Thursday, April 27, 2017

Two (Much Better!) Books.

Several years ago, I happened upon an illustrated copy of "Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes" by Robert Louis Stevenson; I raved and resolved to read more of this classic author.

Lately, I found a copy of "The Black Arrow", a late medieval romp through the English War of the Roses. Written in Victorian times, it must have been a sensation, since it featured a young noble woman dressing as a young boy to escape a fiendish guardian (about to marry her off to another villain for money, while he also steals her rightful legacy). Similar outrages are done to the hero, young Dick Shelton; he was orphaned by this evil guardian (adapt at manipulating laws, in a lawless time.) Of course, Dick and Lady Joanna are destined for one another.

Once your eye adapts to the "Shakespeare-lite" dialogue, in contrast with the more modern Victorian style test, it's a breeze.

It doesn't matter about the plot, "good" eventually prevails. Stevenson's writing crams so much action, drama, image, natural scenery, emotion and intrigue into short little paragraphs; it is amazing what talent he possessed. He died young, that's sad. No wonder the entire world mourned his death.

I know how I missed "Christy" by Catherine Marshall (published 1967) all these years. The marketing for the book made it "feel" like a "Sound of Music"-plot; it seemed like it would be sappy.

But I found a copy and approached it with new eyes. Considering the book is already half a century old and relates the experiences of a young volunteer teacher in East Tennessee 50 years before that, the story is remarkably fresh and current-feeling. The author died in the 1980's.

Christy wants to be independent, not just hang around her wealthy family in Asheville, NC until she marries a local scion and settles down. So she takes on the teaching assignment in the back country and is greatly challenged by the difference between her expectations and the reality; the hardships.

If you ever were tempted to skip vaccinations for infectious diseases like typhoid, this book will remind you why these diseases were a scourge and best avoided!

Of course there is some romance; she has so much to learn. Most people my age have read this book if they are interested; younger readers who like romance, coming of age and history would enjoy the story.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I'm Inspired by the Vibrancy of the Resurgence of Downtown Los Angeles.

Old buildings with new street art and graffiti each time we visit. This is near The LA Cafe, our most favorite morning coffee place on Spring St.

All kinds of people and activity going on at all times of day and night.

Old, iconic buildings of legacy LA, renovated!

Oodles of brand new, large construction projects everywhere you turn!

One of the nicest newer examples of street murals I noticed! Wow.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Random Eclectic Reading..with clairvoyants

The stuff I pick up and somehow, am able to complete! Now that I am not commuting every day by train, I seem to be more selective than these two books.

Dorothy Gilman's "The Clairvoyant Countess" was published in the mid-1970's; one of the "bad guys" runs a network of ice cream and popsicle sales trucks (actually selling drugs under cover) tracked by a computer that takes up an entire commercial space basement! So the story was modern in its day.  Madame Karitska is a clairvoyant, not a fortune teller; an older lady with a long series of adventures behind her; she works in cooperation with Detective Lt. Prudden of the Police Dept of a fictional large city, solving a series of crimes using her powers.

Dorothy Gilman wrote the Mrs. Polifax series, which I have not dipped into; probably won't. Another of her novels, "Caravan" from 1992 I liked. Sadly, Gilman passed away in 2012.

Anne Cleeland, another American writer who writes British police thrillers: her story "Murder in Thrall-An Acton and Doyle Scotland Yard Mystery" was found as an "advance uncorrected proof" from my local (and wonderful) paperback exchange. It's a pretty standard detective "let's try to guess who done it".

I was shocked at the set-up: Acton is a celebrated senior detective sleuth with New Scotland Yard; a member of the the nobility, as well. But he is a sicko---not completely criminal since he works for "good"; he develops a complete emotional and sexual fixation on a young police trainee, Doyle (who is naive, attractive, Irish, working class but motivated, spirited and gifted with an ability to magically detect when someone is lying). Out of the blue, he pops up with a marriage proposal and she accepts it instead of reporting him to HR! He's done creepy things like sneaking into her apartment, before this.

How, in today's world, did this book get published. But apparently, the series is pretty popular.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"I Remember Mama"

Just a few photographs to observe the April 6 (1999) anniversary of her passing. Mom as a toddler with a big hat (one of the nicest photos), and those among her family and siblings. With the passing last summer of her baby brother, the infant in the photo above, they are all gone now.

Favorite Los Angeles destination of Me...Mood Designer Fabrics' LA brick & mortar!!

If you like to sew or love fabric, this is the best place to visit!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Terrazzo: the Next New Old Thing!

This epic old sidewalk design can be seen in front of Clifton's, a downtown restaurant in LA.

New use for the enticing material: our daughter-in-law and son, aka Besler and Sons, developed fascinating decorator geometric statues called "Props" for various uses and enjoyment. The small, attractive objects come in various colors, from stern black/grey/white to evocative candy tones.

Attainable, functional and enjoyable. Recently featured in the New York Times (not fake news this time ;-) .

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Book Best Read at Halloween!!

Halloween photo is not mine; borrowed from Facebook post of neighbor's daughter!

Starting to read more non-fiction, I happened on a biography by Wendy Moore, "The Knife Man - Blood, Body Snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery"; it details the life and works of John Hunter.

He was an energetic, charismatic British surgeon of the late 18th Century whose tireless work pioneered the early development of modern surgery as a medical specialty. It was not easy: he started as an apprentice to his credit-grabbing slave driver older brother, William, a shrewd, social climbing physician to the upper classes in London. He worked long hours through the cold winter months dissecting corpses (some of which he took part in stealing from cemeteries). In those days, there was no legal way for student-surgeons to obtain subjects for dissection, so grave robbing was an enormous trade. (If a less affluent person passed away in the winter months in London at that time, there was a very good chance they would end up on the dissecting table. Condemned criminals and their families sometimes sold those bodies, too.  Weird.)

But eventually, John Hunter's efforts paid off for the benefit of medical progress. And Hunter's "single-minded mission was to understand all of nature": human, animal, plant and mineral. He collected the "normal" and the "abnormal".  He was a friend of Captain Cook and most of the other intellectual luminaries of the 18th Century, including Benjamin Franklin; the painter Gainsborough was his neighbor, etc. etc. He kept a private zoo at his country home, to which the Queen contributed.

John Hunter's teaching inspired surgeons all over the world. His work became well known again toward the middle of the 19th Century. He was inspirational to several authors, including works like Dr. Doolittle, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein; the published account of his dissection of a whale influenced portions of Moby Dick. The foundation of Hunter's collection still exists at the Hunterian Museum in London. Hunter contemplated the idea of evolution, 50 years before it became popular.

The book reminded me of "The Devil in the White City", though Hunter did not actually murder his subjects.

Amusing: Hunter's wife was a popular hostess at the time, a socialite who managed to entertain artists, musicians, intellectuals,  nobility, etc. in the same house where her husband dissected humans and animals on any available surface at any time, and kept stinking jars of specimens all over the place; the halls crowded with students at his lectures and young surgeons up to their elbows in gore. Good Times!

Monday, February 13, 2017

De-Stashification of my fabric supply...or "Finish Those Damn Projects!"

"Red Sunflower" by Barbara Besler completed 2/12/2017

I love red sunflowers. The picture is not so good, but the little decorative, "table topper" or "chair back" turned out really well.  It is richly embellished with hand embroidery. It was fun to design and produce.   Fortunately, I managed to locate fabrics that coordinated well, and the tones were harmonious.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

All Dogs Go to Heaven...Sadly, in Fiction about Dogs, the Ending will Make You Tear Up

"Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls...

The author of this lovely, classic "dog story" was able to tell just one or two good stories; but it is a wonderful book.

In Mid-20th Century America, elderly Bill Colman leaves his office on a picture perfect day and sets off for home. On the way, he encounters a pack of scrapping dogs, attacking a lone old Redbone Coon Hound, obviously a stray. As Bill helps this dog, he remembers his long ago, turn of the century-era boyhood and his tender memories of a pair of this breed who captured his heart--and saved his life.

Young Billy is one of the best little "good souls" you will ever meet in fiction: he's smart, he loves his family, he helps his family, he works hard, he is determined, he is kind, unselfish and has a great sense of humor. His one passion is the desire for a pair of Redbone Coon Hounds so he can train them and hunt raccoons in the eastern Oklahoma hills where he lives. He applies his mind, heart and prayers; patiently, he works to earn the money to buy the dogs.

The writing is clear and simple, like the heart and spirit of the little boy. The descriptions of the puppies, once they arrive, are so endearing: you see, hear, smell and feel the warm squirming little bodies. The dogs have different personalities, key to the story. The adults in the story are mainly good and supportive, though sometimes not able to provide the child everything he wants--he has to work to achieve his goals.

I don't know how I missed this book all these years, since it was published in the early 1960's. Anyone who enjoys solid, authentic-feeling fiction could love this story. Some may object to the hunting: but raccoons are prolific and mostly, a pest; these were the only animals intentionally hunted. To me, this story is "up there" with "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the portrayal of the child narrator and the richness of the story. (But I think the book might be too intense for my 12 year old niece.)  Dog books always end with the death of the dog---that seems to be a rule: Love and Loss.

This is not a Redbone Coon Hound!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

An Activity: "Making Mainbocher" Exhibit at the Chicago History Museum. (at last, something besides reading!)

Main Bocher was a Chicago boy, interested in the arts. After high school and a stint working at Sears Roebuck in the early part of the 20th Century, he left for New York. Eventually he lived in London and Europe. With no official training in fashion design, he re-invented himself as Mainbocher, a fashion design house in France. During WW2, he returned to America to continue his work.

The exhibit is not too large, but features a good selection of works from his design company, along with history; there are also works of art, sketches and drawings unrelated to fashion.

There is an interactive dress form with design options programmed into the software; on a limited basis, you can design your own dress ideas.

Incidentally, the exhibits nearby, "The Secret Lives of Objects" and "Lincoln's Undying Words" are also worth seeing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Exploring the American Western Genre: "Fighting Caravans" by Zane Grey

Restoration Village in Abilene Kansas
A decade or so back, I came upon a copy of Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" and loved it; it left my mind open to reading other American Western-based fiction. Raised in the 1950's, I acquired a poor opinion of Westerns, since so many lower quality films and TV shows featured such plots.

Then I read the American Classic Western, "The Virginian", followed by a wonderful gem called "Jubal Sackett" by Louis L'Amour (part of a family saga series of novels).

Last summer, we traveled to Maple Falls, WA to rescue family documents and photos from the derelict property of my late Uncle; among the large collection of volumes in his (damp, rodent infested) storage shed was his boyhood copy of "Fighting Caravans"from 1929 (and a new paperback version of "Riders of the Purple Sage".) For sentiment, I chose to read the "Caravans" novel first.

It is what I call a "fly on the wall"-historical fiction novel. Fictional Clint "Buff" Belmet, a boy of 12, goes West with his parents in 1854. Through his eyes and experiences, we meet many actual historic figures of the West, such as Kit Carson, Lucien Maxwell, Charley Bent and many others. Clint can't walk across the street in a western town without having some hero "take a shine" to him, or else he gets crosswise with a villain. Typical Western.

It's a bit of a melodrama: first thing that happens, he meets a little 10 year old pioneer girl, May Bell, who attaches herself to him as the two are the only children in the group. Clint learns to drive a wagon loaded with goods, he can already fish, he soon learns to hunt. The two families part ways, but the kids promise to marry someday. As the author deals with the "children" as characters, the plot is a little sappy. As the characters mature, so does the action.

We see the Native Tribes both sympathetically, for their plight and through the eyes of the encroaching multitudes of new settlers and wagon drivers. There is constant conflict. The American Civil War makes that worse. And worse still in the decade after the war, when "riff-raff" from both armies go west to seek their fortune.

A couple of films were produced based on this story, but do not seem to follow the plot line of the novel.

The main benefit of the novel was that I used it as an opportunity to "google-research" the era, the historic characters, the Santa Fe Trail, the history of the mid-19th Century supply wagon era, which preceded the rail road by only a few years. Part of "Continued Education...."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How Did I Miss this Book? "A Woman of Independent Means" by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

The novel was published in 1978, a 1991 paperback edition was hiding in my book case for years. With the cold January weather, it's natural to curl up and indulge the urge to dig deep for an enjoyable book.

The novel is styled using the device of letters written by the book's heroine, Bess Steed, born about 1890; her letters span 1899-1968. The character is roughly contemporary with both my grandmothers. Like both of them, Bess knows certain hardships (even for the well off) of life a century ago: at 15, she is bedridden for a year with TB, later her life is upended by infectious diseases which are now more controlled and treatable. (One of my grandmothers lost her mother and baby sister to TB in 1900; the other lost three siblings by that same year when she was 10.)

Bess is irrepressible: she considers death the enemy, refusing to let anything stand in the way of her goals. She's a bit of a social climber in the country-club world she aspires, but endearing. You will chuckle at her social engineering antics.

The novel is a real page-turner, without chapters. The letters each make a natural divider of the action so you keep reading "just one more" all night.
The beginning reminded me of "Winesburg Ohio" with its small town flavor.
Later, I thought of William Styron's grim novel "Lie Down in Darkness", with the spoiled daughter Eleanor who gives her mother grief in parts of the book.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Surprisingly Engrossing "Nordic Noire" Crime Thriller to end 2016...

"The Second Deadly Sin" by Swedish author Asa Larsson (English translation by Laurie Thompson) is a fairly recent publication from 2012-13. This might appeal to those who like "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I read an "advanced reader's copy", not the final edit.

The novel has many facets: it is an entertwining narrative, one murder occurs in 1915; as events unwind, several more murders take place in the current time, the connection revealed at the end of the book.

An early 20th Century industrialist, Hjalmar Lundbohm (historic figure in Sweden) of the mining city Kiruna, meets the attractive and personable young school mistress he has hired; the two begin an affair based on her self-identifying as a free-spirited, independent woman who does not want to get married. If only she had appeared more traditional, there would have been a happier ending....
Sadly, the brutish and evil second-in-command of the mining operation also thinks he has a chance with her...wrong.

100 years on, her descendants are murdered or die mysteriously. Two female characters lead the action to solve the puzzle: Rebecka Martinnson, (the troubled but effective prosecutor) and Anna-Maria Mella, detective, (a bit chubby, too short, apparently disorganized mother of four with a super-supportive hubby) combine to thwart their villain (an oily, dishonest prosecutor who tries to steal the case and grab the glory). Oh, and the villain who has actually committed the murders.

For additional appeal, there is an adorable 7-year old boy, traumatized witness to a murder--he's likely the next target.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Best Photos for 2016

We traveled more in 2016: we were away from home more than a month in total. But I didn't get a lot of chances to capture the "living moments" that I enjoy.

The first two photos were from a little town in Iowa, Chariton. I was captivated by the aura of the kitchen set in an antique shop window on the main square: it was right out of the "Bridges of Madison County" film. Plus there were bonus reflections in the window including my own Hubsy.

Second: I love "alley shots" in cities and towns. I don't know why. I don't want to venture into the alley, I just want a photo.

L'heure Bleu is my favorite perfume and this photo from a camp ground in Iowa expresses the mood with perfection.

Since I saw Mt. St. Helens, I guess I should add a photo of the day we visited.