Monday, December 26, 2016

Random Readings: So Many Kinds of Novels...

"The Copper Beech" by Maeve Binchy; awhile back, I read her "The Lilac Bus" and didn't care for it. But a friend advised that it was her least favorite of Binchy's novels. So I tried this one; it was more enjoyable, light, cozy reading.

Anne Perry's "Death in the Devil's Acre" seemed a contrived Victorian detective plot starring an unlikely pair of young lady sleuths. Meh. Plus, if reports are true, the author took part (as a teenager) in the murder of a friend's mother.
She and the friend served time as juveniles and were freed. Still, I can only consider the profound sense of terror and betrayal suffered by the victim.

I'm late to "The DaVinci Code"-party. The book, by Dan Brown was published at the turn of the current century. I heard so much about the book and the plot that by now, I was underwhelmed. But I enjoyed "google-researching" the many paintings, ideas and sites mentioned in the iconic novel. It was not as well-crafted as I expected.

"Earthly Joys" by Philippa Gregory is the best of the latest batch of books, in my opinion. The plot centers on the famous Tudor/Jacobean gardener and collector, John Tradescent (the Elder). Complicated relationships are explored, between husband and wife, father and son, master and servant, king and country people.
Tradescent believes in the old feudal system, with loyalty to king and master. His family is more progressive, but there is consistent tension. His loyalty to is master, the Duke of Buckingham could have gotten him killed. There is an uncomfortable encounter, when the servant is seduced by the master. You feel for the Gardener: he is caught in the turbulent world leading up the the English Civil War. There is a companion novel "Virgin Earth" about The Younger John Tradescent, the son.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This was Unexpected...in Harrodsburg, KY


In the little town of Harrodsburg, KY is a reconstruction of the oldest permanent European settlement in Kentucky (situated quite near the original location and built to according to the plans left by the founder and leader of the settlement, James Harrod.) The site is operated by the State of Kentucky as part of the State Parks. A wonderful entertainment for older kids and parents/teachers.

Many aspects of pioneer life are displayed at the venue: a working smithy, a weaving room, a model of a typical pioneer cabin, and much, much more.  Though Native Tribes did not establish permanent settlements in Kentucky (it was regarded as communal hunting grounds for the use of all the Tribes), there is a working hunting camp, as would have been common. A history museum and Abe Lincoln's parents' first cabin are also on the property and part of the admission fee.

The day of our visit, a group of local "re-enactors" was having an actual wedding of two of their troop members; it was staged in the style of an 1860's period event. Directing the parking of cars for the event was one of the guests, in full reproduction Confederate Civil War regalia as a Cavalry Officer.  He explained all of the items he wore, including the reproduction (but functioning!) firearms he carried.
Our little maid gamely posed with the stubby rifle before the Cavalry Officer provided us with a live fire demonstration!! It was loud!

He explained that battles were so loud that officers would jab the men with sword points to get their attention! How annoying! But our expression "Get the point" comes from that situation.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Special Place in Paris, Kentucky: Claiborne


 We visited Claiborne, a prestigious but low-key thoroughbred breeding farm. Many excellent race horses have lived or been conceived or born here. The entire property seems to glow with understated, practical elegance. Our niece was, alas, a tad young for the experience; a little surprised by the frank talk at the "breeding shed" (all technical and correct). But after that, it was all about the beautiful horses.


This one is Orb, the winner of the 2013 Kentucky Derby. The first stall that you can see behind Orb once housed Secretariat.


There was opportunity to photograph your meeting with the amazing animals. This was my second visit; last time we "met" Monarchos, who won the Derby second fastest to Secretariat's time. It appears Monarchos recently  passed away at another farm, sadly. We also saw Pulpit, another star, on that first trip.


Sometimes the horses clown around!


But usually they stand patiently, as they are trained.



War Front


With the company of her Uncle, our niece was able to step up to War Front for a photo. She prefers smaller animals, it's true.


War Front is currently the world's most "expensive" horse with a "stud fee" near a quarter of a million dollars!   Claiborne Farm is not a "petting zoo", it is a working business-farm. It's not for small kids! We "pushed it" a bit with our girl, but it was her first trip to Kentucky; she is accustomed to behaving well around adults. There is actually some danger since the stallions can be unpredictable. The procedure for joining a tour is to call ahead and reserve a place in a scheduled event; be on time, dress nice, be calm; give your guide a nice tip at the end of the event. They have a nice, high-end gift shop, too. A unique experience.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

We Took Her to Keeneland...The Racecourse of Lexington,

 Our niece found every other animal there to love---besides horses. She inquired if the cat could be adopted....

 the puppy was a favorite, too.

She loved the goat.  Probably kept as a comfort animal/companion for one of the race horses.

 We walked the length and breadth of the stables and stalls area of the race course. I do this every time I visit; this day, it was "farrior day" for the horses. It seemed the farriors were set up in every barn, tending to the various horses. It seemed intrusive to photograph those activities, but it was interesting.

It was a lovely day. The weather the entire weekend was beautiful.

Monday, November 21, 2016

In Louisville, later that afternoon, a stroll through St. James Court


The Conrad-Caldwell Mansion




A 2nd-Great Grandfather of mine was a principal partner in a construction company/stone masonry in late 19th Century Louisville. Though the family lived in the Cherokee Park area of the city, the firm was among builders who worked on many of the many mansions constructed in Louisville in the later decades of the 1800's. So, late in the afternoon of our arrival, we took a long walk the the St. James Court-Belgravia Historic District to give our niece a flavor of the old city. She is only 12 but I'm sure the images will be alive in her memory. We stayed at the Seelbach Hotel to provide some additional old Louisville context for her adventure.

Friday, November 18, 2016

More "Americana" on a Trip to Kentucky Last Month...





But first, a stop at Schlimff's Candy in Jeffersonville, IN. It's a 19th Century candy shop, old fashioned soda fountain, tea room, candy factory and museum, all housed in two store fronts in the little river town, directly across from Louisville.

The little girl is our niece. Half of her ancestry comes from Poland; someday, no doubt, she will visit. But she also has "Kentucky Roots", so the theme of the extended weekend was to give her a flavor for the life and times of her American Cousins.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Always Enjoy His Books: "Our Game" by John LeCarre'


Where is Larry Pettifer? The former double agent has gone missing along with the girl he stole from Tim Cranmer, his friend, former school mate, rival, former spymaster, narrator and main character of this novel. Governments (both the UK and the Russians) and the police search for him; Tim is suspected of collaboration with the missing man, but he has conflicted emotions and motives swirling, as he works independent of his former bosses to locate Larry and the girl. At issue is the theft of tens of millions of Russian cash by forgery and wire fraud. How is the money to be used?

The writing is superb, as usual for the his author. I loved the satiric feeling of the scenes with the police, his old bosses at the Office, his ex-wife. The plot is complex, like "The Night Manager" and set in the post-Soviet era of the 1990's when the Russians were waging campaigns of ethnic cleansing against groups in the Caucasus. One interesting "prop" used was a hiding place for Tim: a "priest hole" concealed in a tower of the medieval church on his estate.

I "google-researched" the Caucasian Mountain countries of the Russian Federation; beautiful, brutal places with ancient stone towers and evocative landscapes.

The young woman, Emma, the love interest was the weakest link. Like the heroine in "The Night Manager": mystically beautiful but otherwise shallow and unworthy of having so much of the action in the novel directed at trying to "save" her. Meanwhile, this author able to create such deep and compelling characters out of "little grey middle-aged men" with bureaucratic jobs in spy agencies like Tim and like George Smiley (who does not appear in this novel).

Eventually, given enough time, I suppose I will read all the this author's fictional works. He is a wonderful writer who chose to work on espionage and crime thrillers.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Poignant "Cubs Win": Hubsy said "This is for your Dad."

The photo above shows my Grandfather (the Dad in the photo) and his infant son (my Dad). It's a rough little snapshot, made early in 1920. Grandpa (born 1885 in Sicily, came to Chicago as a baby) was a Cubs fan. He'd have celebrated the 1908 win as a young man; but never again would he see a World's Series Win for the Cubs. He took my Dad to games whenever possible, so Dad grew up loving the game and the team.  Dad was in Europe in the War for the 1945 series. Though he avidly followed the Cubs; lamented the losses and poor results, he was never discouraged. He lived for 93 years and 20 days; passed away in January 2013.  Like so many other life-long, loyal fans who didn't live long enough to see the Win they longed for.  Bitter-Sweet.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Inspired by Parsons & Charlesworth Exhibit "Spectacular Vernacular"

"....Observation is often the spark that leads to a project idea..." is part of the introduction to the exhibit's room of photographs in  "Spectacular Vernacular".

This fascinating design show is at the Chicago Cultural Center through December.

 The photos are themed "Alien Americana" (photos of the US) and "Routine Rituals" (in India). To see Parsons and Charlesworth photos, you have to go to the exhibit. Besides the photographs, there's much more to see.

Their photos made me think: I have thousands of photos in my "picture bank" that I have taken over the past decade. Perhaps some of these will inspire me to consider some project ideas, like painting or an art quilt?

The photographs below are from my collection (have appeared on the blog); they fit a category like "Alien Americana".

Happy Halloween, btw.


Halloween display in soda boxes at the grocery store

Manhattan Beach, CA tourist shop window

Barbie Smart Car in Beverly Hills, CA auto dealer

Renovated Railroad Station in Cincinnati, OH

Our own Carrots--A Chorus Line

Under the Brown Line in Ravonswood, Chicago, IL
(I already have a plan for this photo).




Friday, October 28, 2016

Barbara Kingsolver's "Bean Trees".... and dilemma resolved!


After sampling the author's work with "Prodigal Summer", I was undecided whether I "liked" her work or not. So I agreed with myself to try another (this time, her first novel "Bean Trees", from the 1990's).

There's a lot to like: especially addressing the issue of infant/child sex abuse! Her characterization of little "Turtle" was handled just right. The main character's efforts to adopt her little charge were touching, complete with her self-doubts about her ability to protect and nurture the baby.

The author's ability to describe nature: sunsets, flowers, storms, etc. Strong. (But tossed into the narrative self-indulgently?).

Kingsolver has a social agenda (who doesn't?). So her novels are sprinkled with one dimensional characters you can't really "picture" or "feel you know", but seem to stand for whichever ideal she's in favor of, or against. This is not literature; eventually, it feels like nagging.

I remember how vividly: "Like Water for Elephants" makes you feel the injustice of mistreating captive animals and letting old people rot in nursing homes. "March" leaves you not doubt about the horrors of human bondage, while providing full-blooded characters; the same goes for "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman". Kingsolver's work does not rise these examples of artistry.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Happy Birthday, Mother

Among the photos and letters discovered among my late Uncles possessions, I found this never-before-seen photo of Mother, taken early 1940's. The location was outside the family's Cincinnati home on Mt. Auburn.

She would have been "early 20's", maybe in college or working at her first job at Kroger's food labs in Cincinnati. She was a dietitian. Soon she would join the Army. Everyone was joining up, including all the date-able young men, or "fellows", as she called them.

She told me much later, she did not intend to "spend the war taste-testing strawberry jam at Kroger's".
Way to go, Mother! Europe was where she met and married my Dad in 1946.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mount Saint Helens on a Partly Cloudy, Mid-September Day



Hubsy climbed Mount Saint Helens on September 20, 2016. These photos were taken from the visitors center a couple of days prior.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Awesome Black Hills of South Dakota



Inspiring, beautiful and evocative landscapes; these ancient and mysterious spires. In the midst of all the glory, I was a little offended by the various carving, such as Mt. Rushmore; this seemed like vandalism applied over the natural finish of the place. I hope no more carvings are allowed, after the completion of the Crazy Horse monument.

An Old Fashioned, Feel-Good Horse Opera: "Thunderhead" by Mary O'Hara

Photo by Barbara Besler:  Battle of Wills taken at Keeneland September Sales about 2 years ago. Sometimes, I enjoy readin...