Friday, November 28, 2014

It's been a while...

This latest hiatus in Amusing Musings is explained by our total relocation from Chicago to Bozeman, Montana last month. But the title of this post, "it's been a while," also refers to one of my earliest Musings, Winter in Yellowstone, at last, in February of 2007, in which I explained my impatient goal to live close to Yellowstone National Park (Bozeman chosen from a number of options for mostly practical reasons, to be shared in a later post). Only seven long years later, picking up one's life and loves and things of more than 45 years and reinstalling them all in a newly built house is disorienting, exhausting, and frighteningly expensive. I'm not big on chaos (and folding one's tent and erecting it again 1,450 miles away is nothing less), but slowly everything is fitting into its new place, and in the last couple of weeks there have been occasional moments to relax and enjoy. Because I am still working for my Chicago employer (from my computer and phone) while the unpacking and organizing and acquisition of new-house-things like a washer and dryer and window covers are going on, the long Thanksgiving weekend is exactly what I needed to regroup mentally. Here are a few images of our new life to share:
Typical of northern Montana, we got a big November snow a few days ago. Also typical of northern Montana, the Polar Vortex that brought us 6 or 7 inches warmed up precipitously, creating this physics-law-breaking cantilevered iceberg glacially sliding off the roof of KLK's "man cave" that I can watch from my computer desk. The pendulous thing was longer than a foot before it started to curve downwards, still gripping the remaining snowpack on the roof through some very strong hydrostatic process. We watched it enlarge and elongate all day Wednesday. At 5 A.M. on Thanksgiving morning it gave way, thunderously thudding on the first floor roof below. 
The warm temperatures and sunlight and peaked rooflines caused many more avalanches and created a thigh-high berm of snow around the sides of the house. KLK took advantage of the relative warmth to remove a little slippery stuff by the front porch. Shoveling snow is his new workout. 
Teddy the tabby took a while to figure out his big new house, but now he's bravely giving me regular heart attacks by tight-roping along the second floor railing...the drop to the living room floor on the far side is about 20 feet. Note beyond our window a Tyvek-wrapped structure. This was green space when we bought it in June, though we understood it would soon be developed. More about the phenomenal number of mushrooms housing starts in what was until very recently open agricultural land in a later post.
Thanksgiving day was so peaceful in our neighborhood (in spite of being a couple of blocks from a middle school, the 'hood is almost always quiet) and the day so unexpectedly mild, we went out to explore on foot. In spite of the huge number of older, and newer, and being-constructed homes, green space has been spared here and there throughout. This park with its still pond and backdrop of the Bridger Mountains, is particularly appealing. Nothing quite like mountain light. Just what I wanted!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Heard today

On the car radio while running errands this afternoon:

WBBM news radio, an ad for an orthopedic practice, rated highly by "U.S. Snooze and World Report."

WBEZ, Chicago's (usually flawless) public radio station:  a reference to Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner's "indiscrepancies" - uttered, alas, by the reporter.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Objects 3. Cerámica San Isidro Moorish plates


In 1963-64 (8th grade for me) my mother spent the year teaching teachers of English in Madrid, with me in tow. As I've remarked before, one of the things I most enjoyed about that year abroad was the exoticism of the shopping opportunities. In those days, foreign wares were not so readily available in the United States, and, at the age of 13, I found the European traditional and contemporary objects to be wonderfully new and appealing.
In Spain the specialties were strongly regional; a well-known example is Toledo steel, made into jewelry and knives for the consumption of tourists and serious collectors alike. Spain is also known for its regional ceramics and pottery styles, sometimes realized as decorative objects, famously lovely tiles, or colorful usable objects such as table ware.
Another of my most valued memories from that year is our visits to the many historic meccas around the country, among the most enjoyable to the town of Granada, site of The Alhambra. Spain was once a colony of the Muslim world; the North African Arabs and Berbers who occupied much of the Iberian peninsula are referred to as Moors. Moorish culture dominated the Andalusian region from 711 until 1492, and left its aesthetic and cultural marks in many ways. Granada's Alhambra, the massive and stunningly beautiful fortress-palace left by the Moors, is an overwhelming do-not miss should you find yourself in Spain. Although this photo of my mother taken there (doubtless by me, already in those days a camera-toter) is badly faded it is possible still to make out the incredible lively and romantic architecture and decorative style. Many of the fine details are in fact the written word from the Koran. It's truly extraordinary
Modern takes on this decorative and symbolic tradition are used in the locally produced ceramic wares, known as the "Andalusian" style. On that visit we bought a set of eight plates of varying designs made by Granada's Cerámica San Isidro that take great advantage of the local symbology. Granada means pomegranate, and the fruit's image is everywhere, as in the middle of this San Isidro plate.What is most interesting about this design (and the starred plate above) is that the star is six-sided, like the Jewish Star of David. The Muslim star is five-sided. Intentional or not, I'll never know.  
It's hard to photograph pleasingly embossed texture of these 8.5-inch plates, but the designs come through well.
And here are the plates in a celebratory bon voyage slumber party for my classmates heading out for a school-sponsored trek to England, June, 1967.
I don't use them to serve food anymore -- who knows how much lead is in the glaze? But they're quite nice arrayed in a small group on my living room wall, and allow me to reminisce about that wonderful long-ago year in Spain.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Objects 2. Pueblo (American Indian) Pottery

Lots of us have lots of stuff in our lives, but it's not often that we have a record of how, where and when it was acquired. My family spent the 1953-1954 academic year in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we widely explored especially the Indian lands of the region, thereby making some important discoveries and lifelong connections. We were (and I am) great admirers of the arts and artisanship of the Pueblo and Navajo peoples. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their wares had become know nationally, if not internationally, through the enterprises such as Fred Harvey, boosted by the work of architect Mary Colter, among others. Even so, in the middle of the 20th century, their rugs, masks, wood and stone carvings, stunning jewelry, and pottery were still affordable for a young professor's family.
Acoma Pueblo, called as "Sky City" for its strategic  mesa-top location, is renowned now as then for its beautiful and finely made pottery. It's some 70 miles west of Albuquerque, right along Route 66 (now Interstate 40), the perfect day-trip from Albuquerque. Here is my mother in Sky City (with me, in the striped t-shirt) picking treasurers from their maker in November (it was very nice and warm, evidently!):
Same day, two Acoma girls, Anne Marie and Tilda Rose, pose with their offerings; note the classic humped adobe brick oven in the background to the right, and the adobe homes, with ladders to access the useful space on the flat roofs.
What Mother brought home included one small dish that was meant as an ashtray, that crashed to pieces, under my watch alas, quite a few years ago. Another prize was this small "eared" pot painted with a different abstract, but historically faithful, bird motif on each side. Its hand-coiled, wood-fired character is evident.

While rustically very appealing, it was comparatively primitively made, with thick walls and base. Which is almost certainly how it's managed to survive unvanquished all these years.

Another acquisition of the day, and of the same scale but a different, though also traditional, decoration, was much more delicately shaped and painted. The form is called "olla" (pot, in Spanish):
Through time though, it paid the price for its fineness. With the shards stuck firmly together with superglue, it has an (albeit faux) archaeological feel to it.
In the early 21st Century, spectacularly fine wares are still to be had. The people of many pueblos of the American Southwest, have perfected their ceramic arts. This is a traditional "olla" form, very similar to the "archaeological" piece above, but of a much larger scale and sophisticated painted design. It is signed "R. Victarino, Acoma." It was given to me by Puebloan friends in 2011.
My friends also gave me this piece. The pot itself was not coiled, but made in a form. The skill is all in the painting. I love it just as much, though I don't know the maker.
Indian pots, highly collectible for obvious reasons, come in all kinds of sizes, shapes and forms above and beyond the olla. Here is a display in the gift shop of the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History, Phoenix, Arizona. It would be nice to bring them all home.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Objects 1. Royal Leerdam Serica Vase

This is a striking cobalt blue vase in the "Serica" series, designed by Andries Dirk Copier of the Royal Leerdam glassworks in Leerdam, Netherlands. In Dutch this "controlled bubble" technique is called spijkervaasje.

I don't know the exact date but this style dates from 1936-1940. The brilliantly prolific Copier lived from 1901 to 1991.
The heavy crystal ball was once the top to a Leerdam decanter. The decanter is long gone but the ball looks very good set atop the vase, especially when gently rotated it multiplies the moving water effect. This was in my grandmother's home, and as a child (and frankly, as an adult) it fascinated me. I have always called it the fountain because of the wonderful regularly placed bubbles. I can't even imagine the skill that went into making this.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Word Is

People who assist in the purchase, rental, and sale of residential and commercial properties are not REEL-ah-tors. They are REEL-tors. Realtors. They deal in real estate.

One type of power used to run our electric grids,  and sometimes in ultra-deadly weapons of mass destruction, and based on use of the center part of an atom, is NOO-clee-ahr. It is not NOO-cue-lahr. As in nuclear energy.

Oh, and it's not hala-PEEN-oh, it's hala-PEN-yo. Jalapeño. It's not too hard to respect the original language naming America's favorite hot peppers.

Thanks for hearing me out.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Witnessing Changing Times

One reason I've been remiss keeping up with Amusing Musings is that I'm in the midst of a big project that involves poring through (most interesting) items that have been stored for at least a twenty years. Like other mothers, mine saved every charming little thing from my earliest years, including nudie photos of me (oh, dear) in my first year, a lock from my first hair cut, and innocently sweet cards congratulating her and my father on my birth. Year 1-to-2 quickly filled and I graduated to another scrapbook full of my childish drawings, my first written "works," pre-school to first grade report cards, birthday cards from my Granny, and what seems like every valentine card exchanged at school. The old cards (and by old, I mean the first half of the 1950's) are wonderfully sweet and charming, so much nicer than most of what one sees today, with silly word-play guaranteed to please. Lovely as they are, I obviously haven't looked through them since they were pasted into the scrapbook, because today the following unaddressed, unsigned, multi-page card caught my eye for the first time in 60-plus years:
I think it's safe to say the card was not addressed to me, but surely from one parent to the other. From him to her or her to him, I can't now imagine (they divorced about 20 years later). Now, granted, my parents were pretty enlightened and calm about sex and sexuality in that time and place of social conservatism about such things. However, I'm at a complete loss as to why my mother (my father wasn't responsible for memorabilia-management, it would not have been in character) thought this would be cute to save for their little daughter's posterity. I like to think it was my mother's sense of humor, and that she had an inkling I would someday finally take notice, and most of all, get a really good laugh out of it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Translated" by Bing

I posted to Facebook and shared with the Hungarian side of my family the above photo (yes, I admit, I use Facebook, it's a fine tool for keeping track of the relatives who use it) and my cousin in turn shared it with others, adding her own commentary in Hungarian. Upon request, Facebook will translate a post that is not in English (or whatever the original language of a post happens to be). Click on the image to reveal the fine translation from Hungarian to ? that Bing did!

Bing is a Google search engine. It should just stick to searches.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Bears Playground

We finished a lovely hike to Fairy Falls (crowned by a mad dash over the last 200 yards, caught in one of those only-in-Yellowstone soaking "snhail-storms" that come out of nowhere followed by blue skies within minutes, like it never happened), made our stop at Old Faithful village for a tall icy drink, then were on our way south seeking a dinner venue. Before long we crossed the bridge over the Firehole River to behold (drum roll) another bear jam! This was the area about which Janet Chapple, author of  the A+ guide, Yellowstone Treasures, says, "Prior to 1970, the area near the pond south of the bridge was the site of a bear feeding grounds, called The Bears Playground."  
There, below the road, were another grizzly sow, strongly resembling 399, and her one year-old cub  doing their sweet bear thing.
They nuzzled and seemingly cooed affectionately for a minute.
But seeing as how this is a designated bear playground, little cub was all about its toes. Toe toys, toe toys, toe toys. Say that ten times real fast.
All bears do not look alike, even to the unpracticed eye. Note the difference in this cub's facial profile compared to 399's one-year olds (who look more like each other than they do this little guy).    
Firehole Bridge Baby's build is more childish too. 399's cubs are comparatively long in limb and body. But if not precisely the same age, they're certainly the same 2013 cohort.

Although the crowd on the roadside well above the bears was respectfully quiet and not causing the rangers or the bears much of a headache, Momma Bear decided it was time to move along, and led her playful child to the bank of the snow-swollen Firehole River.
Even a full-grown grizzly looks small swimming across a snow-melt swollen river. No wonder the cub lingered on the bank, hesitant to follow.
 
You can do it, Baby, you can do it!
I and many others have observed that some wild parents seem to have dangerous lack of sense about whether their babies are strong enough to do things like cross rivers -- several of us on different occasions have witnessed moose mothers cross big rivers leaving their trembling, terrified calves stranded, not uncommonly with dire outcomes. Bears, on the other hand, are better equipped to understand their cub's capabilities, and to launch a rescue when needed. 
While no rescue was required, the challenge wasn't yet over...the exit ramp was extraordinarily steep. Just a reminder that not much creates a barrier for determined grizzly bears.
Once last glance between us. Is there anything as sweet as a freshly washed grizzly cub? Then it was up and over into the safe privacy of the woods for bears, and on to a good dinner and charming recollections for us.