Thursday, May 31, 2007

Run For Your Lives, It's Queen Anne

I guess we're going to have to explain ourselves right up front.

I'm not exactly sure how to explain Queen Anne architecture properly. It doesn't really have anything to do with Queen Anne, for starters. In America, we'd call furniture and architecture related to Queen Anne's salad days as Jacobean, or William and Mary style. Queen Anne is a Victorian era style, just to confuse things further. And to place the capstone of intellectual delirium tremens on this edifice of misnomers, Queen Anne architecture means something different in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

From about 1880 until World War I, Queen Anne was the pre-eminent style of architecture in America. It supplanted Second Empire. It had all sorts of subtypes, including generally the style we featured yesterday: Stick.

That's the Haas-Lilienthal House in San Francisco right there at the top of the page. It's a Queen Anne on steroids. I have older pictures of it, too, without the Volvos in the picture, and there's another Victorian wonder next door instead of the bland, shabby box you see off to the right.

Here's a closer look at the fabric of the place. The visual density of the wall surfaces is very high. You can see how there is a kind of dynamism of the grouping of the interior rooms that show through to the outside, rippling along the facades, jutting out and retreating here and there, each wrinkle or bulge an opportunity for embellishment. The houses look like they're dancing around on the foundation. How far we'd come from the staid rectangular symmetrical assemblages of rooms and the chaste Greek and Roman themes of the colonial styles:

We've lost the knack for laying on decoration like this. It's really hard to get it all on the house like that. Each layer of filigree is like upping the ante; and the proportions, placement, and prominence of each design elements affects the whole thing. It's like playing a piano. It's easier to be interesting playing with all ten fingers, but much harder to do than chopsticks.

We've lost all sorts of other knacks besides embellishment, too. The wrap around porch is a lost art, for one.
So we'll talk about Queen Anne for a few days. We'll have to divvy it up into Spindle Style, and Free Classic, and Mock Tudor, and Shingle Style and... well, pull up a chair. A Queen Anne chair, if you've got one.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sticking With Stick Style

A timber- Lumber that is nominally 5 inches or more in least dimension.

A plank- a heavy thick board, especially one 2 to 4 inches thick and at least 8 inches wide

A board-Lumber that is nominally less than two inches thick and two inches or more wide.

A stick- A long slender piece of wood

A Stick Style house:
Not "A" Stick Style house. More or less, it's "The" Stick Style House. the Carson House in Eureka, California. It's still there, too:

I literally am having trouble comprehending this shack. It's like the world's wedding cake or the hood ornament on the universe or something. The Library of Congress has some more pictures. The place has the effect on me that flashing lights have on people prone to epilepsy. I'm slack-jawed looking at it.


Click on the pictures and look at it large. It has an almost impenetrable amount of surface decoration. The effect is somehow airy, though.


William McKendrie Carson ran a lumber mill. A redwood lumber mill. Redwood is rare and unusual today in house construction, but it was the early equivalent of pressure treated wood. The heartwood from redwood is as impervious to rot and unattractive to bugs as the nasty greenish southern yellow pine treated lumber you're all familiar with now, giving you splinters on people's decks. Along with some types of cedar, it was used in places where rot would be a problem, like house sills and various exterior millwork. Thirty years ago I'd still see it used for here and there in that fashion.

Here's the good part: Just like many people in the building trades now, when things got slow at the millwork plant, Carson decided to give his employees something to do instead of laying them off. This is why all general contractors houses are elaborate and unfinished, generally. In 1885, he sent his workers to build him a house. And just to numb my mind further, since he had a lot of it on hand, of course, he had them make this whole house -- framing, siding, all those gew-gaws-- out of redwood.


We like to go to the Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, and poke around what passed for a summer cottage for the Vanderbilts. It's an enormous pile of marble hard by the Atlantic Ocean. I think it would be cheaper to build the Marble House now than the Carson house. After all, marble is just rocks. Redwood's really expensive. And marble doesn't need painting. I bet this does:

The inside is an insane riot of woodwork too, of course. Carson probably thought he saw plenty of redwood all day long at work, so the interior woodwork is made from an enormous lot of a wood called "primavera" that he had imported for the place. I'm sure the architect and the owner knew that redwood would make for a very dark, plain interior. Primavera is also called white mahogany. It's insanely rare and expensive now, too.


I could never live in the Carson House. I'd just sit in there, drooling a bit, and gape at the place, trying to conjure in my mind the scale you'd use to weigh the effort and material used to build this thing. A man's gotta go out from time to time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Impress Your Friends. Call It The Stick Style

[Editor's Note: We've been talking about American House Styles, if you just came in. We ran out of gas at the Second Empire about two weeks ago. We're going to press on like a fake nail]
(Author's Note: There is no editor. Raise your hand when you're tired of that joke.)

Look disparagingly at your companion. Affect a haughty tone. Rear up to your full height and drone the following through your nose:

My dear sir or madam. A Queen Anne? I think not. Anyone can see that is a Stick Style manse. Please refrain from offering your defective architectural surmises until you have educated yourself amongst the tribes of the Eastlakes. Harrumph.

The problem is that things are getting subtle. Queen Anne covers a lot of ground. To many, anything plainer than Second Empire after the Civil War is a Queen Anne. Not exactly.
We're still wallowing in the gothic, more or less, and in the picturesque. From about 1860 'til the turn of the 20th century, you could find the Stick Style from New England to San Francisco. Actually, mostly in New England and San Francisco. The first picture is the Westerfield House in San Francisco, for instance. There's a lot more like that there to this very day.

The Stick Style is like a bridge between the affectation of medieval gothic picturesque styles and the Queen Anne style which would blanket the United States from the 1880s until WW I. They're all mixed up together sometimes, and they share a lot of millwork styles, too. And there was a lot of millwork. Eastlake decoration is common. He was another bridge between the medieval and the modern.
The idea was to achieve a riot of surface patterns. They'd apply "stickwork" to the wall surfaces in all sorts of directions and widths and depths and patterns, some mimicking the timberwork of medieval facades, some just going with geometric intricacies. They all generally show a big, steeply pitched gable to the street, with decorative trusses in the peaks; or my favorite version has a great big tower. There's brackets and exposed rafter ends and Eastlake trim and polychrome painted surfaces going in every direction enough to make any prospective housepainter call his yacht broker.
And therein lies the problem. They could build them, but they couldn't keep after them. Little by little, or sometimes all at once, the detailing was stripped away and simplified because it was too labor intensive to keep up. You mostly have to recognize the style on the remaining examples by a sort of detective work -- a decorative timber truss on the steep gable; maybe some brackets at the front door. Here's a picture of one in Newport, Rhode Island I snapped while out walking this spring:
They were very exuberant, and the polychrome possibilities made them very picturesque, but eventually they became associated with a kind of dustcatcher broken-down haunted house vibe. You know, sorta like this:
The Victorians had all the fun. Did you speak French, bubbele?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Do Flowers Grow On Pork Chop Hill?


He gazes out of the photo, mute, enigmatic, not quite smiling, and speaks to me across the decades.

When I was a little boy, amusements were few and far between. Television was still in black and white for us, and after the reruns of Gilligan's Island and The Three Stooges, not much was on the idiot box, as my father called it.

I remember my father and me trying to watch a hockey game broadcast from the west coast featuring the California Golden Seals, who were setting a new low in sports sumptuary and getting pasted by our mighty Boston Bruins -- Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito and Pie McKenzie and... well, I can still recite all their names down to the most obscure, even Garnet (Ace to his friends)Bailey. On a thirteen inch black and white TV with rabbit ears. We might as well have used the Etch-a-Sketch.

Eisenhower's X-Box, the Etch-a-Sketch was.

And so it always seemed a real treat when we could wheedle our mother to drag out the elegant but battered silverware box, left from some set our family never owned, filled with the family photographs. The pictures were mostly black and white too, the current cutting edge of photography being Polaroid's prehistoric b&w instant photos. They'd come out of the camera, and you'd count to a now forgotten tempo, and pray, and pull off the cover paper to expose the image and stop the developer, and smear your clothes, and hope the picture was vaguely done.

We'd see the usual babies on the shag carpet, buns up; confirmation and communion suits that fit like either a tent or a rubber glove, never any degree in between; little girls in their Easter jumpers and patent leather shoes, with their mothers wearing a hat, a real hat, ready for church. Father, grim, unsmiling in his workday suit, a little shiny at the elbows and knees.

Those photos were only the littlest bit interesting after a while, because they were for the most part, well -- us. The exotic ones were always deeper in the pile, instantly recognizable as special by that magnificent sepia tone that photos used to have, and spalling and cracking like a fresco in damp cathedral.

There they'd be, the southern Italian or Irish immigrant faces, looking stoically at the camera, surrounded by extended family on a stoop in Cambridge or Dorchester or Roxbury Massachusetts, or perhaps Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They had their hard lives written all over their faces. But always calm looking. Serene, really; not introspective or egoist. And they looked into the lens in a way that we never do. Not at it, but through it.

Our parents would strain to remember all the names, and who did what and from where, and why and when. And I figure, with the small wisdom that I've accumulated with age, that when we pestered them too much about someone obscure, they made stuff up.

And then his face would turn up. Handsome, mysterious, forever young. Forte.

Who's that?

That's my brother Bobby, my mother would answer. And that was that.

I was young, and still in the thrall of my parents, and sensed it. Here is a place you do not go.

The years passed, and the TV was in color, and my wrists and ankles began to show from my hand-me-down cousins' clothes. And the box came out less often. But when it did, the tantalizing face, handsomer than all the others, undiminished by time or care, resplendent in a uniform, always caught your eye. He died before I was born I learned, by osmosis I think, I don't remember ever having the nerve to ask, and I'm sure it wasn't offered.

In Korea.

And the earth spun, and the seasons changed, and then I was a man.

One day, my mother came to me. She had a picture. it had lain stored and untouched for fifty years, coiled, and she couldn't unroll it without destroying it. We slowly, ever so carefully unrolled it, the flecks of black and white popping off, as I stared at the faces. Hundreds and hundreds of faces. Five rows, stretching right off the page, four feet long, all in identical infantry uniforms, except the six cooks dressed all in white. C Company 506- Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. Camp Breckinridge, KY. December 27, 1952.

And there was only four ways to stand out in that mob of faces. The cooks, of course. One man in the hundreds wears an officer's hat, and looks ten minutes older than the rest. One man is holding drumsticks over a military style snare drum. And in the very center, in the very front, one man holds the company colors on a lance. Two crossed muskets, a Capital "C" and a "506."

And he has the face that speaks to me.

Now when I was in college, on a lark, my friends and I went skydiving. We trained all day in a sweltering hangar in upstate New York amongst the farms. They strapped army surplus gear on us, hung us on straps depending from the hangar roof, and shook us around violently by our heels until we demonstrated that we could unbuckle our main chute from the straps on our shoulders, then pull the cord on our belly chute. Fun.

We climbed resolutely into a DeHavilland Beaver, which now seems to me an odd name for a plane, and knelt in rows in the fuselage. A few long minutes later we launched ourselves, some with difficulty, out the open hole in the side and into a whirlwind far over the patchwork quilt of the fields. A tether pulled our chute for us, and we drifted down and found a place with a liquor license.

I called my father, and told him what I had done. Expecting praise, I guess, or some such. And he called me, gently, the fool I was.

I protested: but you were in a bomber plane. They must have made you jump. And he told me, son, if that plane was on fire, filled to the brim with rabid rats, and piloted by a dead man, I'd still take my chances in the plane. And to jump from a perfectly good one, he said, is foolish. Click.

My father was in the Army Air Force. Ball gunner, hanging in a plastic bubble under a B-24J, Les Miserables, over the Pacific. Air Medal. Distinguished Flying Cross. After I pestered him enough, he once told me a sort of a story about the war. He reeled off the names, Tarawa. Pelelau, Kwajalein, Tinian. He mentioned, in an offhand way, that after some island had been bombed flat, they later landed on it. It looked like the island had been picked up ten feet, he said, then dropped. His CO told them that some planes were coming. On these planes were some people. They were coming from somewhere. They were going somewhere else. When the planes landed, my father and his compatriots were instructed not to talk to these men, or even about them; and if he said so much as hello to one of them, or said "boo" about them to anyone else, he would spend the remainder of the war in a military prison, incommunicado. My father lost his desire, if he had had any, to speak about those men. He surmised some of them later flew a plane named the Enola Gay.

My father seldom talked much about being in the military.

And my mother never talked about the brother in the photographs.

Now the picture, the coiled picture, was ruined. But then, we don't watch black and white TV any more, do we? My mother took that picture, and a bankroll, and had a necromancer or an alchemist or something at a digital photography studio restore it, perfectly, and make copies for all of us nephews. Mine hangs today over my kitchen table.

He watches over me.

I was forty years old. My mother told me, Uncle Bobby hated his real name.

His real name?

Francis, she said.

My middle name is Francis. I never knew.




(Editor's Note: Sippican Cottage will return on Tuesday. Have a pleasant Memorial Day Weekend)
[Author's Note: There is no editor]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Can I Do To Help?

Something is broken in American housing. I don't know how to fix it.

The problem we face is a good sort of problem to face. We are well housed. As far as I can gather, better than anywhere else on Earth. And no fair telling me you'd rather live in an apartment in Paris and eat baguettes from the corner bakery every day. You're rich if you live like that. People of very modest means can afford to live decently in the United States. That's what I'm referring to. Rich people can live well just about anywhere. I've been to Europe and seen how the lower middle class lives. Hint: hot water, clean water, working toilets, cooling and heating intermittent if not downright optional.

So the utilitarian aspect is more or less covered. But a house represents a lot more than running water. It is the symbol of a society. It's got a great big anima in it. It represents things, to and about its occupants, neighbors, community and country, planet. It's not just a box to live in. Or it shouldn't be. I'm afraid that's what it's becoming, though.

There have been various periods of boom and bust in American architecture. The most interesting work I ever did out in the landscape was always restoring things that had come and gone, and now come again. I liked places that are invested with the zeitgeist of their times. You can sort of feel it while you're banging on it.

I've offered an overview of American architecture here on this page. We got as far as Second Empire, and will return to that magnificent skein of building style vivisection shortly. But while I was doing it, going over it, writing about it, wallowing in it, I realized it was all being lost.

Not the particular items themselves, exactly. It's hard to tear down anything that's notable, or just plain old anymore without a picket line immediately forming in front of it. People often lovingly restore notable things now, and have enough funds to do it, too. That's not the problem.

We've lost our way in another way. It's the approach to building things that we've lost. Post-modernism has killed the soul of American architecture. And I'd like it back, please.

Post-modernism is the idea that everything is just an affectation, and so you can pull it apart and make little jokes out of the bits. I reject the approach, and not just in architecture. The problem with the Daily Show and Colbert is not that they are smarmy wags, it's that they derive their smugness from making fun of a establishment that no longer exists, if it ever did. Yes, everything sucks. But I hate to break it to you: You're the everything now.

Every radio station is "alternative" now. The problem is there is nothing much to be the alternative to anymore. Mindless oppositionism is stupid. A little stupid is fun. When the preponderance of anything is stupid, the fun's gone and it's just stupid.

Architecture in America has always been an assemblage of affectations. And don't kid yourself; the lack of ornamentation that was pursued as a fetish for the last 70 years by the modernist is neither modern nor a lack of fussiness. And listen up you rich ascetics: There's nothing fussier than trying to achieve absolute plainness.

So the 1860s church was not really a Greek temple, after all, it just used that affectation as a symbol. But what a symbol; what an affectation. They understood the meaning of the things they applied to the fabric of the buildings, and the proportions and materials and finish and everything. They didn't paste a bunch of Greeky crap on a weird box to get a laugh.

I'm growing sad that the average American house has become a three car garage with an enormous rubbery box of a house nailed on the ass end of it. We used to do better. We can do better again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Where Do You Take Your Children?

There's a fetish for hating children afoot.

That's not an exaggeration. If you want an opinion about children in restaurants, on airplanes, in movie theaters, pretty much any public place, scout the internet, and bring smelling salts. And don't bring more than one child, or you'll be reminded it's a not a clown car, lady.

The problem- and there is one- is not the children. It's the adults. I meant to type: "adults," with the quotation fingers going. There aren't any real adults involved.

There are two kinds of "adults" involved. One is the parents of children who do not know how to behave themselves in public, and the other is anyone that doesn't want to see a kid anywhere they go.

The second group is easy to place on the couch and figure out. They're jealous that they have to act adult -a little- and a kid gets a pass. They are like little children themselves, just bigger and pushier and equipped with credit cards. They have no better interpersonal skills than the hellion in the back seat on a long car ride, and can't stand to see anybody doing anything that they can't do. Real adults who see children misbehave in public places feel sorry for the children, not themselves.

The first group is just the second group, only they have their own children. And they have never bothered to teach their children how to behave in public, because they don't know how themselves. They're afraid to teach or enforce any standards of decorum for their children, as they know that means they'll be expected to adhere to them as well. We're all just big children living together in a house, undifferentiated, now, aren't we? I'm not foregoing R rated entertainment just because my kid's in the room. It's much easier to call anybody who calls for any standard of decorum a Nazi and do whatever I want.

When I was small, my parents brought me places. Serious places. We didn't all go to Disneyland in flip-flops and tatty t-shirts. We went to museums. We went to Mount Vernon. We went to the library three times a week. We went to Plimouth Plantation. Serious places like that. Many of them had a profound and life-long effect on me.

Don't get me wrong. We went to the ball game and threw peanut shells on the deck like everybody else, too, and things of that nature. And I'm not dumb enough not to understand that part of the allure of those serious places was undoubtedly that many of them were cheap -or free. But the very first things we learned were how to behave in public. And we were taught how to be polite and deferential towards others, especially adults. We didn't go to the Newport Mansions and jump on the beds. The idea of being polite and deferential to your parents is quaint now, apparently. Paying any attention to or displaying manners of any kind whatsoever to adult strangers is now a bizarro-world concept.

I brought my four-year-old to the Marble House in Newport once. The docent took one look at him and grabbed me by the arm and whispered: "Are you sure this is appropriate for him?" What they really meant was that it was assumed he wouldn't know how to behave himself, and so, well, beat it.

Why don't you ask him yourself? I said.

Do you want to go in the nice museum? You must be very quiet and not touch anything, okay?

His clothes were clean and not spangled with semi-scatological slogans or cartoon mice, and his finger was not in his nose. He stood up straight, looked her full in the face and politely said: "I'd like to see your museum and I know how to behave." In faultless diction. That was the end of the questions.

I found a pamphlet I had saved from the 1960s from a visit to Mount Vernon. I leafed through it, and I remember everything about that place. We were not wealthy people, and I can only imagine what it cost my parents to manage that excursion. As I said, we were poor, and I was young, but I can't imagine my parents were ashamed of me. I know I wasn't ashamed of them.

(The picture is Athena protecting the muses of Architecture, Painting, and Sculpture by John Singer Sargent in the magnificent Museum of Fine Arts in Boston Mass. My parents brought me there when Johnson was president.)

Update: Pat at Stubborn Facts has some additional thoughts on the matter, with many interesting comments here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Planting Season

We have a tradition here at the Sippican Cottage. And the tradition has been born and tweaked and upheld for over a decade now, and has offered me a perspective on what tradition really means, if only in a small way.

Neither my wife or I had any idea what to do in a garden when we were first presented with the miserable patch of ground outside our exurban door. Our childhood experience was suburban, but our families, like most suburban families of the last generation, were essentially of the urban mindset, if not location. They moved from third floor walkups to suburban ranches, but there was more than a little bit of the rented flat about them forever.

My own father was not a gardener, by any stretch. He mowed the patches of wan green in between the vast stretches of brown on our lawn like a good citizen, but that's as far as it went. He always had the air about him of a man who should have a newspaper and a pot of tea on a table surrounded by cobblestones -- he's no farmer.

My mother is much more adept in the garden, but I got none of it. There was always something of the urban in her gardening too; more windowbox gaudy than sedate pastoral charm. I was of no use to her as a child, and only learned the simplest things about planting: mix dung and peat in the hole and water it. It was enough, in a way.

I read a lot of gardening books. Some were very serious. You can tell a serious gardening book; it doesn't have any pictures.

The mass of books I looked at, the ones with nothing but pictures, had the whiff of the fast food restaurant to them. The old advice: "If the menu has pictures of the food on it, it's not likely to be haute cuisine" applies to gardening as well.

There's a kind of cognitive dissonance to most gardening in the suburbs, because the whole layout of the houses and the surroundings is flawed, generally, and the visual confusion it engenders leads to a kind of Home Depot delirium tremens in landscape design as well. The home might be put on a kind of country manor house lot, but looks like an urban design, or a home that belongs in a desert is stuck in a jungle, and so forth. Fill in your own stucco nightmare here. A sort of incoherence seeps into the proceedings, garden included.

We've murdered enough plants to get Gaia knocking on our door with a mob of woodland nymphs with pitchforks and torchs, while we tried to figure out what to do, where. But while we are not born wise, we learn -- if haltingly -- what works, and what looks appropriate, and what helps to blur the distinction between in and out, and porch and lawn, and lawn and woods, and woods and world. Just between you and me, the books without the pictures help some, but the beating the world gives you trying desperately to grow things is the real education. I'd skip the Feng Shui picture books altogether, if I were you.

So every year, we put the geraniums in the pots on the front step, and in the window box on the shed, with some vinca vine to trail down and wave hello in the breeze a bit. We divide the hostas and put them around the yard, in the shade, here and there. We tend to the rhododendrons and barberrys we had the presence of mind to plant in the right place a decade ago, getting dividends we earned the hard way which almost banish the cruel thoughts of all those shrubs that did not survive an immediate razoring to the ground by hungry deer. We mow the grass in gentle curves, as nature intended, not laid out as if by laser like a farm plot. We hang a few dipladenias outside windows we want hummingbirds to favor, and we steal the tall phloxes' freeseeded progeny and the bottomless well of pachysandra one plant provides, and we know it will work, and we know how to work it. We caress the lamb's ear to remind it to carry on. We leave great swaths of our property wild, and only clean out the buffer between, a little, to provide the transition.

Tradition is a kind of faith; you trust it will work because you trust it will work. I bet many traditions, like ours, are born every day. Sometimes you wish that someone could have told you what to do, instead of having to figure it out yourself; but would you have listened anyway, if the book did not have pictures?

Monday, May 21, 2007

You Could Put Your CD Jewel Cases In Them, I Suppose

I've made a hearty handful of China closets. Some freestanding, some built in. It's a fascinating bit of architecture.

People don't know what to do with them anymore, generally. The fill them up with all sorts of things now. The idea of having a magnificent set of dishes that are displayed until someone worth setting them in front of shows up for a meal is as dead as a Pharaoh, I guess. They seem to mostly be filled with dishes too gaudy or valuable to ever be eaten from, or television sets or something else incongruous. Let's resurrect them, right now. My antique Flintstones juice glasses with the lead paint on them should look stunning in there.




That last one is Maine.

Maine wins.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Sip Of Dad's Beer

It's grey and gloomy here. And I'm stuck in the concrete workshop anyway. But the Red Sox game will be on the radio to pass the time. I don't care if they win or lose, really. Never much did. In my youth only little children and the odd addled adult would plaster their lives with the memorabilia of an athletic team. Baseball cards and autographs were fun, and so worthless. You can't be both.

My mind drifts back to the game wafting out of the crummy AM transistor radio on a lazy summer afternoon while my father mows the nasty brown patch of grass he kept in front of our house. We sit occasionally for a short moment in the shade of the big pine together on cheap lawnchairs made from aluminum tubing and nasty fibrous strapping that cut into your legs.

Ken Coleman's voice would wash over us, and the polyglot names of each of the batters would come in their turn, and Dad would wordlessly give me a sip of his beer right from the cold, steel can.

I wonder if my own son will ever remember anything so fondly about me as that.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pelargonium? I Don't Think So (Revisited)

[Editor's Note: This is a re-run from a year ago]
{Author's Note: There is no editor}
We're simple gardeners here at the Sippican Cottage. While we share your admiration for those whose gardens are overburdened with exotic cultivars, and on whose lips Latinate names trill, we just don't want to pay too much attention to what we're doing.

There's more to it than that for me, perhaps. To be an expert, you have to know so much about something that you can't even look at it for the pure joy that's in it anymore. If you've ever been in the office of a really accomplished specialist doctor, you can always spot them looking at you -- eventually, if not right from your greeting -- as the bundle of bones and guts you are. As they say in the mafia movies, it's not personal, it's strictly business.

I worry about doctors that take too much of an interest in me personally anyway. I'd be in a tavern if I wanted commiserating companionship, after all. And the medicine in the tavern is more efficacious, generally. The best and most competent doctor I ever met told me the worst news in the most businesslike manner, and left the room to leave me alone with my wife. He tended to his business, and left us to tend to ours. We need more of that, and not just in the medical profession.

I can't enjoy recorded music if it's a selection I've learned to play myself. I see the bones and the guts of it, arrayed like cadavers in the music morgue, when I should be getting the lilt. I have gone way out of my way to avoid ever deconstructing any of the music of a certain soul singer, because I never want the magician to show me his trick after he performs it, and I don't want to peek either. I don't want to ruin it by understanding it.

I don't want to ruin it by understanding it. Hmm. Music. Gardening. Love.

It's a geranium. It not the genus Pelargonium of the Kingdom of Plantae of the Division of Magnoliophyta of the class Manoliopsida of the order Geraniales from the family of Geraniaceae.

I think when the sun comes out, I'll sit with my wife on that brick step next to the pots of geraniums, and open the window a little so we can hear, indistinctly perhaps, Al Green sing on the box.

End of story.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Desperate End-Stage Monomaniac Cape Cod Fireplace Delirium

Yesterday, astoot reader and commenter Pastor Jeff remarked on our Cape Cod fireplace photos:
The third one from yesterday looks a lot like my in-laws' den in Wisconsin.

You can feel the room from the photo -- the squeak of the leather, probably a slightly musty, comfortable smell, the crackle of the fireplace, an odor of smoke, possibly the feel of a cool glass in one's hand, the rustle of a newspaper or the turning of the page in a novel already read many times. Very nice -- a room for quiet reading or pleasant conversation -- a hobbity sort of room.
That's a lovely picture he's painted there. Makes you want to go to Wisconsin and go fishing and get a sunburn and so forth. But I'm not sure it's very Cape Coddy.

Well, of course it can be Cape Cod recently, but it's because we're living in the shambles of an earlier civitas. The original fireside of the Cape Cod house has a spare, almost chaste quality to its appearance. There's a sort of nobility to the plainness of it; a kind of luxurious asceticism. Grim, humorless bonhomie. They'd put out traps for hobbits.

The scene our internet friend has described reminds me more of the freshwater version of the fireside we've got around here; Lake Winnepesaukee. Egad, don' t get me started about that. Let's have Cape Cod one more day.



And out into the world, in our crooked way, we go:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Full-Blown Obsessive-Compulsive Cape Cod Fireplace Syndrome

I'm so far down this rabbit hole at this point, the rabbits are talking Mandarin. I can't help myself. I want to look at fireplaces from Cape Cod until ten suns wink out. Or until I get to Race Point. Whatever comes first.







Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I Can't Help Myself -More Cape Cod Fireplaces

I'm in a sort of Cape Cod Fireplace Psychosis now. I can't think of anything else.

I came in at the tail end of Cape Cod as a sort of summer sinkhole of tourists and a desolate spit of sand, fish, and cranberries the other three seasons of the year. I remember distinctly walking along the little aretes between the bogs to get from my grandmother's tiny cottage to the little local market. The bogs are all houses now, and there's a supermarket there instead of a tiny store.

Everybody lives everywhere now. I don't begrudge anybody the things I want for myself. But it was piquant to summer among the scrub pines and sit in the old houses by the fire in the early evening, cast away from the scrum of everyday workaday life.