth macro, square format

A luna moth in the faux bois style, Vinalhaven, 2007.

the woodpecker was here

There are plenty of woodpeckers at work on North Haven,
but they’re camera-shy.

*****

For much of last week my friend and I were captivated by the goings-on of two spiders down a web-hole in the driveway, and returned to it to check on them several times each day. I’d seen this type of web many times before, littering the grass, sometimes as neatly hemmed as a handkerchief blown off a washline — the handiwork of the Agelenidae family — but the hole in this one was full of tension: they were engaged in a stand-off that lasted for days. A timely stand-off: mating for this type of spider “occurs in late summer or early fall.”

the scene of the spider drama

One of the two had a more substantive spinneret, round and plump where the other’s looked almost perfunctory, more like a husk. We presumed the bigger and curvier of the pair to be the female, full of silk, and from her position we also surmised she was the original occupant and defender of the hole. She faced outwards while the other tried to enter, his back to us, advancing further and further down the funnel a few steps at a time over a period of two or three days. His progress was not consistent at all; he was repeatedly put into retreat, and several times reduced to standing just outside the entrance. Clearly they were about to fuck, or fight, but in what order? We didn’t want to miss any of the action but the arriviste often blocked the view, and I could never quite make out whether his acquaintance’s eight eyes were saying “get OUT!” or “hey, hi.”

spider confrontation

Or both at once. Spider romances can be hard to parse. We returned again and again to try to do precisely that, and one morning there was just the missus home. Whatever had happened, she’d apparently eaten him afterwards, and this required extensive thinking-about in the hammock: might people, in certain rare circumstances, benefit from this practice?

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The common female funnel grass spider was the subject of a recent study on sexual cannibalism, and it turns out they can go any which way:

[The researchers] found that the females were likely to eat any male that arrived if they were hungry, or just feeling particularly aggressive. In other scenarios, they found the females a little more discerning, allowing some to mate with them, while eating others. In some extreme cases they found some females that refused to eat any males at all, and some that ate every male no matter what else was going on.

- Phys.org, reporting on a University of Pittsburgh study published in Animal Behaviour.

With her gentleman caller so tidily disposed of, this individual spider probably will not find herself carrying, years later, a useless, stubborn, ossified little ball of love and acceptance that she’d mostly prefer to be rid of, and that she once felt sure she’d successfully passed through her irritated digestive system like a kidney stone. She’ll almost certainly never spend an odd and sleepless night brooding over the way his relentless caginess had made her feel panicked beyond belief and reason, mortified by the words her panic had manifested itself in, and pointlessly wondering whether she ought to have simply bitten his head off the very instant she’d first had a clear-eyed look at him, cleanly and incisively. She probably won’t waste a moment of her time marveling at the circular little dance he performed, obscuring parts of himself so as to be more likable, drawing attention to others that somehow didn’t hold up, all the while skittering away from any fool or creep who might like him too much. At the very least she’ll never have to suffer him suggesting that she’s too sensitive about things, as if she ought to wear some sort of protective gear, as a welder does. Or as if her sensitivities are out of order — maybe she ought to take a sharper look at her priorities and put her 401-k nearer to the top? Eight angry feet to stomp are not enough. No, she’s probably free to enjoy a peaceable solitude down her well-tended bolt hole, watching the shadows outside lengthen, sinking her mouth into the soft, glimmering, green-black abdomen of one fly after another without feeling wary and worn-out and guarded, qualities that she has always pointedly disliked in other spiders.

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Or, as my friend sensibly pointed out, “maybe he got laid and took off.”

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Some of my most memorable nature-viewing moments on these islands have gone unphotographed, for various reasons. I’ve yet to visit either Vinalhaven or North Haven without at least one good bald eagle sighting, for example, but I never seem to have a camera in hand when it happens, and anyhow I think they all look alike. The tufts of strange, pubic mosses that cling to the trees might have more character.

tree moss

tree moss

Seals pop up every now and then, but they tend to keep their distance. This past Saturday my friend and I sat on the rocky beach across from the house and talked about four nearby seals for a good part of the afternoon while they (possibly?) conferred about us. They were very good company, but I didn’t have any urge to try to capture their little round heads bobbing up and down, not over such an expanse. I prefer close observation to mechanical zooming-in-on.

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My most sensationalistic sighting took place on Monhegan Island some time in the late 90s, at considerable distance but wholly consuming. My friend and I were out hiking and cautiously approached the edge of a very sharp, very high cliff crawling on our bellies. (Not overly cautiously; Monhegan’s cliffs are serious, and last year while we were on North Haven an Irish visitor to Monhegan was swept out to sea and killed after he lost his footing). When we looked down we saw two massive orca whales splashing about in the water below, almost preposterously close to the edge of the island, and close enough to the surface that we could see their full length at moments. I didn’t have a camera with me at the time, but if I had, the height, the wind, and the waves and whales crashing below would probably have kept me from reaching for it; I felt sick with vertigo, and very nearly as tempted to back away as to keep watching. I don’t know enough about whale behavior to know what they were doing, but from my vantage point they appeared to have found a spot where they could stretch out and enjoy the turmoil around them, their breaching and lunging some sort of commentary on or appreciation of the endless conflict between granite and ocean. My stomach was down there with them.

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The moths of North Haven and Vinalhaven are numerous and varied. I know very little about them but seem to be on the verge of getting into them in a big way. I’ll be in New Mexico next month and I’m eager to see what sort of moths they’ve got, though somewhat concerned about the lack of porch lights in the desert. (I’ll be meeting up with friends near Albuquerque and driving to Monument Valley). The moth below is Ennomos magnaria, a Maple Spanworm moth, and upon close inspection it wears a mullet.

leafy moths

moth mullet

fuzzy moth

They seem to hang around far longer than other types of moths, no matter how frequently the screen door swings open and shut. I think it takes them all day to dry the dew from their hair.

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beach llama

Beach llama.

my new book accessory

New reading accessory.

"the baked potato"

“The baked potato.”

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My friend had another well-considered observation the day after the spider drama had come to a head, when he came out to join me on the deck and found me inches away from a very large spider of some other sort that was dangling out of a shrub, a brown spider as big as the first joint of my thumb. These islands in Penobscot Bay are full of spiders, some more monstrous than others; Wikipedia says the nearby island of Islesboro is home to the up-island spider, “also known as a hearse-house spider,” and “thought to be a species of unusually large wolf spider. . . . Its unusual feature is its size, by some reports spanning at least 8 inches with its legs splayed out. Some specimens are reported to be large and heavy enough to create audible footsteps in a quiet room.” I had a camera between me and it, but, my friend admonished, might nonetheless end up with a face full of spider, and probably would not be happy if that happened. It’s not that I was unconscious of my peril. It’s that my urge to document things overtakes me at moments, and I become an instrument of it, unconcerned with my own self-interests. It was probably for the best that the ugly little beast disappeared up its rigging before I could steady myself to get a better shot. My friend also thought it remarkable that I should love bugs on vacation but mostly hate them at home, but it makes perfect sense to me: people are deeply, deeply irrational.

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Chapter 4 of my field guide to nature is here and you can work your way backwards from there. Like the ones preceding it, it fixates on trees.

mid-week stationary field trip No. 4

on the ferry

This is a stationary field trip to North Haven, Maine, an island in Penobscot Bay. I’ve shown you one of its esoteric little rocky beaches but there’s more to it than that. It’s very much on my mind lately because I’m headed there this weekend. Honestly it’s been on my mind all summer: I need to find a way to spend much more time there, there or Vinalhaven, a neighboring island that I love only very slightly less. A week or two every year isn’t cutting it. Do any of you need to commission a lobster- and foraged crabapples-centric cookbook, or perhaps a very niche travelogue? A series of sordid libelles about lobstermen and summer wives?

make money writing short paragraphs

I’m pretty sure I could write a lot more paragraphs if I wasn’t spending ten hours a day in an office doing something else.

For the first several years I visited these islands I wouldn’t tell people about them. Friends, yes, but certainly not the whole internet. I’ve relaxed about this because my handful of readers are scattered all over the globe, and also because it’s quite the pain in the ass to get there. If you want to fly you’ll have to charter a plane, and if you want to take a car on the ferry (which you will, unless you’re visiting someone who has one on the island), you’ll have to contend with the ferry rules, which the ferry people are serious about. The people on North Haven seem slightly less serious than the people in Rockland in this regard, but you’ll have to deal with Rockland first.

ferry procedures

North Haven ferry rules. I wouldn’t test that last one if I were you.

from the ferry

The Rockland breakwater lighthouse, from the ferry.

I suppose you could come with a bicycle, but this is discouraged: it costs approximately twice as much to bring a bike on the ferry as it does to bring just yourself. I have mixed feelings about this. I like bicycling and, to a lesser extent, most bicyclists, but the roads on both islands are a series of blind curves, and it’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be a lot more accidents if there were a lot more people on bikes. Besides, there aren’t many places to splash money about on either island, so what’s the use of tourists? (Many years ago my parents came out to visit me on Vinalhaven for a night while I was there for a couple weeks, and my mother, determined to buy something for the occasion of my birthday, had to settle for a blueberry pie). There are other little tricks seemingly intended to discourage tourism too, such as a lack of cell phone towers. I don’t make many calls while I’m there so I don’t care much, but if you’re a first-time visitor and don’t know where the good reception spots are, this might be an annoyance. Standing very near the waterline is generally a good strategy.

Calderwood Neck Rd.

Calderwood Neck Rd. on Vinalhaven in 1907 from Etsy. It looked exactly the same the last time I saw it, minus the wood railing.

You’ll also have to find a place to stay and there aren’t many of those. There’s a very nice inn on North Haven, the Nebo Lodge, but the privacy that comes with renting a house and the immersion it offers — unmediated by a host — is a huge part of what draws me there. Maybe it’s an illusion, but I feel like I’m wringing more out of the place than the dabblers who come over for a memorable meal or three and then split. Renting a house on the island is a crucial part of my infatuation with it. I’m not sure I can truly, fully love a place until I’ve experimentally pretended to live there.

new friends

Making new friends. The caretaker is a lobsterman and these hadn’t been out of the water fifteen minutes when we met.

Happily my house of choice on North Haven is conducive to this. It’s cozy and full of texture — a sun-faded braided rug; a pair of curtains with labial ruffles that measure the salty breezes; stubborn little mosses clinging to its shingles — and possesses both a sensibly-organized kitchen and a perfectly situated hammock. As in all the houses I’ve been in on these islands, important phone numbers are written directly on the wall: the general store, the doctor, the community center, the lobsterman/caretaker. The numbers don’t ever change, so why not. It’s also got a fireplace and, to my endless delight, a little trap door for getting firewood into the house. I’ve got a routine worked out with my best friend, who I’ve been visiting these islands with for many years now: He loads the firewood in and out of the car, and I stand by the little door and stack it inside. We fuss over this daily process more than is strictly necessary, but it seems to add something to the first glass of wine by the fire each night.

digging this rug

mantle

house mosses

firewood door!

exciting firewood door

not bad for NYC people

The house also has a circle of trees to protect its hammock-inhabitants, and to provide fodder for their hippie dippie daydreams. The first year we visited I asked the owner if they’d been planted this way and they were indeed; they were planted by her grandmother, who wanted a place for her grandchildren to play in.

tree circle

foggy tree circle

a hammock I spent a great deal of time in

The hammock is here if you squint a bit.

weird insect

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boat passing by

My first order of business every morning while I’m there is to take my coffee on a walk around the house noticing things. Specifically, noticing whether any new creatures came to visit, or any edible things have sprung up or ripened. The perimeter of the house I used to go to on Vinalhaven was always good for at least a few blueberries or blackberries, and sometimes chanterelle mushrooms. On North Haven so far these have eluded me, but I remain hopeful.

morning spider web

hairy moth

afternoon snack in situ

If I happen to have dressed warmly enough, I’ll take my coffee a little further, down to the rocky beach I showed you once before.

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IMG_6141 Colorcross

IMG_6339 Cinema

seaweed spot

Vinalhaven’s Main Street is charming and it has a stop light too, the only one on both islands. North Haven’s Main Street, as shown below, is quieter and more genteel. I’d always thought of Vinalhaven as a quiet place but North Haven manages to make it seem hurly-burly. Vinalhaven has a long history as a working island, first because of its granite quarries, then because of its access to cod and lobsters. North Haven has never had quarries and, in comparison to Vinalhaven, has few full-time lobster people. There are 350 people who live on the island year-round (and 1500 or so in the summertime), and I’m not sure what they tend to do for money. I like to imagine they have blogs with deep-pocketed readers, readers I’ve simply not connected with yet.

Main St., American Legion

The American Legion on Main Street.

Main St.

Waterman’s Community Center on Main Street.

Community Center board game pile

Waterman’s is well-equipped for rainy days.
It’s also got a coffee shop, a theater, and a preschool.

we missed the codfish relay race

It’s a good place to catch up on the news. Hopefully there will come a year when I don’t miss the codfish relay race.

Paine's Balsam Fir Incense

There are also two gift shops on Main St., at least one of which should be able to replenish my stash of balsam fir incense.

North Haven casino very early in the morning

North Haven Casino early in the morning. Not a gambling casino, a yacht club. It just turned 100 years old this August.

maple walnut?

Maple-walnut.

browsing real estate

A fun thing to do with ice cream in hand: browse potential locations for my aquapod / sanitorium / research and development center.

peace barn

A peaceful barn at Mullen Head Park.

North_Haven-20110916-00375_Colorcross

on the way

Leaving Vinalhaven, Aug. 2006.

goodbye, islands

Leaving North Haven, Sept. 2011.

I’ll be doing a separate post on the subject of eating North Haven on my food blog next week. Mid-week stationary field trip No. 3 (to the country, a bit closer to home) is here.

animal style

Maskull Lasserre outliers shoes

“Outliers” shoes by Maskull Lasserre
via Dezeen, for trailing a bit of wild behind you.

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female Satin bowerbird

The most notable characteristic of bowerbirds is their extraordinarily complex courtship and mating behaviour, where males build a bower to attract mates. There are two main types of bowers. One clade of bowerbirds build so-called maypole bowers, which are constructed by placing sticks around a sapling; in some species, these bowers have a hut-like roof. The other major bowerbuilding clade builds an avenue type-bower made of two walls of vertically placed sticks. In and around the bower, the male places a variety of brightly colored objects he has collected. These objects — usually different among each species — may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even discarded plastic items, coins, nails, rifle shells, or pieces of glass. The males spend hours arranging this collection. Bowers within a species share a general form but do show significant variation, and the collection of objects reflects the biases of males of each species and its ability to procure items from the habitat, often stealing them from neighboring bowers. Several studies of different species have shown that colors of decorations males use on their bowers match the preferences of females.

Uy and collaborators have shown that mate-searching females commonly visit multiple bowers, often returning to the male several times, watching his elaborate courtship displays and inspecting the quality of the bower and tasting the paint the male has placed on the bower walls. Many females end up selecting the same male, and many under-performing males are left without copulations.

Bowerbird basics from Wikipedia.

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Wikipedia also tells us there are improbable fish that live amidst the dunes in Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, and as far as I can tell they are real fish, not prank fish. The park is dry much of the year, but seasonal rains punctuate it with lagoons. Are the fish who briefly make these lagoons their home brought there in egg form by birds — perhaps storks? — or are their eggs cryptobiotic, like free-range Sea Monkeys, waiting patiently in the sand for the rainy season to arrive?

Lençóis Maranhenses lagoons

Lençóis Maranhenses lagoons from Wikipedia.

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“The Centaurs” by Winsor McKay, 1921.

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pug tricks

The University of Virginia’s “The Mind is a Metaphor” database is sortable in various ways, one of which categorically focuses on animals. Personally I have found spaniels to be much trickier than pugs, but maybe there is something here that resonates with you.

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Doris Day will kill you

Be kind to animals or Doris Day will kill you.
Photo from If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger.

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If you should find yourself lost in the sticks and in need of a decent meal, just go and sit by the monkeys.

look for monkeys

Snippet from Eating and Drinking: An Anthology for Epicures, which I blogged about over here. Indeed, I’ve yet to see any evidence that monkeys are not fickle little fuckers. Look how these British monkeys behaved during the recent Jubilee celebrations, for example. You can tell they’re not going to bother finishing those cupcakes, and that in a matter of moments they’ll be prodding the jelly and throwing oranges on the ground for no good reason.

monkeys at Jubilee tea party

Monkey tea party pic by Ian Turner/BNPS from the Guardian.

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the Tote-Road Shagamaw

The Tote-Road Shagamaw, as captured in Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, has front paws resembling those of a bear and back legs resembling those of a moose, and craftily alternates walking on one set or the other to evade hunters. It is, however, trapped in its habits, and predictably inverts itself every quarter of a mile.

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dog and cat seed bombs
seed bombs for cats and dogs

One way to be kind to animals: provide them with fresh, tender grasses and grains to nibble at or pee on. Seed bombs formulated to appeal to cats and dogs (“a mixture of catnip, cat grass, wheat, oats, and rye”) are $7/sack from visualingual on Etsy.

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Trufa is a vacation home in Spain designed by Ensamble Studio and constructed with the assistance of a cow named Paulina. A hole was dug; hay bales were stacked inside and concrete poured over them; the resulting concrete truffle was unearthed and sliced open; Paulina went to work on the hay. In this manner, over the course of a year, the living space was cleared.

Trufa interior

Paulina the cow

Trufa photos via Dezeen. The interior one is by Roland Halbe.

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axolotl

The axolotl is an endangered Mexican salamander found exclusively in the lakes and canals of Xochimilco. They can regenerate lost limbs, and live for ten to fifteen years if not caught and roasted for someone’s snack. Source: National Geographic.

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Tsumori Chisato cat shoes

Cat shoes by Tsumori Chisato, ¥12,600 at Humor.

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From The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & William Maxwell 1938-1978:

Niou

coarseness of thought and feeling; want of grace and taste; numerous allusions to matters of merely local interest

Via Dangerous Minds, here is Fran Lebowitz talking about NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, who she has a bracingly compelling, funny, and well-reasoned dislike of:

It’s from a book launch party for While We Were Sleeping: NYU and The Destruction of New York. As soon as I finished watching it I sent the link to my most scornful Bloomberg-scorning friend, who recently had me reaching for a notepad when he said that “living in a city where this little cunt is in charge of things is like living in 18th-century Paris.” Is it? It kind of is. Someone really ought to make a list about that. And why am I not trying my hand at writing libelles? Those topical, subversive, witty little pamphlets or one-sheets that flourished in France between the 16th and 18th centuries, often anonymously written because of nastiness or seditiousness or both, were quite obviously the blogs of their day. But not all blogs are libelles.

Am I qualified? I’m somewhat mordant by nature, not short on opinions, and I enjoy hitting the “publish” button but my very full-time day job gets in the way. Working in shorter, sharper forms holds considerable appeal. In my mid-twenties I was pretty thoroughly knocked out by Balzac’s Lost Illusions, the first thing of his I’d ever read, and, although a work of fiction, my first meaningful glimpse of libelles. I didn’t mind the notoriously detailed and lengthy description of printing press technology that occurs very early in the book, and the further I read the more I thought it was utterly brilliant. The main character is an aspiring poet from the provinces who later finds himself mucking about with Parisian journalists and libellistes, and Balzac’s determination to capture the pragmatic aspects of how technological progress changes things alongside the social aspects was exciting to me; it tickled the same vaguely Marxist parts of my brain that my college professors did when they talked about Dziga Vertov’s socialization of the movie camera. Prior to the libelle era, people simply could not vitiate public figures or distribute their most profane little thoughts in print affordably or with any great efficiency because printing presses hadn’t caught up with their urgent need to comment on the culture around them. I was delighted to read more Balzac and see that this was a theme with him — to see, for example, that in Cousin Bette someone seems to be setting up a trust for someone else every other page or so. My understanding — somewhat spotty, but reasonably well informed from having read about this some years ago — is that the trust was fairly new legal technology at the time, a creation of the Napoleonic code; before then, people could not arrange to distribute their money or property outside of the traditional family lines in any sort of reliable way. To provide for a lover outside of marriage or a gay lover, for example, was suddenly a possibility. (To this day the law of succession and probate in the state of Louisiana is quite different from that of other U.S. states because, being a former French territory, it is the only state whose law is based on the Napoleonic code rather than English common law). Anyhow, where was I? I think I was getting around to suggesting that someone ought to study Bloombergian culture in a Balzacian manner, with special attention to the nefarious money-grubbing Ms. Lebowitz so capably describes.

underground journalist

A libelliste’s mechanisms at work, scanned from The Forbidden Best Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France by Robert Darnton. Specifically, he’s “from the frontspiece to Le Gazetier cuirasse, ou anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France by Charles Theveneau de Morande, 1771.” I haven’t read the book yet but I’ve got the same author’s The Literary Underground of the Old Regime in my going-out-of-town bag this weekend.

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That same friend I sent the video to has a recurring fantasy about running into Bloomberg someplace — our mayor does take the subway every once in a while, and gets into and out of shiny black SUVs all over town — and loudly exclaiming, as if unaware of himself “I can’t believe he’s so tiny in person!”

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Did you know that in Marie Antoinette’s time women wore dioramas in their hair? The trend apparently started with the use of wire forms padded out with wool and horse hair, which gave them impressive volume, and before long they were perching entire allegories up there. Appraiser and interior architect Soodie Beasley writes that

[w]omen placed in their hair little figurines made from fabric and small objects made from papier maché. Their hairdresser arranged them as sceneries or landscapes. Sometimes, they used their hair as a stage to replicate historical scenes or sometimes to communicate an emotion — sentimental pouf — this type of do was called.

. . . . Marie Antoinette wore her pouf a’ la inoculation in support of the small pox vaccination which showed Aesculapius’s serpent wrapped around an olive tree.

She wore these hairstyles at court and in town, and this had a swift and contagious effect . . .

‘Everybody was talking of the poufs created by the firm of Bertin . . . one famous pouf was that of the Duchesse de Lauzun. She appeared at a reception wearing a most delicious pouf. It contained a stormy sea, ducks swimming near the shore, someone on the point of shooting one of them; on the top of the head there was a mill, the miller’s wife being made love to by an abbe, whilst near the ear the miller could be seen leading a donkey.’

The last paragraph there quotes Émile Langlade’s Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette. I think the contemporary equivalent (in Manhattan, at least) is people doing unspeakably overwrought things to cocktails, which have become so burdened by displays of creativity that even bartenders are starting to wonder whether their preening is turning people off, and whether we haven’t turned some sort of corner yet. Delightful, innovative, gaudy, pompous, and inane — people have always been this way and always will be, and at any given moment the counterweights may be in need of rebalancing.

Miss Juniper Fox

Miss Juniper Fox, 1777, from the Lewis Walpole Library
via Soodie Beasley.

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The title of my post comes from a scrap of commentary on the ancient Greek poet Hipponax I found floating around on the internet. It used to appear on his Wikipedia page but I don’t see it there now. These qualities are supposedly reasons why his “witty, abusive” verse was not more popular. (He is nonetheless sometimes credited with having invented parody, and his deft dealings with the sordid side of life in Ephesus seem to have made quite an impression on people). The first time I saw it I was struck by the idea that this particular scrap would make a very good manifesto of sorts for a blog, not unlike the mumbo-jumbo in the header on my food blog. Sometimes it’s incredibly helpful to limit and sharpen one’s focus, however perplexing the operational rules may appear to others.

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