In some ways, doesn't surrealism seem the most valid artistic response to the world we find ourselves in today? Hence Leonora Carrington's Bird Pong. And since we've all been sharing inspirational links, here's one more: Students of the Boston Conservatory in a display of musical and technological mastery as they perform Burt Bacharach's What the World Needs Now. But confinement at home need not restrict us to the virtual reality of the internet (and I do recognize the irony of saying so in a blog.) I came up with Bird Pong as a corollary to this post when I was thinking about a simple table-top exercise. It was devised by garden designer Walter Beck.
Picturing a World
An earlier post reproduces a drawing included in Julian Dowdeswell and Michael Hambrey's Continent of Antarctica. Today's image of the book's cover gives a taste of the breath-taking photographs found on almost every page. (I'm very glad I bought my own copy to pore over.) Continent also pointed me to Kim Stanley Robinson's near-future novel, Antarctica. Just before COVID-19 closed Massachusetts public libraries, I borrowed it. Robinson has hard-science, environmental, and political interests; he paces his complicated narratives well; and his characters are grown-ups, not space cowboys. I'm looking forward to it. Finally, I've also just discovered the highly informative, bountifully and beautifully illustrated AntarcticGlaciers website. Fiction, nonfiction, and website—in this case, a cool threesome! What are you reading and looking at now that we're all finding ways to use time well in extraordinary circumstances?
Up to now, many of us who blog have tried to offer cheering ways to occupy minds during this time of isolation and stress. As things worsen, a different approach is to seek out quiet consolations. On the cheering side, I have been searching for on-line versions of images reproduced in Jeremy Banks's Strangers and Pilgrims to file away their detailed depiction of everyday life. It gives me one of those pings! of pleasure to find a good, clear example like this one of Buytewech's Interior (the map, the clogs, the bedwarmer!). On the consoling side, this lovely domestic scene also offers a suggestion: the calming, meditative quality of lacemaking and knitting. Two friends who do needlepoint have reported that they are stitching a lot these days. May we all find the right activity to stay safe and sane.
Natasha Pulley's Watchmaker of Filigree Street is on my short list of novels to reread when I need to lose myself in a story, so I was delighted last fall to get wind of its sequel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow. Who could have foreseen it would be published just in time to provide diversion during a pandemic? (Well, one of her main characters, Keita Mori, could. Read the books and find out how.)
Another book that is helping me right now is the very scholarly Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners: Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation by Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs. It is a rich depiction of the intertwining history, politics, religion, personalities, daily life, and geography of Leiden as the Pilgrims knew it in the years leading up to 1620. Fit reading for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower.
Self-isolate, read, and support your local independent bookstore! In this specially difficult time for small businesses, bricks-and-mortar bookstores need help competing with That Great On-line Retail Giant. And they're responding. The Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass., for instance, is offering free shipping on most on-line orders as well as curbside pick-up. Why not check to see what the bookstore nearest you is doing? If you need help locating it, you can consult the IndieBound Indie Bookstore finder.
For these fraught times, the Museum Computer Network (MCN) has published The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Museum Resources, E-Learning, and Online Collections. To test it, I followed a link to the Barnes Collection, and whoopee! Charles Demuth's dancer kicked off my day to a good start. Let's all stay safe, stay sane, and use our cooped-up hours well.
Blog post alert: On an outdoor walk yesterday, a writer friend and I were talking about the difficulties of working on fiction during these unsettling COVID-19 times. She mentioned the storytellers in Boccaccio's Decameron. Now lo and behold, here comes this morning's History Blog post on the Uffizi Gallery's digital Decameron (in Italian). Stories—told at a safe distance—will be one way for individuals and institutions alike will have to get through the next few weeks. Stay well, try to use the time creatively.
Blog post alert: For International Women's Day, see James Gurney's recent post on the "White Rabbits," the female students of sculptor Loredo Taft who helped him fulfill a commission to decorate the Horticulture building at Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893. They all went on to distinguished careers themselves. (I love seeing what the working female sculptor wore).
Last night, I finished reading Angela Carter's Wise Children for the first time (not for the last!). Why hadn't somebody tell me about it before?!? It's a funny, naughty, bawdy, riotous, touching, vivid, Shakespeare-and-gin-soaked, lyrical, wise romp through 20th C theatrical history legitimate and otherwise, and that's just the start of a description. So read it. And for purposes of this blog (love your tools), take a look at a British Library site on the novel. We all work differently, but Carter's notebooks and approach to putting a book together are a joy to see.