Thursday, July 30, 2009

Treebeard as an ancestor

The latest "What Middle Earth character are you?" quiz on facebook informs me that I am an Ent. Even I was surprised, expecting as I was to be labeled a "Gondorian," seeing as I am not elegant as an elf, nor short and pleasant as a hobbit, or ugly as an orc.

Since I don't talk or do much, perhaps this is a very appropriate character to take after.


I quickly forgot about the interior of the Biltmore Estate when I stepped outside and made my way toward the gardens. How can a house compete with plants? This is a tree or vine that helps form the living roof over one of the outdoor patios. Quite tall and gnarled with age, it arrested my attention. I think I stood and stared at it and its companions for ten minutes.

It looks like water or stone frozen in time. Water is ever-moving, yet still. Stone remains inert, yet subtly transforms as the centuries pass. The tree embraces this tension. Taut as an instrument newly tuned, the dynamics of energy and slowness gives the tree a dimensional beauty. You can't perceive all of the dimensions by looking straight at it. Instead, you must stay a while. Look at it, look away from it, use your peripheral vision. What you see changes every time; what you see remains the same. Movement and stillness. Work and rest.

My meditation on this juxtaposition was interrupted by folks pushing a stroller. A couple out of a J. Crew catalog sauntered by. A passel of kids rushed around me, scattering and regrouping like a flock of birds. I looked at the tree again, wondering about when it was first planted (nineteenth century? early twentieth century?). Such age, even just a century, leaves me breathless, and I looked at the children again with new eyes. How many trees planted the year they were born will be allowed to live as long at this venerable peer?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?**

My friend and I went to a festival put on by the Louisville chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America. It was held on the grounds of Locust Grove, a National Historic Landmark:

We were expecting a little event, a handful of folks drinking tea, a smattering of cheap trinkets for sale. Instead, we were quite blown away by the smart planning and execution of the event.

There were several events planned for the day, including several Regency fashion shows (which I'll get to in a minute), that were excessively diverting. The Emporium was host to a treasure trove of genuinely interesting items, including 19th century inspired fabrics that Jenni and I plundered for our next set of dresses:

Several stations were scattered across the grounds, including a shoemaker, a milliner, a mantua-maker (dressmaker), and a showroom of exquisite outfits on the second floor of the Locust Grove home:
We had afternoon tea at 1 o'clock, where we were served a variety of small sandwiches, delectable scones with preserves, and lavender pound cake:

After tea, we went to the session "Dressing Mr. Darcy," where the host proceeded to undress down to his undershirt and pants, explaining each item of clothing that he was removing (hat, coat, vest, cravat):
Obviously meant to titillate the crowd. We couldn't stop snickering, and I couldn't keep a straight face when I danced a turn with him later that evening at the ball.

Yes, indeed, there was a ball and we suppressed our inner wallflowers to attend. My friend made our gowns. She wore an evening gown, and I wore an afternoon dress (hey, at least it was period appropriate):

Some scenes from the ball:

Here some folks are dancing "Mr Beveridge's Maggot (Favorite)", which some of you will appreciate knowing that this is the dance from the famous scene in Pride & Prejudice (1995) where Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth dance together for the first time:

Of course, the folks at this little ball weren't as graceful. There was lots of laughing and stumbling and wrong turns and bumps. It was all thoroughly fun.

More pictures over at my flickr.

**Jane Austen

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What do you see?

Pope's heroic stance

Loch Ness monster plant in our front yard

More pictures up at my flickr:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Knowing a place

I remember returning from a trip abroad in France, when I was 15. I was quite disappointed with Rockford. We returned at night, and I remember looking out the window of the bus at the storefronts lining State Street and feeling acutely (acutely, as only a teenager can, however unnecessary the emotional burden!) a sense of despair at how drab and uninspired the buildings were in comparison to the centuries old architecture we had seen. Rockford suddenly seemed a very narrow place, seemingly unanchored by history and adrift in a sea of cornfields that paled in comparison to the lavender fields dotting the back of Provence. This was the perception of a teenager who was itching to grow up and see more of the world, having just realized how vast the world truly is. Rockford was pitifully tiny in comparison. How could it compete?

Now that I am grown up, my perception has shifted. I no longer see home as a place that has been exhausted of possibilities. Rather, the narrow-mindedness of youth has fallen away and I am seeing home with new eyes, even as I slip comfortably back into my niche when I return home to visit.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.--T.S. Eliot

Monday, July 13, 2009

Home is where one starts from.*

These are some things I always do when I go home to visit:
  • eat Swedish pancakes for breakfast at the Stockholm Inn
  • have long early morning conversations with my mother
  • drive one or more of Grandma's secret ninja routes (she has elaborate backroad ways to avoid turning left at busy intersections)
  • visit with my dear friend and cousin Rosie
  • see a bad movie with my father
  • cuddle the terror of the house for a few moments before the fangs come out
  • go shopping in Grandma's basement
  • wander through Poska's (a bohemian shop with an antique-y flair) for inspiration
  • walk around the backyard and think of Bear, our late dog
If I included everything, the list would be too long and you would be bored and wondering why you still read my blog.

One of the reasons I like the Harry Potter books is because I can entertain the notion of apparating--do a graceful turn and show up 500 miles north in my parent's kitchen, much to the cat's consternation. Visits home are too brief.

*T.S. Eliot


I'm back to work, and back on the computer. Sorry my postings have been remiss. I was up in the techno-wilderness of Illinois visiting with family and friends.

Being away from a computer (mostly) for a week was actually not that bad.