Thursday, June 26, 2014

Michigan 101: Rivers and Lakes

In the summer everyone goes to the water. In Michigan weekends are quiet because everyone has gone to their cabin or is camping, but you can bet they are at the water's edge.

 The escarpment that created Niagara Falls, near where I grew up, also creates falls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some Michigan water scenes.

We moved into our retirement house on Tuesday. It is going to take a long time to settle in. I miss my quilt projects so much! But there are several months of hard work ahead first.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Crazy Handkerchiefs I Love

 I really love handkerchiefs with strong geometric designs. Here are some from my collection with circles, squares, lines and such.
 This hanky had a paper pinned to it, showing it was likely from a handkerchief exchange.

 This one give me vertigo!

The next two handkerchiefs are by Erin O'Dell, a midcentury designer.

 Faith Austin did this unusual handkerchief, very unlike her typical designs.
 Ann McCann was another mid-century designer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland: Art, WWII, and France

Book Cover Lisettes List by Susan Vreeland
I have read most of Susan Vreeland's books since reading her first novel The Girl in Hyacinth Blue about Vermeer's painting "Girl With a Pearl Earring". My favorite book by Vreeland was The Forest Lover about Canadian artist Emily Carr who defied societal expectations to live with, so as to paint, the Northwest Coast Native Americans and their quickly vanishing culture. Vreeland's books always center around art.

Vreeland's previous novels were fictional accounts of specific artists. Her
Susan Vreeland
newest book's main character is an art lover, Lisette, a Parisian who grew up in an orphanage. The book begins in 1937 when Lisette's husband Andre' wants to return to his home town of  Roussillion in Provence to care for his elderly grandfather.

Grandfather Pascal was a framer of art. As a boy he worked in the local  ochre mines. Ochre was processed to make paint pigment for artists. Many 'starving artists' were unable to afford frames and paid Pascal in paintings. His collection grew to eight paintings by Cezanne, Pissarro, and Picasso. I happen to love the art of Pissarro and Cezanne.

Pascal tells Lisette the stories behind each artist's painting in his collection, an oral history that reveals information about the artist's life and work. Each painting includes ochre pigments.
WWII comes to France and Andre' enlists in the army. Before he leaves he hides the paintings to keep them safe. The Nazi regime considered modern art as 'decadent' and destroyed many paintings. Pascal dies and Lisette is left to fend for herself, learning the ways of country life in Provence.

Marc Chagall and his wife Bella live nearby for a time. As Jews they were seeking safety before immigration to America. Lisette befriends the couple and Marc gives Lisette a special painting.

After the war ends Lisette searches for the missing paintings for several years. To keep Lisette safe, Andre' did not tell her where the paintings were hidden.

Lisette's list consisted of things she wanted to accomplish, from finding her husband's grave to understanding art.

The village of Roussillion and the importance of ochre in the paintings is central to the book, with the paintings, which all used the ochre pigments, illustrating it's importance. The village is filled with interesting characters who Lisette comes to love.

Read Vreeland's article on her inspiration for the book, showing the ochre mines and pigments of Roussillion  here.

See a gallery of art from the book here.

Lisette's List
by Susan Vreeland
Random House
Publication: August 26, 2014
Pages: 432 | ISBN: 978-1-4000-6817-3

Monday, June 16, 2014

Two Old Chairs

Next Monday we move out of the parsonage and the next day move into our 'forever' home! Gary was recognized as a retired pastor by his conference of the United Methodist Church and also by the local church he has been serving. 42 years of service in an official capacity has ended.

We had a big sale this weekend and cleared out all our treasures. They found loving homes, which made me very happy. We had many antiques rescued and restored. We also had lots of rescued treasures that were shabby but comfy. Like the two brown chairs, shown below, that we bought for $10 each at a garage sale.
The chairs amid other things no longer with us
Our neighbor's mother had to give up her own house to move in with her daughter's family. Her treasures had to go. We looked at these chairs, 1984 chairs with a pineapple print on brown fabric, and she immediately ran to our side to tout their comfort. We bought them. She was so thrilled, and it was obviously not because she made a lot of money from their sale.

We loved those chairs! They were SO comfortable! We considered reupholstering them. It would cost $770 labor plus fabric. But our retirement home is a 1969 ranch, quite small, and we need small scale pieces. We had decided to decorate in Mid Century Modern.

We agonized over letting them go. We were selling the 1920s couch we upholstered in red velveteen, and the 1915 lamp with the silk beaded lamp shade. We were selling the treadle sewing machine with the Sphinx motifs. We even decided to part with the 1940s rocking horse that had served three generations of Bekofskes. But could we part with these shabby chairs?

We put the chairs in the sale and prayed that they did not sell. If they were still there at day's end, we'd assume it was 'meant to be' for us to keep them.

People flocked to the sale before we even had everything outside. Within an hour a man from a block away came. He has been restoring an 1898 house, intending to make it into a Bed and Breakfast. He needed old things for decor and for use.

His wife sat in the chairs! And they bought them right away. They were so comfortable, they said. They will be the third owners of these chairs, each owner won over by their comfort. They also bought the sewing machine, which will look lovely on display there.

We joked together that we'd have return and stay at their B&B to sit in those chairs again.

At day's end we were left with books, junk, and a Depression era berry bowl set. Everything had gone home with other people.

The silk beaded fringe lamp went for a fraction of what we paid for it at auction twenty years ago. But the woman loved it so, and her new (second marriage) husband was so sorry he could not afford it. We had enjoyed it for twenty years. It owed us nothing. They had $20. The lamp went home with them, the wife beaming with joy. There is a large migrant population in the county who work picking asparagus and fruit. They came looking for practical things, sprinklers and mops and towels. A gal loved the reverse painting on glass old window I painted a few years ago. I hardly expected anyone to care for it. I even sold oil paintings by Mom, my brother and myself. I tried giving away some small things, only to have quarters pressed into my hands. People are basically decent.

We made good money from the sale because we were selling nearly everything we had. We sold at give-a-way prices. People HUGGED me they were so happy. I was happy too, knowing that things I loved would give joy to another family.

So I learned the joy of letting go.

Our years in parsonages have included good times and bad times, loving and joyful people, and unhappy and sometimes mean people. It is time to let go of emotional baggage as we are letting go of the physical things we have carried. Trusting that we leave behind good memories, small tokens that will offer comfort like a comfortable old chair.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Catching Up with the Jane Austen Family Album Block of the Week

I had three weeks of blocks to do!

War Wounds: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I have just read The Sun Also Rises, which I last read perhaps 30 or more years ago, and which I first encountered as a girl, perhaps 12 years of age, when I watched the movie version on Bill Kennedy's Showtime. As a girl I was moved by the story without understanding it. As a teen I bought the book and read it quite a few times. Now it is 2014 and I am over sixty, and the book seems profoundly sad and I understand it is not a love story, it is a war story.

For those who have not read this classic book, it is the story of men who had been soldiers in World War I and a woman who had been a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. They meet up in Paris and plan to meet again at the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. In the interim, Jake is joined by his friend Bill for a fishing trip in Spain, a time of lyrical and idyllic beauty.

Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes fell in love when she was his nurse during the war. Brett's first love died in the war. Jake's wounds prevent him from normal sexual function. Brett flits from one joyless, meaningless encounter to another, while depending on Jake to pick her up when things go wrong. Brett is engaged to a bankrupt drunkard who is very aware of her alliances with other men.

Their friends include Robert Cohn, whose Jewishness was targeted at Princeton so that he took up boxing. Robert was Jake's friend before he fell for Brett, who takes him up for amusement then discards him. Robert's jealous stalking of Brett leads him to beat up his rivals. Brett goes off with a beautiful and talented bull fighter half her age, unable to deny herself anything even when she knows it is wrong. The forward by Sean Hemingway refers to the "carnage" left in Brett's wake. When I read of the bulls tossing human bodies, I immediately thought of Brett.

"I can't help it. I've never been able to help anything."
"You ought to stop it."
"How can I stop it? I can't stop things....I've always done just what I wanted."

In the end Brett calls for Jake to rescue her from herself. Brett muses on what their life may have been like, and Jake replies "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

Hemingway's readers would have understood the background shared by these characters. The war is always present, although rarely discussed.

"It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening."

WWI saw 4,734,991 U.S. men in service. Of the 116,515 dead, 53,403 died in combat. Men dug trenches, then were sent 'over the top" into "no man's land" through a barrage of machine gun bullets, trying to reach the enemy trenches. Today we refer to "cannon fodder." Men going into the hail of bullets, no protection. Bodies piled up between the trenches.

204,002 men were wounded. And the wounds were horrible. Mustard gas blistered the skin and destroyed men inside and out and death could take weeks. Every war brings technological and medical advances. Plastic surgery was honed in this war, and the development of prosthesis and artificial noses and masks. Smithsonian Magazine had an article about The Faces of War  and the people who endeavored to restore a human face to the disfigured WWI soldiers.

Then there was Shell Shock, originally believed to be concussions caused by exploding shells. Men were given a few days R&R then were sent back to the front. By 1918 the condition was called War Strain, and later War Neurosis. Today we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Depression, anxiety, flashbacks, egocentric behavior, emotional withdrawal, and addictive behavior are all symptoms. 80,000 cases of "shell shock" were diagnosed during WWI.

Brett and Jake met when he was hospitalized and she was a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Women of the middle and upper classes, between the ages of 21 and 48, who wanted to help in the war effort joined the VAD. They worked in primitive circumstances. And they were exposed to gruesome wounds and maimed bodies, suffering and pain, and death. Brett would have understood what her first love had suffered.

The picture came back to me of myself standing alone in a newly created circle of hell during the 'emergency' of March 22, 1918, gazing half hypnotized at the disheveled beds, the stretchers on the floor, the scattered boots and piles of muddy clothing, the brown blankets turned back from smashed limbs bound to splints by filthy bloodstained bandages. Beneath each stinking wad of sodden wool and gauze an obscene horror waited for me and all the equipment that I had for attacking it in this ex-medical ward was one pair of forceps standing in a potted meat glass half full of methylated spirit.
Vera Brittain, describing a field camp hospital in Etaples in 1918

"Funny, how one doesn't mind the blood," Brett says about the bull fights.

Gertrude Stein's famous epitaph "You are all a lost generation" described the cohort generation who reached adulthood during WWI, known as The Lost Generation. Rereading the book, I realized that being lost was not a lack of direction and purpose. This cannon fodder generation was suffering from PTSD, self medicating with alcohol, and fearlessly seeking thrills. They were emotionally impaired, unable to truly connect in any meaningful way. It is pretty to think that true love could save anyone, but we know that if Jake's physical wounds were healed,  Brett's emotional ones would have destroyed any possibility of a happy ending.

Hemingway started the book in 1925 and in 1926 the manuscript was sent to Maxwell Perkins, legendary editor at Scribner who also worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Alan Paton, Erskine Caldwell, and James Jones. Hemingway and Fitzgerald had met in Paris and Hemingway was impressed by The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald offered advice, including careful editing of the opening chapters which are offered in the appendix in this edition. The rewrite reads vastly superior.

The original opening chapter began with Bill and Hem ( Jake) meeting the young bull fighter. Duff (Brett) is with her fiance and cast off lover but is lusting for the bull fighter. Chapter II describes Duff (Brett) as having "had something once" but was pretty much a drunk now. In the final version she was "damned good looking." Her first husband was an abusive drunk who had tried to kill her. She was waiting for the divorce to come through for two years. Hem/Jake was the first person narrator in the original Chapter II.

"I don't know why I have put all this down...but I wanted to show you what a fine crowd we were." from the deleted chapter II

"To understand what happened in Pamplona you must understand the Quarter in Paris." from the deleted chapter II

The original draft ends, "Cohn is the hero." What a different book that would have been. Hem/Jake
as the sidekick to Cohn, like Gatsby's Nick Carraway. (Published in 1925, Nick is also a WWI veteran.)

How men respond to the stuff life throws at them reveals their character. Hemingway uses Brett as the stuff thrown, and her willing victims all react differently. Her fiance Mike makes rude comments, stays drunk, and carries on. Jake finds solace in his work, fishing, and tries to find peace in what little faith he still possess. Jake is a rock in public, but feels like hell in private. Each veteran in the group finds their own way to cope, with alcohol being the main way.

"It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing."

Robert Cohn takes it all very badly, and his comrades, and Brett, get mighty sick of his mooning about. "I hate his damned suffering," Brett tells Jake. Cohn has no war experience. He can't accept that Brett treats what they shared so lightly, and takes on the White Knight role trying to protect her from herself. He does not fit in. His Jewishness becomes an easy slur, but it is really his old fashioned values that set him apart.

Enter Pedro Romano, the bullfighter. He is the most beautiful boy anyone has seen. He has integrity in the ring, not stooping to the showmanship tactics of some bull fighters. He is unsullied and nothing like these Lost Generation men. Brett can't help but be attracted to this boy who stands for everything she has lost. She feels 'a bitch' and knows she will ruin him but still goes off with him. They are followed by Cohn, the boxer.

The novel is almost 100 years old! Today we may snicker at Brett's dilemma, we know there 'are ways' to overcome Jake's limitations. We abhor bull fighting and the mistreatment of animals. But do not underestimate the novel's relevance to today's problems. War still maims our sons and daughters. During WWI shell shocked men were ostracized as slackers, even shot by their own generals. Today we evade responsibility for treatment. There is nothing new under the sun. A generation comes, a generation goes, the sun rises and the sun sets, and we still send our youth into war and they still return to us wounded.

The e-book I was given access to read is part of The Hemingway Library Edition from Scribner. Supplements include early drafts and deleted chapters and prefaces by Hemingway's son Patrick and grandson Sean. It will be published July 15.