Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

the "heart bandits" strike again!

Treasure Hunting at the Local Library

Like I need more books. I should be donating them books, not buying them. Still, I couldn't resist and even left work early to go to the latest Portland Public Library book sale, held a few times a year in the auditorium. I tend not to go right at the opening because in past years the line used to go out the door and the frenzy when everyone stormed into the library was overwhelming. The book dealers would be flipping through the books, tossing the good ones in boxes, like they were trying to pick fruit with a tornado bearing down on them.

The powers that be have made the sale earlier in the day and by the time I got there there was still a sense of delirium in the air, but the first rush was already in the checkout line.

I used to come home from these sales with a mountain of books, including hardcover treasures I planned to cut up for collages. Although I did make some collages out of them, I've tried to cut back on this compulsion, especially after the time I moved apartments and found myself dragging along these big heavy cardboard boxes of old magazines and collage books. I've also gotten pretty selective about what I buy. The library does a good job at labeling the sections, i.e. Fiction, Biography, Poetry/Literature, Social Issues, Art, etc. Sometimes books get mixed up, though so you might find an unusual poetry book you want in, say, the health section. It all makes for great treasure hunting.

For $13.50 I garnered the treasures pictured here, along with two CDs: Rain Forests, Oceans, and Other Themes by John Fahey (recorded in Portland, Oregon, our sister city) and Mirrorball, a live CD by Sarah McLachlan. John Fahey is a legendary master of the wooden guitar and Sarah's songs send me into an emotional vortex in a good way.

Kitsch (The World of Bad Taste) by Gillo Dorfles, with contributions and essays by a variety of art critics and provocateurs, is pretty amazing, as you can tell by the cover (top image). Out of print, published in 1968, I found a reference to a collectible version of the book on Amazon that says the First Edition, published by Bell Publishing Company, is worth around $100. Amazing. Unfortunately, mine is a second edition, which is worth about $10 in the used book market. Other hardcover reprints are available for as little as $3 on the Internet. It was the first book I picked it up, floating around on the art table. It didn't look that excited (except for that irresistable gaudy cover), until you looked inside and saw the variety of commentary and reproductions in the book, which is really a critical compedieum of history, art criticism and social commentary. Amazing illustrations include a series of postcards, each representing an episode of Napoleon's life, which when put together form a complete figure of Napoleon; a souvenir from Venice featuring a plastic version of Jesus' crucifixion on colored seashells; a still from the film about van Gogh Lust for Life; a photo of lacquered tree trunk photographs; a photo of a swastika coffee cup; and so much more. Another reader blogged about it here in more detail.

sleep (bedtime reading) by Robert Peacock (folk art collector, author and curator) and Roger Gorman (designer) is a handsomely printed and designed hardcover book that features an odd assortment of work by such photographers as William Wegman, Nan Goldin, Sandy Skoglund and Duane Michals and an even odder assortment of writing by Laurie Anderson, Fran Lebowitz, Richard Hell, Lou Reed, Paul Auster and John Updike among others. It has a very urban, New York feel to it.

Nude in Tub, Stories of Quillifarkeag, Maine by G.K. Wuori is a great book by an Illinois writer I suspect for obvious reasons has spent some time in Maine. I had read these stories before in a hardcover version (from the library) and was very impressed. I had considered buying the hardcover version new, but don't spend a lot of money on new books. Years later, here it was. I couldn't resist. These quirky stories are divided into sections called "Land," "Love," "Law," "Learning," "Loss" and "Life." They are funny but savage. One story, called simply "Family" opens:

"It was an educated crew -- that family -- that went wild outside of Quilli, the man starting out as a professor at the tiny state university in town, his wife and four kids wanting to live out somewhere, way out, an old way in a new time.
'This is Maine,' they said, and listed it all: heavy coats, woodstoves, lakes and rivers frozen by Christmas, moose, wolves, even eagles. The wife said, 'I'm going to relearn French.' The children went Pow! Pow! Pow!"

This little book, Come Climb My Hill by Winston O. Abbott, with illustrations by Leon Tebbetts, is a gem. It's a small out of print hardcover, published in 1947 by Falmouth Publishing House, a small book press run by Tebbetts, who used to run a legendery tiny used bookstore in Hallowell, Maine. That bookstore was crammed to the rafters and had many small cul de sacs. Leon was there well into his 80s and I remember meeting him. This book is hardcover, with the original jacket and charming color drawings, printed on creamy yellow pages that were handcut. It's worth about $20 on the antiquarian market.

"To me there is something deeply inspiring about a tree, a tree with its branches flung heavenward twoard the fathomless blue of the sky and its groping roots anchored security in the good earth beneath. I suppose that a tree could not be said to have a personality, and yet trees are possessed of as great a variety of characteristics as people. And though I am an admirer of hemlock and maple, elm and pine, I look with especial favor upon the oak. For the oak is to me a symbol of rugged strength and enduring courage and tenacity of purpose."

The Soul's Book of Answers by Carol Bolt (author of The Book of Answers, Love's Book of Answers, and The Literary Book of Answers) is a very silly book, though a clever idea. Using "bibliomancy," the idea is to ask a question, riffle the pages of the book and find an answer. At least it won't break, like those silly "eight ball" oracles of the 70s. I got a first edition, which makes it worth $16 (it's original price) in theory (by a bookseller on Amazon), though I can't imagine why anyone would pay that much. I got it for an "office present" for one of my co-workers birthdays. The soft fuzzy blue covering is a bonus.

Here, let's test it. I asked it, "Will I find success as a writer?" The answer? "This dewlike life [will] fade away; avoid involvement in superfluous things." Hmmm. That's interesting. Why the brackets? is a more burning question.

Advanced Cinematherapy (The Girl's Guide to Finding Happiness One Movie At a Time) by Nancy Peke and Beverly West (authors of Cinematherapy: The Girl's Guide to Movies For Every Mood, Meditations for Med Who Do Nothing (and Would Like to Do Even Less) and How to Satisfy a Woman Every Time on Five Dollars a Day) is another fun bit of silliness that originally retailed for $13.95. Another office gift. It's actually pretty good, with chapters like "I'm Not Waving, I'm Drowning: Rescue Fantasy Movies" and " 'Oh Her? She's My Sister': Trust Issues Movies." It's fun to read the descriptions, the sprinkling of quotations, actor profiles (Gabriel Byrne's "Top Drool Pics" are listed in The Handy Hunk Chart). There's fluff like "Women We Wish We Could Go for a Beer With" (Christina Ricci, Jean Harlow, Parker Posey. . . ) and "Freudian Slipups" (On Casablanca: "Until we women rewrite our internal scripts for romance, we guess Hollywood will just keep stoking the fire of our dysfunction.") Quasi-feminist, but mostly a great gimmick (hmmmm, there seems to be money in these gimmicky books), it has some recipes too!

Last but not least, I got a copy of the book Art & Fear, Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland, two working artists. This was recommended to me once upon a time by an art teacher, I got it from a library, and I have long wanted a copy of my own. It's a short practical treatise that undercuts the damning voices of self-sabotage, such as "I'm not an artist -- I'm a phony" and "Other people are better than I am." It's a book for visual artists, per se, but the basic advice can be applied to pretty much any creative endeavor.

"Artmaking involves skills that can be learned. The conventional wisdom here is that while 'craft' can be taught, 'art' remains a magical gift bestowed only by the gods. Not so. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive. . . "

More Robins!

The robins were back last week. They don't seem to mind the cold. A colleague at work said these subspecies of robin do indeed from Canada and go north when it gets warmer. Reverse migration.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Canadian Robins

A few weeks ago, in mid January, I saw the biggest robin I had ever seen. Here he was in this urban neighborhood in the middle of the snow and cold. Am I going crazy? I thought. That was a robin, right?

On Monday there were over 30 of them flying around the trees, eating berries. I couldn't believe they were robins, but I looked on the Web and couldn't find any other birds that looked remotely like them. Then a co-worker described the same sighting out in a more rural area.

Turns out they are Canadian robins who come here in February. They're larger than the regular robins. Robins roost in groups of hundreds at night. I did not know that. They are migratory songbirds of the thrush family, known typically as Turdus migratorius, with several subspecies. There are a number of legends about the robin. One is that a robin fanned the embers in the barn where Christ was born, in order to keep Mary and the baby warm, scorching his feathers a red color in the process. Another, told by Charles Dickens, tells the tale of how Dame Nature told the robin about the fires of hell. The robin was so moved he put a drop of water in his beak and flew there to try to extinguish the flames. His feathers were scorched in the process. Robins are often associated with charity and it is considered bad luck to kill them. The Welsh call them "Breast-burnt" or "Bron-rhuddyn."

The Native American Chippeways have a legend that a powerful hunter urged his son to fast as long as possible during the son's coming of age fast. The son became a robin, but told his father not to mourn the transformation, that he would be happier as a robin than a man and would be a friend to humans and live around their dwellings.

Lately temperatures have plunged back into the Arctic zone. At 5 p.m. today it was fourteen degrees with a stiff wind that made it feel more like five. Four below is the predicted low. More cold tomorrow and then it's supposed to warm up into the tropical 40s on the weekend. Then it's going to get cold again. The robins are pretty. I hope they survive.

There's some better pictures on another blog here.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Blood Tea and Red String

My friend Lunden lent me this DVD, which is a handmade stop-animation movie that took the director, Christiane Cegavske, thirteen years to make. It is a wondrous adult fairy tale with a hauntingly sweet soundtrack. There are no voices, but the creatures in it make noises that are better than speech in this context. It is full of charming tableaus and scenes, with a riveting plot during which the Aristocratic White Mice steal a doll made by the Rustic Creatures Who Live Under the Oak. Three of the four Rustic Creatures set out to find the doll, getting lost in a labyrinth where they come to a garden, eat hallucinagenic fruit and are waylaid by large body-snatching leaf pods. They are rescued by the King Frog, who cooks them dinner and feeds them berries. There is also a Spiderwoman who captures a Bird Woman that the doll gives birth to and scenes of the Aristocratic White Mice drinking their blood tea and dancing with their skull-crow companion.

The link to Christiane's website above contains some of her paintings and illustrations as well as her costume designs. There's a preview on You Tube you can watch here that shows the unique flavor of this incredible work.

She also has a My Space page, which is worth checking out, just to see her friends. . .