Archive for September, 2010

water ballet

My musings here almost always begin from objects— strange objects, often. This is a nose clip, used by synchronized swimmers. The bookstore at my high school sold them in plastic packets; that fact seems stranger now than it did then. This one reappeared in my life in a box full of stuff that my mother culled from the bedroom that is no longer mine: a room almost as large as my own house that conceals (behind louvered doors) the material traces of all kinds of memories, pleasant and sometimes bitter. Time, though, has begun to dull most of those sensations into a simple haze of nostalgia.

In another life, I was an indifferent synchronized swimmer; indifferent in terms of the degree of my skill and also in my dedication to gelatin-slicked hairdos, coordinated bathing suits, and full leg extensions with perfectly pointed toes. My high school experience was more bizarre, even, than most.

We performed shows on one weekend of each year, swirling through the water in formations like spinning blossoms: the unremarkable pool was transformed, through our labor, into a set with doors where we would come and go, delivering dull bits of dialogue— “Wake Up, Little Susie!”— and stitching together a plot through the titles of the unobjectionable songs to which we swam. One year, I think we were in the Arctic: I remember how the faux-fur trim on our plastic capelets (worn between turns in the pool, to provide the illusion of a frigid setting where one could not simply wander about in a modest bathing suit) stuck to my wet skin. The next year was Mardi Gras; we wore suits of an almost universally unflattering orange hue.

My career as a synchronized swimmer, sadly, was cut short after only two years: although, to my knowledge, dance cards, etiquette dinners, and other vestiges of the Antebellum Era are still going strong, my curious Alma mater determined that water ballet was no longer à la mode (this realization came to them in 1999, roughly half a century after it reached the rest of the world).

But whenever I swim, I still can never resist the urge to perform a trick called a flamingo—

I tip backwards like a bird diving for a fish, tucking my knees to my chest before extending one leg upwards, furiously but invisibly treading water with my hands while straining (without seeming to strain at all) to reach my leg high and straight, toes pointed towards the sky as though I still fear the rebukes that came too often from the general direction of a pair of sensible shoes standing on the deck of the pool. I twist and turn through sequences of log rolls, ballet legs, dolphins and half-twists; these motions come freely now, the pure release of muscle memory logged in long hours more than a decade ago.

Compared to many of the elegant swimmers on our team, I was always a second-rate water ballerina: everyone’s high school years are filled with feelings of insecurity, but I think they seldom take the exact same form as that worry. But now, I’m almost certainly the best synchronized swimmer in any given pool. I’ve never met another one.

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seasonally affected

I’m having a hard time concentrating today. Maybe it’s because we haven’t had more than half an hour of watery, gray sunlight in days.

I tried to work out some vegetable lamb copyright issues for a forthcoming article. I found the real vegetable lamb, finally. Then I got (more) distracted. In a fit of idle curiosity, I searched ebay for pineapple and cauliflower teapots. I sorted through my own pictures of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, which felt kind of like work. Then I gave up on pseudo-work and went to a pretty terrible thrift store around the corner from my house. I got one more 99-cent doily to complete my wall:

Unsurprisingly, there were quite a few doilies for me to pick from at this thrift store, which is both operated and frequented by seasoned church ladies. One doily that I liked was priced at an inexplicably outrageous $7.95. The only explanation that I can come up with is that the church lady who priced that particular doily also has experience in the making of doilies, which must be incredibly frustrating. Or, at least, I would find it frustrating. That’s part of why I like having these examples of patient and presumably female work on the walls of my study. If only I could summon that degree of concentration.

I also bought some more random spoons:

I bought a solid sterling spoon at the same store a few weeks ago and felt (only vaguely) guilty as I paid the 49-cents the church ladies were asking for it. These two, I think, are only silver plate, but they’re pretty.

And now I’ve arrived at my computer again, to consider doilies, spoons, teapots, and vegetable lambs. Sometimes it’s a little hard to separate my work from my non-work, anyway.

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Tintern Abbey

Though absent long,

These forms of beauty have not been to me,

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration:

—feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,

As may have had no trivial influence

On that best portion of a good man’s life;

His little, nameless, unremembered acts

Of kindness and love.

(from William Wordsworth, “LINES Written a Few Miles Above TINTERN ABBEY, on revisiting the banks of the WYE during a tour, July 13, 1798)

The first image in this post is a Claude Glass that you can find a few yards (not miles) above Tintern Abbey— lucky for me, a helpful Welsh Heritage employee overheard me confusing the Tintern Abbey gift shop cashier (yes, there’s a gift shop; no, I didn’t buy anything) with questions about a largish, ovalish mirror somewhere in the vicinity of the Abbey. She pointed it out— up the hill, in the gardens of a nearby hotel. The Claude Glass is supposed to help an artist (perhaps an amateur artist) frame a scene from nature for a drawing and better observe the forms and features of the landscape. Rather oddly, though, you have to stand with your back facing the landscape you wish to draw— so the most complete view of Tintern Abbey that I could capture in a single frame is that backwards, color-drained mirror image.

Unrelatedly, and somewhat unpoetically, one can have a rather excellent cream tea in the shadow of the Abbey. Or a jacket potato.

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Among the innumerable sites we visited across the Atlantic: Stonehenge. Perhaps it’s a bit generous to say that we visited it. Really, we accidentally passed by it on the way to our rented cottage somewhere in the general vicinity of Bath. I spotted it as we were coming down a hill— “Is that Stonehenge?”— I asked, half-wondering, half-exclaiming. Ricky laughed— of course it was Stonehenge. How many henges could there be? I feel like there might be more than we expect; even so, it was an astounding thing to stumble upon. The best that I can usually hope to find on one of my long drives is a Target or a Dunkin’ Donuts. One moment, the landscape was a beautiful and unrelenting expanse of hills and sheep— then all of a sudden, it was broken by this passing glimpse. It was just enough henge for me, really. Quite perfect.

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Back to this after a weekend of leisurely reading and baking; Saturday’s nectarine galette and Sunday’s grape focaccia with rosemary did not disappoint. But when has Smitten Kitchen ever failed me? Even that ugly birthday cake was delicious. I took a few pictures of the focaccia; they were all terrible, in part because— with all the intermittent steps of kneading, shaping, waiting, and seeding grapes— all the good light was gone by the time I was done. The one picture that wasn’t out of focus prominently displayed my grape-stained fingernails, which just looked dirty. I had no idea what to expect from the combination of olive oil, concord grapes, and rosemary, but it was so singularly delicious that I ate myself sick before the sticky pools of fruit had even fully cooled. And then I stuck the rest of it in the freezer, my usual solution for edible things that have turned in my mind from impossibly tasty to oppressive.

I’m writing about sewing. It’s pretty great.

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saturday afternoon

dragon beans and other purple-y spoils from a rainy morning at the farmers market

string of chili peppers; (not) a good cat toy?

nectarine galette; now in the oven

wall of framed doilies; progressing nicely after I found one more at a thrift store this morning

more thrift store finds— slightly less tiny pots for my less tiny tiny plants; a nice view, too, of the crackle paint on my garage door. Was this a (happy?) accident resulting from the improper use of interior enamel? That burgundy paint used to grace my kitchen walls as well. Or one of those intentional, but no less mystifying crackle effects? Either way, it’s amazing ugly. I wish I could say that it doesn’t really bother me since it’s outside and not visible from the street; alas, my desk faces a window which gives out onto this exact view. Not really the most inspiring setting.

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