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.

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.

The Butterfly Hotel is open for business--and packed!

We started, several years ago, to assist the butterfly population by nurturing the young specimens indoors. It was slow going. But this...