Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Best Advice You Ever Had...

My candidates:

"Do what you want to do, or do what you should do, but don't do nothing."

"Take Latin."

"Drive slow in parking lots."

What about you?

I have been semi-busy this weekend, trying to take that first bit of advice. I did watch a couple of episodes of Spongebob just now, and believe me when I tell you that isn't what I wanted to do, nor what I should have done.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Also, I have been thinking of one way to solve the state tax revenue problem. Place a confiscatory tax on "creemees." Everyone in Vermont, probably all of New England, eats bucketfuls of this stuff all summer. I don't think they're allowed to sell it as "soft ice cream" because I am not sure a cow ever had anything to do with it. It is good though. And we are all hooked.

Thanks to the few people who still may be stopping by here. The old blog has languished of late. I haven't done as much reading of others as I like to do either. I will try and catch up later this week. Best wishes for a wonderful week.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Touring the Gilded Age; Speaking of Bobby Burns

Take one sugar-trust fortune. Mix liberally with railroad and steamship monopolies. Add a second-generation art collector mated with fox hunter/polo player. Stir in 3000acres of farmland. Add one lake (largish). Allow to rise for about 100 years.

Last week I, along with a bunch of golden agers, art appreciaters, and general busy bodies, got a chance to tour through the home of one of America's great collectors of art and antiques, Electra Havemeyer Webb. Mrs. Webb was the daughter of a sugar trust magnate and she married the scion of the Vanderbilt fortune. (She was actually richer than her husband...) She started the fabulous Shelburne Museum (see the sidebar). Her in-laws started Shelburne Farms, which is a gilded age farm fairy land. My tour was guided by a guy who is apparently occupying himself productively while Waiting for Guffman. I was grateful he could project since I sometimes have a hard time hearing when I am at the back of a crowd of old people in a stranger's bedroom. The tour was of Mrs. Webb's private home, a former farm house known as "the Brick House." This is not the great mansion belonging to her in-laws that has become the Shelburne Inn. It's unmistakably the former home of a Very Rich Woman, but very homey and warm. If I had been invited for the weekend I would have had no problem lolling on a sofa.

Mrs. Webb's son, the film editor Watson Webb Jr., inherited the place after his mother's death in 1960 and it came to the Shelburne Museum after his death, around 1999, I think. Now, they let VIPs stay in it, hold a symposia or two, and lead tours once in a while (like, four times a year). Museum interns, I was told, live in the servants' quarters. I love all the same kinds of things that Mrs. Webb collected, so I knew I would love her house. And I did. So, I am sharing.

The driveway. The house is way back at the end of the avenue, and surrounded by a thousand acres of private land. I think back in the day, the family had 3,000 acres.

The view from Mrs. Webb's bedroom door. Don't you love the lamp?

Here are a few of the barns on the property of Shelburne Farms.

Now back in the house.

Teapots? Yes. I love them too! Of course there was Staffordshire all over the place. You couldn't swing a dead cat in there, not that I would recommend bringing a dead cat into this, or any, house, without hitting Staffordshire.

He was a fox hunter. She was a collector. I am sure she HAD to have this painting.

Speaking of Robert Burns

We weren't but we are now - aren't we?

I have always had a soft spot for Robert Burns. This is partly because I learned when I was kid - from one of those little astrology booklets they sell at supermarket checkout - that he and I have the same birthday: January 25. (Fun fact: also shared with Eartha Kitt).

I wrote a few months ago here about Arvo Part and earlier this week, for some reason I can't now recall, I drifted back to Youtube to listen to a Part setting of the Burns poem "My Heart is in the Highlands". It is really haunting. Since I am doing a classy post, I thought I would include the video here. The slideshow is a bit overwrought but someone worked hard on it the music is beautiful - it says on Youtube that this is a high school choir. Could it be? My heart is in the highlands too. Here in the north. The birth place of valour. The country of worth.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Seven Wonders of Me

Once, I won a "New York Quebec Scholars Award" (or something like that, it was a long time ago). My friend Eugene won it too, actually, I think he won it first and then when he left the program, they gave it to me. Anyway, Gene told me that when he opened the envelope announcing his prize, he read the first line, which said, 'although there is no monetary aspect to this award..." and never finished reading it.

Well, that's where Gene and I differed. I left that crap award on my resume FOR YEARS. And still today, I am happy to win ANYTHING so thanks Deborah, the Muse in Kansas, for picking me as one of those to whom she is passing on the "Kreativ Blogger" award (not to be confused with the "fonetic speller" blogger award). I am supposed to tell seven interesting things about myself and then pass the award onto 7 others. I suppose if these things circulate long enough, everyone will get one but, no matter. As I say I am happy to be singled out for any bit of praise; "I like your bracelet" practically makes my day, so I am running with this.

I am uneasy about the pay if forward aspect, however, because 1.) I would probably offend someone whom I admire by leaving them out (all the blogs I visit are under "favored ones" on the sidebar and all have wonderful aspects; 2.) I know some people, probably strange, successful people who win things all the time, don't want to receive such honors and 3.) I am worried that if I picked out seven bloggers whom I admire, several of them might not be willing descend here to pick up their graphic - and then I would feel like a loser, even though I just "won". So, thanks Deborah. You would be one of my seven if I were willing to name them. All you other bloggers, if I have ever left more than one comment on your blog, you may also regard yourself as a winner in my book. So write seven things on your space if you feel so moved and I will come read them and comment.

Here are the seven things about me. You tell me if they are interesting.

1.) I just asked my 11-year-old daughter, the Understudy, if she could think of seven interesting things about me - even one interesting thing - and she could not.

2.) My dad is a science genius, isn't that interesting? When I was nine, although he already had his PhD in physics, he became intrigued by human physiology and went back to medical school. He got his MD while continuing to work part-time as a research scientist. He worked as an ER doc for some time after he finished his internship without ever having left his day job. He is one of the guys who figured out Magnetic Resonance Imaging back in the 70s. He also got divorced from my mother (Quel surprise, as they say in France and Quebec, more on that at number 4 below).

3.) My husband (much older than me) is an arch conservative economist who appears frequently on Canadian television and radio. He can be counted on to say things about free markets, Sarah Palin etc. that send most, normal, nice, liberal pink-blooded Canadians into fantods. He is very nice to his friends. Don't ask about his enemies (please).

4.) I spent most of my 20s living in Montreal with the plan that I would learn French. It didn't work.

5.) I went to law school in Montreal because I wanted to go back to Montreal (where I went to college) and I was no good at math or science (despite my parentage) and so was unfit for any form of additional education. And, yes, if you study the common law, even in Montreal, you may be allowed to sit for the bar exams of New York and Vermont, which I did waaaaay back when I had a lot more energy. (I couldn't have stayed and worked in Quebec because of aforesaid inability to actually speak French).

6.) I have an unaccountable interest in England and things English. But you knew that already.

7.) There's a book I am supposed to be writing.

Oh. I feel cheap. Am I bragging or overexposed? Yes and yes. But that was fun.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Speaking of the Sedarises; Shackleton Speaks IV

David Sedaris has been staying with me this week. Rather, I have been staying with him, as much as I can. I have taken early morning drives, alone, to the store or the bank or where ever, before the rest of the family is awake these last few days(I'm on vacation so not commuting at the moment) so I can listen to the audio version of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I even played a couple of the (nearly) G-Rated essays for the kids. Being my kids, they loved them too. Shackleton is now putting in requests for "that depressed guy."

I didn't realize that David's sister Amy was also famous as a writer and performer. I stumbled over her on Youtube in a little Internet Sedaris stalking. (Did I mention that our plans for sponging off relatives on the Jersey Shore this week had fallen through?). She was charming and funny in a bunch of David Letterman interviews, if a bit manic.

So, having been hanging with the Sedarises these last few days I have this feeling that I actually know them. David's family is his best material and the fact that some little incident or description of a personal characeristic might embarrass a near relation is no reason for him not to discuss it - in punishing, unflinching detail.

It's pretty clear that all these Sedarises (six kids in all: Lisa, David, Amy, Gretchen, Tiffany and Paul - I told, you I am getting to know them) - are really bright, and kind of normal (they watched TV a lot as kids; their Dad was an engineer at IBM), but also that they are, to varying degrees, crazy. At least David is at least half crazy -like DSM-IV-diagnosable-crazy. Fortunately, it seems to be the half that allows continued function, like one bad kidney or a deaf ear. Or, more likely, his hinks (OCD and maybe some other stuff too) are a sine qua non of his writing, a necessary ingredient in the Sedaris alchemy. I remember a friend in college telling me that the great thing about Manhattan is that it's an island, and the terrible thing about is that it's an island. So, kind of like that.

As with all my enthusiasms, I am here to share. Upon learning of my recent Sedaris crush, the brilliant Lulu Labonne sent me this link to an episode of This American Life that includes a rib-binder from Sedaris and other great essays read by Sarah Vowell (another Lulu recommendation) and Anne Lamott. All three essays (and performances) are gems. So when you have 55 minutes or so and some head phones, listen through. Link to Lulu's pick

I would love to know what you think about them.

Shackleton Speaks IV

Fun with Febreze

I don't have the nerve/inclination/heart to lay my own loved ones quite so bare as David S. does. I mean, I went to law school and all, which means I am constantly thinking about unintended consequences, and the kids are still too small to really fight back - Shackleton, the brilliant but learning disabled heir to the Woolfoot Throne and Lands, can't even read properly yet. So, I try not to overshare. Still, he's just so funny, and maybe an agent will call and make him rich and famous if I tell about him, so here's some of what he has been up to lately.

First, a little background. One day last week it rained here in Biblical fashion. On that day, I was at work. When I returned home, the Understudy came outside (for the first time that day) and saw that the side door on the minivan had been left open, all day. Everything within four feet of the opened door was soaked. The next day, the van smelled bad. Really bad.

My kids watch lots of TV and the Understudy in particular is moved by commercials to want to buy things. Since she has no money, she wants me to buy these things. She is frustrated by my commitment to buying whatever is cheapest. She wants me to buy name brands, preferably heavily advertised things. She wants me to buy things that it is not clear any one should have or want. Like "Bagelfuls" and "Danactive" and air fresheners. After the car soaking incident, I agreed to buy a horking great spray bottle of "Febreze". This product is, as my kids could tell you, probably by reciting the commercial verbatim, is supposed to make bad-smelling fabrics smell better.

This morning, as I was trying to steam milk at our broken cappuccino machine, I felt something wet on my back. Shackleton was spraying me with Febreze

"Stop that!"

"It will make you smell better."

Then he sprayed the dog and chased her around the table saying. "I want to sniff you!" (Oversharing? It was the Febreze-splashed fur that he wanted to test, but even he knew this sounded sick-making).

Channeling Charlie Chaplin

The other night, while I was trying to read some blogs, Shack came down and asked me to find the top hat we bought for him at the Halloween store last year.

He didn't wear it for Halloween but we both liked the look of it so I bought it for him. Since I also like hat boxes, I had a good place for the topper and I told him where he could find it. Next, he wanted a shirt and tie and a blazer.

The only blazer he had was the one he wore at pre-school graduation (comically too small). His only ties are part of his school uniform and that wasn't the look he wanted. He found once-white dress shirt (also a uniform item) and contented himself with that. Then he asked for a golf club. I found one.

"OK," he said. "Now I need an assistant. Someone who won't cry."

Turns out he was trying to recreate a scene from a Charlie Chaplin movie The Idle Class that we saw here months ago. (The assistant had to be willing to be hit with the golf club).

Here's a bit of the movie - edited at the pace suitable to the audiences of 1921.

OK. I'm off. Happy fourth of July everybody! On that note, I was antique shopping very briefly today, just long enough to buy a vintage Union Jack for the pencil jar on my desk. The Understudy is fairly daring me to wave it at the parade tomorrow. Should I?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Happy Book Sale Season!

It has begun again. Libraries all over Vermont will be off-loading excess inventory, donations, and the un-checked-out at porch sales for the next month or so. My ardor has cooled a little this year because, well, I just have too much stuff, and too many books. But the bargains... Oh... the bargains.

And once in a while a treaure. Two books I rummaged from last year's sales netted about $225 on Ebay, which actually made last season profitable.

Kids and I hit our first sale of 2009 yesterday (and again today) at the splendid Goodrich Memorial Library in the local shire town, Newport, Vermont. Above are some great vintage horsey titles the Understudy picked out of the musty boxes. Did you read Misty of Chincoteague once upon a time? All us girls on Riverdale Road read Misty back in the 70s, in this edition, and dreamed of the wild horses we would adopt. Let's see, how many wild ponies could a quarter acre in the suburbs support - not counting the bit under the balcony where nothing could grow? Three? Four?

And National Velvet needs no introduction. (Once, Elizabeth Taylor was 14, unmarried, and had never screwed up a movie or appeared on the cover of a tabloid).

This edition is illustrated by Paul Desmond Brown who has been good to me, by supplying an original drawing I bought cheap at auction and an autographed copy of a horse stories book from the Stowe sale (bought for 50 cents and sold for $175). I also love his style, profits aside.

The other book is a great 1945 production (in compliance with wartime publishing restrictions, meaning the paper's a little flimsy). It's a compilation of stories and poems by really great writers (Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Rose Benet, etc) and has a few wonderful illustrations. E.g.:

"Foxhunting: The unspeakable, chasing the inedible." (As per Oscar Wilde) Well, maybe, but arent' the horses and their riders beautiful? I admit I would love a chance to wear that kit and have my picture taken next to the glossy neck of a chestnut hunter.

Stowe's sale starts next week.