hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Perfected Technology

I mentioned the other day that people give quilters bags of fabric. People also give them sewing machines. A few years ago, I was able to send off two or three old but perfectly usable machines in my possession to an organization that was trying to help out tailors and seamstresses in a small country that was going through a bad political period, including riots and fires. Mostly, such moments to transfer machines don’t come along, and the machines just stack up.

You might have an old sewing machine around because you bought a new one, although sometimes you can trade the old one in for a new purchase. Or you might have an old machine around because you bought it at the thrift store for no known reason other than the fact that it was a perfectly good 40-year-old machine for $10. Or you might have an old machine around because someone—friend, relative, or stranger—felt their old machine needed a good home and you seemed the local version of a sewing machine shelter.

Currently, I am home to three pretty new machines (under 5 years old) and maybe six old machines ranging from 10 to 70 years old. All of them work just fine. Three of the old ones are in active use for one reason or another; the others are awaiting their next moment in the sun.

The reason that these machines gather up in my home (and, similarly, in the homes of other serious quilters) is that the mechanical sewing machine is what I think of as a ‘perfected technology.’ That is, it does what it does perfectly and any improvement will involve its doing something else and if you don't need that 'something else,' you don't need a different machine.

Thus, at some point after WW II, the zig-zag stitch electric sewing machine replaced the more common straight stitch machine (although the zig-zag stitch machine patent dated back to the 1873 it was not commonly available until much later). A machine that does only straight stitching is less desirable, generally, than a machine that does both straight and zig-zag when you are making clothing, for example, as most machine owners were. Quilts, by contrast, can be made very nicely with only a straight-stitch machine.

I mention this because the other day a neighbor dropped off an old sewing machine that she thought I might be interested in; the alternative was for it to go to the dump, she said. (Not even to the thrift shop!) I took it in the way you might take in a stray puppy or kitten and found that what I was receiving was the most famous straight-stitch machine of all time: a Singer Featherweight 221. Introduced to the world in the middle of the depression (1933) at the Chicago World’s Fair, it became the most widely sold portable sewing machine ever made. It’s estimated that 3.5 million were sold worldwide. And that’s because it was a simply perfect machine, given what it did.

And, if my experience is any indication, unless they went into a landfill, they’re all out there still, somewhere, still capable of working beautifully, of doing what they were made to do. I learned to sew on my mother’s Featherweight, acquired in 1937 when she and my grandmother each bought one for $100. I still have my grandmother’s Featherweight and most days I use it, and have over the past 50 years since she gave it to me. It has never had any substantial repair. When it needs cleaning, oiling or lubricating, I do it myself easily in less than 15 minutes. It runs perfectly.

So now I have two of them, but this second one is a problem. The problem is this. Nobody wants to throw anything away, but once they have made the decision to get rid of it, they would like it to stay gone. They may not welcome the recipient saying to them, ‘You know, you should really keep this.’ It’s the stray puppy that you successfully talked someone else into parenting coming back to your door, saying, ‘I missed you!’.

On the other hand, a Featherweight is a sought-after machine and you can’t go to a store and buy one: they stopped making them almost forty years ago. There are maybe four of them for sale on Ebay right now, ranging from $250-$400 plus shipping. Quilters love Featherweights and would love to have this one. There’s both a money market and a heartfelt longing market for this machine. If it were mine (and it may be), I would give it to someone who longs for a Featherweight; but maybe my neighbor would love to put it on Ebay and sell it; but also, maybe, my neighbor would not like to have this machine back on her hands to deal with.

I sent my first computer (a Kaypro) to the disposal unit long ago. Nobody is missing it. Not a perfected technology at all. But here’s this little 12-pound sewing machine, still doing beautifully, decades and decades after it rolled off the assembly line. No reason to suppose it won’t still be running just fine after a century. It's got to have a home.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Memorable Times

We have just said goodbye to the last of our children/grandchildren visitors for the summer. Always good to have them come, sad to have them leave, and then we lie down and take a long rest. This last visit featured accounts of all the recent animal mayhem, of course, as well as a bear sighting. While walking back from the beach, a couple of blocks from our house, they found themselves coming up the road while the local bear was going cross the road. Great excitement all round!

Mayhem continues in our life as a heron arrives at the frog pond to consume the frogs (2) and a host of goldfish. Of course, they’re always at risk; it’s like leaving chickens around for coyotes and raccoons. But you can’t very well put the goldfish from the pond in a bowl every night, the way you put chickens in their coop (or their ‘chicken vault,’ as my son refers to his daughter’s chickens’ very safe night-time abode). And even if you could or did, the herons are out looking in the daytime. In fact, the fish are probably pretty safe at night. It’s the day-flying herons that are the menace. And were not even used to thinking of herons as menaces. That is, I suppose, the trouble with romanticizing the natural world. There is a great chain of eating that we have sort of lost touch with…at least as participants. Well, not that we don’t hold our place in that great chain of eating, but we have lost touch with the fact that we’re in the chain. It’s more like, ‘well, they’re eating each other out in the fields, whereas we are going to a nice restaurant where it's called cuisine not animals.’

This past spring we watched about 5 DVD’s worth of the BBC’s Planet Earth, which had wonderful photography but the most tedious narration in the history of the movies, with its endless, ‘Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Look! There comes a big animal to eat this cute little baby-sized animal.’ More recently, we’ve been watching The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer, which have a different format for their mayhem. The ones we’ve seen so far have tended to focus on a world in which objects take on a life of their own, and that life is not, necessarily, one that bodes well for people. Maybe we’re just in a time when we humans feel particularly threatened. Svankmajer is one of the most famous animators in the world (though not well known in the U.S.), and his stop-motion work is absolutely amazing, though a tad on the dark side. This is not Pixar or Disney, certainly.

We watched about a half-dozen of these short pieces with the visiting 12-year-old grandson and, although he allowed as he wasn’t sure at all what they were about (I had warned him this would likely be the case), he was very taken with them. Or led us to believe he was. Who knows with twelve-year-olds? But perhaps this is the role of the grandparent: to astonish, or at least to be memorable or to cause memorable things to happen. (Also to serve a lot of cuisine.)

When he’s forty, he can look back on the visit to the grandparents during which he watched weird Czech animated films and heard about herons eating the frogs and goldfish and saw a bear, right in front of him. You do what you can…

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Law, Order, and Finance

“Hope is about 100 miles (160 kilometres) from Point Roberts, Washington state, the last place Jenkins was reported to have been seen before entering Canada. Police believe he took a speedboat from Blaine, Washington, across a bay to Point Roberts, Wash., and then walked across the Canadian border.” Thus reporteth the Associated Press.

Point Roberts is now so famous that I have had two California friends/relatives get in touch with me to find out about how we’re doing. That is, have we survived the brief visit to Point Roberts of some Calgary guy who is alleged to have killed some Hollywood model after appearing on a TV reality show. Well, with that kind of drama, I suppose Point Roberts is a natural next step on one’s escape route. And then a stroll across the border into Canada before going on to Hope to commit suicide. I guess Hope would be the next natural step, although Bountiful might be an alternative choice. All that border guarding and this is the result? A Canadian guy who has inspired a manhunt takes a speedboat to Point Roberts and then walks across the border? I presume he was not traveling with stone fruits or contraband beef.

[Later addition: It occurs to me that if he knew enough to get to Point Roberts from Blaine, he might have known enough to walk across the border at some locale NOT the border station.]

I guess we were lucky to have been up here in the Sunshine Coast so we didn’t have to risk being stuffed into the trunk of a car or whatever by the alleged Mr. Jenkins.

During the same interval, or a little more, the plucky little Sterling Bank has come to yet another crossroads that has left it looking unclear about the next step on its journey. Early this year it announced no dividend for the common shareholders. Last week, alas, it had to announce that it was not going to pay any dividend to its preferred shareholders either, nor to its junior debt holders, and its fans responded by knocking it down another 20+ percent. Now, at barely half the price of Citigroup, it looks like it has a chance to get back to its low of $1.01. That’s a destination that sounds a little Hopeless. On the upside, it hasn’t yet received a ‘cease and desist’ order from the FDIC, which means it is not on the FDIC list of 300 deeply troubled banks. That drama continues.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Point Roberts Rules!

What we are festivating right now on the Sunshine Coast is Fibre Arts. This past week was the tenth annual Fibre Arts Festival, which includes classes, exhibits, merchandising, and evening parties to celebrate all things fibrous. And this would include the arts/crafts of woodworking, paper arts, quilting, art quilting, knitting, spinning, weaving, needlework, felting, crocheting, wearable arts, and rugmaking. Except for the woodworking, it is largely a lady activity, I’m afraid. I’m sorry I won’t live long enough to see such work not considered women’s work, hobby activities. It is possible that no one will ever live long enough, I suppose.

I’m not sure whether it’s the ‘women’s work’ category that drives the sponsors/organizers to need to have prizes for all those categories of work, but whatever it is, if you go to the exhibit, you are urged to fill out a ballot in which you get to designate the one thing in all this panoply of wonders that you think is the very best. How it is that you calculate that an exquisitely built wooden train is more best than an exquisitely felted unicorn and wizard I cannot begin to imagine, so I always throw away this ballot without forcing my little brain to tackle such perplexity.

The Festival does have independent judges, however, whose task is to decide, at least within the categories, which are the best and the almost best and the very nearly almost best and the slightly not as wonderful as the very nearly almost best. Even here, I’m really not all that sure as to how a well-made 8-foot-on-a-side Irish Chain quilt can be determined to be slightly better or slightly worse than a well-made 15”x24” place mat, or how a beautifully made Fair Isle Sweater is better than a beautifully made (and funny) pair of socks. But we can leave that to the judges who, I presume, sleep well at night.

In any case, there were about 70-80 interesting fiber pieces of all descriptions and well-madedness and well-designedness on display. And anyone who was lucky enough to be in town here and had the time to spend an hour or two looking at what these women (and a few men) had wrought, would have had a day well spent. But what makes this time-spending slightly more relevant than the time spent at the showings of all the other shows around at this moment, in one town or another, in one country or another, is that the first prize in the Art Quilt category was given to the quilt in the photo above which is none other than a representation of Point Roberts back in the days, many thousands of eons ago, when Point Roberts was but an island button, with no visible connection to what was to become Richmond and Vancouver, and when Tsawwassen was under the water, which of course prohibited it from having strip malls of any sort. (Also: no border station.)

The maker of the quilt is Rose Momsen of Point Roberts. And further to add to P.R.’s PR, my quilt received an Honorable Mention in the same category. Its photo is at the bottom and actually makes no internal reference to Point Roberts, being a story about a courtroom drama. The thing is, in Point Roberts, we have drama, but no courtrooms.

Congratulations, Rose! You did well by our home town.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Animal Mayhem

In the past two weeks, there’s been considerable animal mayhem up here on the Sunshine Coast. This is the time of year when it usually happens if it’s going to, but this was quite a bit more destruction than usual. The customary bear, messing around with garbage a few miles from us, found itself on the wrong side of a gun and, although he is no longer available for shooting, his pal apparently is, as a second bear has been seen eyeing the same trash can area subsequent to the initial bear removal. (This is, perhaps, a bigger trash problem than that seen down in Point Roberts?)

Then, a few days ago, a cougar was fatally shot after having removed 5 llamas and 5 sheep from the living livestock/pet world inventory of Roberts Creek in three separate incidents/properties (2 llamas, 3 llamas, 5 sheep) over two weeks. The cougar weighed in at 135 pounds and at least some people say they have spotted a second, bigger cougar in the same area.

Llamas are pretty big and have hooves, surely, so I’m sort of surprised that cougars would attack them. But I guess they look like prey and probably have in their native world very little experience with big cats. A lot of loss and a lot of worry from people in the neighborhood. My first thought was that a llama probably looks about the same size as me to a cougar. Not a pleasing thought. They have also had trouble with cougars over in Squamish (near Whistler) this summer. Maybe the dry spell? Maybe more construction of houses and loss of cougar habitat? Well, whatever the reason, the outcome is not likely to be a boost for the ‘live and let live’ ethic. And not likely to be an improvement in the quality of life of cougars, either.

Our bear is around, according to my neighbors who had him strolling through their back yard this week. I’ve given up composting anything but plant stuff so as not to encourage him to be dealing with food in our yard but the trees all round are beginning to fill up with ripe apples so it’s hard to discourage the bears from coming round with that attraction. And cougars? I don’t know what they want (other than livestock), but I’m definitely hoping that we don’t have any of it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Indoor Orcas

When you are a quilter exposed to the public, the public tends to give you things. As far as I can tell, every household in the world has a closet where it keeps bags of special fabric. Might be leftovers from a couch re-cover, scraps from a dance recital, or remnants from bridesmaid dresses. One way or another, it’s something that had enough meaning in its original use to make it not possible just to let it fall to the trash or the thrift store. And, eventually, much of it comes to quilters.

I have had virtual strangers arrive at my door with a small bag of black tulle with embossed flowers, suitable for some part of very fancy evening wear; with a bag filled with 2 tweed jackets and 2 fabric purses, including one that was entirely covered with gold sequins; with a carefully folded two-yard piece of batik the owner had bought on foreign travel and had never found a use for, but who was now filled with the conviction that I, somehow, will find for her fabric the higher purpose it deserves. And I try to fulfill those beliefs. It’s all great fun, a chance to talk to people about fabric and their attachment to it, and a chance to get some excellent fabric that I might never, otherwise, run into to. Sometimes it’s even more than that, discoveries of things I’m delighted to discover.

So it was two weeks ago at the Art Walk when a couple came up to me to tell me that they had a bag of fabric they thought I might be able to use for the quilts with people, specifically, for the skin parts of the people in those quilts. We talked, I took down their address, and got round to stopping by their house a few days later to see what they had.

They did have the fabric (leftover from pillows for the couch…and a lot of it: they must have planned for more pillows than they got around to having made), but they also had orcas. In fact, this house was all things orca. It's a 2-story house on the south-facing beach in Point Roberts and, as it turns out, there are two separate telescopes trained on the water to catch sight of any passing orca or orca pod. There are photographs of orcas, paintings of orcas, and stone collage/sculptures of orcas.

The photo at the top is of the orca outside the main door, about 6 feet tall. It is granite with naturally-colored beachstones and shells forming the background. The second photo is over the stove, and is a 'portrait' of J-pod, one of the orca pods that travel by us in the Georgia Strait, and whose members, I was told, tend to stick very close together. The third--heron--panel, made by the same method as the door orca (and the driveway orca, of which I don't have a photo) is a panel in the shower/bath, again, very large. All three were made by the householder whose wife was offering me the fabric. The householder's line of work was software, and these were definitely not part of that work.

Yet another example of knocking on a door in Point Roberts only to find things/people/events that you didn’t know were there, but are very happy to know are there. I try to imagine doing this in Los Angeles, e.g., and I’m sure that there are lots of unusual things behind those doors--some of which I definitely wouldn’t want to see--but I suspect there are a higher percentage of the delightful kind in Point Roberts, especially the kind that people have made themselves out of a need to create. Or at least it pleases me to think so.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Do You Really See?

What is life like in Point Roberts and the Roberts Creek area of the Sunshine Coast in B.C.? There are a lot of ways to approach this, and I use (mostly) words to try to write about it in this blog. One tends to get one’s own life deeply intermingled with Point Roberts’ life in such a presentation but I have come to realize that, at least for me, that’s inevitable.

In a very different way, Ed has taken to capturing his/Point Robert’s/Roberts Creek’s life visually. In his ‘Pick of the Week,’ he offers up a weekly sighting. You can see it here.

Carol Fuegi's current exhibit at The Blue Heron in Point Roberts (Gulf Road) is another place to see a set of gorgeous photographs--of the Pacific Northwest, in her case. For a small exhibit, the range is impressive. Some pieces are deeply dreamed; others exist in extraordinary realized detail. You'll have to get out of your house to see her work, but both these photographers are showing work that is well worth seeing, and especially if you want to practice your own skills at seeing: what do you see in what they see?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

End of Summer

The most recent batch of children and grandchildren have come and gone; the house has been re-ordered, the laundry and ironing all done again, beds and bathrooms restocked with linens and towels, the larder replenished, and we are now ready for the next and final set of children/grandchildren visitors. All over the Point, that appears to be the case: there are lots of cars parked in front of individual houses, the grocery store is selling enormous quantities of food to tourists who may come down just to eat, and Dylan’s seems to overflow with people holding ice cream cones in their hands. Across the road from us, the big field behind the house is filled with tents that are in turn filled with that house’s children and grandchildren who are having barbeques and foot races and bicycle riding.

We are all exhausted from so much company, perhaps, so much festivity. Which is to say that Labor Day is fast approaching and everyone under the age of something much less than 70 is on his or her way back to school. Which is to say that the new year is about to begin.

And what will the new year bring us? More strange weather? More disturbed plants? We have begun to pick two kinds of apples from our apple trees (jonagolds and transparents) and both have hollow cores. Said to be caused by excessively hot weather, but it seems very unlikely that hot weather was afflicting these apples at the point at which their cores were forming. I cut these apples in half, and right in the center is a 1.5-2 inch hollow sphere wherein no seeds can be found, nor anything else either. The Japanese knot weed, which normally puts out its flowers in September is putting them out in August. The rest of the plants, which normally wither in September or October are pretty much done with their withering as a result of the long dry/hot spell we had in July and August.

It used to be that the garden was a refuge from the strangeness of the world. Now the garden seems to be echoing that strangeness with its own strangeness. It is comforting that the one zucchini plant I have grown has overcome everything else in my small vegetable garden area and is producing squash as if it was the last chance it would ever have to produce squash. Which is to say that it is acting like a normal zucchini.

And the neighbors, with their exquisitely organized and cared for garden, are bringing us exquisitely arranged platters of their excess vegetables. This is also normal for this time of year.

And, finally, the County is reported to be considering new zoning for rural areas like Pt. Roberts (well, there is really no rural area quite like Pt. Roberts, but rural areas more generally). The new and stunning proposal would permit, outside of the ‘downtown’ core, only one house per 10 acres. This is likely to be very unhappy news for all those with large landholdings (and there are quite a few such areas and landholders here) who were planning to get rich either more or again by building a lot of houses once there was somebody in the world interested in buying a house. But more cheerful news for those of us like, say, those who live on my street, where a sign just went up that an 8-acre plot of currently forested land is now being made available to the masses in the form of 8 lots.

So, if we can just get enough rest, we’ll be looking forward to the new year. I hope.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Library Infamy

I am a big library fan, have been ever since I learned to read in the very early 40’s in Pocatello, Idaho. In those days, lots of people (including my family) had few books in their houses because books were yet a luxury item. (And by few, I mean literally two or three books: a Bible, a dictionary, and a cookbook or two.) Once I learned to read, I also learned that I could overcome that limitation because the library brought me a whole world of books.

And thus it was that of a summer Monday morning, the 5-year-old me walked down to the local library in that small town to find three books—the most the library would let me check out--in the children’s library. This tiny, two-room library was in the basement of the real library, which (adults only admission) featured three big rooms and many more books. Once I had checked out my three books, I went back home as fast as I could and got to reading. My plan was to get these three read before the library closed and return them to the library in order to get new ones for the evening. At that age, the books I fancied were short ones, so by 3 o’clock, I was back at the library ready to carry out my plan, whose purpose was to ensure that I was never without a freshly unread book.

Upon arriving at the library, however, I was informed by the somewhat disapproving children’s librarian that the library did not allow me to check out and return books on the same day because I couldn’t possibly have read them all already. The library required me to keep those books out at least until the next day. Which I did, returning the next morning for more. But now fully aware of the possibility of crossing the library’s wants and needs, indeed of disappointing the library.

That is my first memory of coming a cropper at the public library. But it is not my last such memory. When I was ten, I received a special dispensation from the head librarian to be allowed to check books out of the upstairs, big, adult library. The books were more numerous and much longer and by then I was inclined to reread a book as soon as I had finished it. So instead of getting books back too quickly, I found myself bringing them back not quickly enough.

One day, my mother greeted me with the unhappy information that she had been at the library and found my name in the posted list on the wall at the main desk. The list was the names of those who were not loved by the lord nor the library because they had too many overdue books. And there I was: a child who had brought shame upon herself and her family and whose shame was recognized and broadcast by The Library itself. For many months, I could scarcely bring myself to go up those library steps for fear of finding some new way in which I had disappointed The Library.

I write about this because this past Tuesday, I saw both my name and my face again on the wall of a public library, along with the names and faces of the other members of the quilt group here in Point Roberts. This was on the occasion of the Point Roberts Library receiving the quilt we had made for it. The reception was wonderfully attended, with perhaps fifty people there in addition to a dozen of us quilters. There were gifts and cakes and tea and coffee and a lovely presentation speech by Lucy Williams, and much taking of photographs.

A problem with having public events in a library is, of course, that the books take up too much space. So it was crowded; nevertheless, we were all mighty pleased to be in that situation. I was also, however, sorry that my mother--dead almost a decade,--would not know that at last I had managed to get my name on a library wall under honorable circumstances.

The reception also honored Kris Lomedico’s 25th anniversary at the library. If I know anything about Kris as a librarian, it is that she would never have told me I couldn’t return books the same day I took them out. In fact, she would probably have stopped what she was doing and helped me pick out three more for the evening’s read.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Blogging

There have been some interesting articles this past year on blogging, as some long-time bloggers begin to reflect upon what they’re doing and why, as well as what it means to them. The best one I’ve read is by Andrew Sullivan called ‘Why I Blog.’ Sullivan, of course, is a political blogger and that is, it seems to me, a very different kind of blogging from what I do here, which is a more personal blog, but much of it I could relate to.

The bloggers have become a clear presence in the world and the tension between political bloggers and political journalists is very much a live issue. About personal blogs, however, much less is said or known. I did read somewhere recently that it is estimated that only 4% of all the many, many millions of blogs out there included a post written within the past four months. Which doesn’t surprise me. Easy to start, hard to keep up. Lots of dead blogs.

But today I noted for the first time a novel (Glover’s Mistake) that features a blogger as its main character. He’s a lonely and timid guy, but in his blog he’s ferocious and fearless and as the plot works its way out, he becomes what the reviewer calls a disaffected blogger, ‘searching not for things to love but a place to put his rage.’

I thought about this quite a bit today because I have certainly had a goodly amount of anger about the state of things over the past decade and change. I’m old, of course, so I’m entitled to become a crank, but I am taking this book review as a reminder that there is much to love out there and, if I am furious about some of the less lovable parts, perhaps good to keep at least some of it to myself.

Yesterday it was cold and rainy; today it is hot and sunny. It’s good to have variety.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Marking the Border

We went down to check out the new trail from the bluff to the beach on the northwestern corner of Point Roberts at Boundary Marker Park yesterday. I think it’s been there for awhile, but this was the first time I’d tried it. It’s certainly a great improvement going down with its broad, switchback trail, but it looked like more of a challenge than I thought my knee might like on the way back up. Thus, Ed and the (younger) visitors made their way back up to the car, while I walked alone down the beach to Gulf Road where they picked me up.

It’s a lovely beach walk (one of the Point’s more special hidden treasures) as long as the tide isn’t too high. It wasn’t; in fact it was very low, as the tides have been recently. There were little pools closer in here and there, but mostly the swimming ducks were a long way out. Nevertheless, on a spectacularly beautiful summer day, not too hot, not too cold, not too breezy, not too anything, and with the Point apparently still full of tourists, I was the only person on that long stretch of beach. That’s the kind of thing that amazes me about this place—how isolated one can be here, even when the place appears to be hosting crowds.

About twenty to thirty minutes of walking had me probably half-way to Gulf. Only then did I see anyone; a woman of indeterminate age, sitting up at the top of the beach, on a log, just looking at the water. I walked fairly close by, offered a greeting, and she responded by asking where I was heading. I told her what I was doing and she asked about the new path, which she hadn’t known was there. She said that she had come down the steps to the beach. I didn’t know what steps she was talking about, but I often don’t know things like that.

“Who built the path?, she asked.
“The County, I imagine.”
“‘Oh, am I in the U.S.?”
“Well, yes; you crossed the border back there where the marker says B.”
“Really? Does it matter?”

Our conversation extended a bit longer while we discussed border issues and whether the CBP agents were likely to be down on the beach and preparing to deport her or something. I remembered one of the first times I ever got into an extended discussion with a border agent, maybe 13 or 14 years ago, when he said to me with either irritation or despair, “Don’t you realize that these are different countries?” And I felt more empathy at this moment for his long ago irritation/despair. The beach lady, who had grown up in Ladner, declared that she felt the border people were intimidating. “Don’t they understand that we’re friends? That we wouldn’t do anything to hurt one another?” Hard for me to know quite how to respond to this. I can only imagine the despair in the air if she said it to the CBP people.

It’s a good walk: you start at the boundary marker on the beach (at least that would be my recommendation) via the new trail, and you end at the Tiki marker on Gulf. You're in the U.S. all the way. Good to know that if you are out walking.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Looking at Art

The New York Times published an article the other day about how people look at art. Which might more appropriately say, how they don’t look at art. Over the years, and particularly at quilt shows, I’ve noticed that people (as The Times reports) kind of move quickly by, unsure about what, exactly, they are seeing or how to respond to it. If they are looking at traditional bed quilts, they get a quick ‘like/don’t like’ message from and to themselves, and then move right on, knowing that, somehow or another, that quilt has a destiny on a mattress. End of story.

If they’re looking at what is less craft (useful) and more art (not so clearly useful, or not useful at all), they usually don’t even get the quick message. It’s more as if their eyes, as their feet quickly move by, are looking to see if they ‘recognize’ the piece; looking to see if it is similar to something else they know, as if their job was to categorize it, the way you might categorize people at a party mostly attended by people you’ve never laid eyes on (A friend? An acquaintance? A stranger? The host/hostess?). And most of those art pieces are strangers, and people have no more reason to look at them closely, to engage with them, than they have to start up a conversation with the people whom they happen to see when they are riding on a bus.

So I went to spend my day at the Point Roberts Art Walk Quilt Show on Monday with some trepidation. We had put up a lot of quilts, a number of them mine, and I was going to be sitting in the same room with them, watching people walk past them at that steady pace reserved for the foreign object. It didn’t help that I read The Times article the night before the Art Walk.

But, as occasionally happens, reality proves journalism wrong. A lot of people came to see the quilts and a lot of them stopped, stood, and talked to one another about what they were seeing. One quilt (mine) with a lot of humorous text and cartoon-like pictures almost always had somebody in front of it, somebody laughing, which would only be possible if they stopped long enough to read and relate the images to the words. Others, looking at other pieces, were clearly captured by color, form, image: something that made them pause a minute, or even five minutes to see, actually see what was in front of them without worrying about whether they liked it or didn’t like it, recognized it or not, could categorize it or not. And with surprising frequency, they sought out the maker, inquiring about why the piece was as it was.

It is hard to look at something if you don’t know why you are doing it. It perhaps says a lot about the kind of people who live here in this remarkable peninsular exclave, that so many of them were not just moving through fast but were instead looking, seeing, responding, and asking for more. Speaking on behalf of all the quilt group members, it certainly made our day. The Times article was about people visiting the Louvre; maybe we should invite The Times' writer up here next year.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Not a Book at All

They refer to the Kindle as an E-book, or as an electronic book, but I think what I’d claim is that it isn’t a book at all. A book is what is on my bookshelf. A kindle is a device for reading the text of a book. The reasons I say this are that there are so many things I had to get used to in using the K, things that were different from reading a book, that it has to be that this isn’t a book or an E-book or any kind of book, as I know it.

What kind of things? Well, I mentioned the lack of a color cover, which includes the lack of the flap jacket text and the author picture on the back flap of the jacket. Does this matter? Yes and no, I think, but in any case it is part of the book and not part of the K. The page size is not itself a lot different from a standard paperback, but once you’ve up-sized the letters, even only one increment, the number of lines on the page is substantially smaller (11 lines of text on the first page of Innocents Abroad (Mark Twain). I turn the page by pushing a bar (either one on the left or one on the right side of the screen, easy enough to do), but because there are so few lines on the screen, I feel like I am racing through the book as I constantly turn ‘pages.’ I have turned many, many pages, but I am still in the first chapter-- it's disorienting as to place, certainly.

In fact, the concept of page on the K is radically different from the concept of page in a book. The K, for example, does not number its ‘pages’ because it instead sort of numbers its paragraphs because the book page is not relevant to the K’s understanding of book. Now this could be not a problem, but I did find it strange because I'm used to a book's presentation of a page. I am on this page or on some other page, but I have never thought about the number of paragraphs in a book or that I am now reading paragraph 1789.

In addition, it turns out (and others have also commented on this) that we readers tend to prepare to turn the page of a book before we’ve actually finished the last line of text on the page. On the K, I was constantly pressing the button to turn the page at the point where I would normally prepare to turn the page, but it would turn before I had actually finished the page. I was pushing a different button to go back a ‘page’ constantly until I managed to get myself slowed down on the page turning bar.

When you put the K down briefly, nothing happens: i.e., the text stays right where you were when you put it down. But if you leave it too long, it goes into some kind of sleep mode and you have to press a button to get the text back. And that’s probably the most psychologically difficult part of the K for me. The text keeps disappearing on you. It has so far always come back, and back to where I was when I stopped reading, but the very fact of the text disappearing is very strange. What if the book on your bookshelf had only blank pages whenever you weren’t reading it? That’s what the K feels like it has….thousands of blank pages until I arrive. When a tree falls in a forest, is there a sound if no one is there to hear it? Are there any words in a book if no one is there reading the words? Not on a K there isn’t.

All said, however, I like it. I may just like the novelty of it but only time will get that information for me. I may be affected by the fact that I was absolutely knocked out by the book that I bought to read on it (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, by Geoff Dyer: one of the most interesting ‘novels’ I’ve ever read; the kind that when you finish the last page, you just go back to the beginning and start over because you know you haven't gotten nearly as much out of this book as there is there to get out. It is a novel, but it reads like non-fiction in most ways. Dyer, in an interview, was asked whether it was fiction or non-fiction. He replied to the effect that he didn’t really care how it was characterized: ‘there’s only an inch of difference between fiction and non-fiction, and all the art is in that inch.’ (I am quoting from memory.)

There is the question of how, exactly, you own the ‘book’ you have bought given that you can’t give it to anyone else, as you would any other book that you bought from Amazon, and given that Amazon can, in the night—as it did a couple of weeks ago after some dispute with George Orwell’s publisher-remove the ‘book’ from your Kindle and refund your ‘purchase price.’ I’m not so bothered by these concerns because I mostly get books from the library so I can’t, typically, give them to someone else to read. I just tell them to get them from the library. And the bad press Amazon got from the latter event will surely teach them never to do anything like that again.

I’ll get back to you on this in six months, when I will have discovered whether in fact I do read regularly on it, or just use it as an occasional diversion from the old reality of ‘reading a book.’ My guess is that I'll keep at it, adapting to its differences, and in a year, it will seem just like 'reading a book.'

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Kindle-ing Along

So about this Kindle. (There should be a picture of it at the top of the Amazon site.) I have now purchased one book for my new Kindle and read said book on said Kindle. And it’s a funny kind of device. I seem to have read books all my life, so it’s one of those ‘how does a fish feel about water?’ questions. How do I feel about reading a book? I don’t feel anything particular about the process of reading a book: it is just reading a book. Some books better than others, and all that, but reading a book is, well, just reading a book.

So you read a book on a Kindle, and you don’t get to say that anymore. Reading a book on a Kindle is so different from reading a book in a book that I am constantly aware of the differences. The buying of the book is odd enough. I read a review of a book and decide to buy the book. If I lived where the ‘whisper net’ works (which I don’t, although I’m very close to Amazon’s home in Seattle; I don’t even have cell phone service, so the Whisper Net is unlikely to have made it to Point Roberts and it didn’t work up in B.C. either), I would turn my Kindle on via the tiny button on the back and go to the Amazon Kindle store and request my book via the tiny keypad and they would transmit the book to my Kindle in seconds.

Since I wasn’t near the whisper net, I had to go to my computer, go to Amazon, order the book, and have it download the book onto my computer, from whence I then downloaded it to the Kindle. It took about 1 minute for the entire transaction once I got to the book on the Amazon site. Normally, I want a book, I order it up from the main library in Bellingham and they get it to me 4-11 days later, assuming it’s not a brand new book (brand new books can take months, depending upon demand). My brand new—definitely a new book--Kindle choice ($10 for the Kindle, $32 for a book) was in my hands, so to speak, almost instantly.

Now this is good, but it’s only technology. I don’t need to have a book in my hand the instant I decide I want to read it. Nobody does who is reading for pleasure. But it’s kind of fun to have it happen that way. I’m not sure I’d pay $10 for the fun involved, however. But it is a new device for me and I need to learn how it works so the $10 was an education fee, not an instant-book-purchase-need fee.

Now, I have the book inside the Kindle somewhere. I turn the K on and I get the table of contents and there is my book’s title. I get the book up, and there is the cover of the book, just like the book itself, but my book cover is in shades of black and grey and I would guess that the actual cover is in color. But, there is no picture on the cover, not much to look at, so it’s okay that it’s grey and black tones. But it's also possible that the real book has a different cover with gorgeous art, etc., etc., and I am missing all that as well as the color. So if you really care about cover art, this may not work so well. But I think cover art is to help you to buy the book in a bookstore and, since you've already bought the book, it doesn't matter so much anyway.

I push a tab and the next page appears; I push a button and the text gets bigger, which makes the text much easier for me to read on the 3.5”x4.75” screen. Now, I’m ready to read. And do I read: more, next post.