Thursday, March 31, 2011

Next in the Poem Series about Fall of 2005

September 1, 2005
No reason not to be transparent about what’s going on here

This transition to being a new teacher’s family is
From the first day I missed our old life more than I’d anticipated
Its leisure, its laughter, its easy happenstance
And while casting about for what pleasures there must be in the new one
(for surely there must be some)
I began to think I might find
enjoyment inherent in seeing
the mundane details of the day
So I started to look
and a million minutiae presented themselves
richness suddenly visible

We have
the satisfying conjunction
of orange teapot, green spoon rest, yellow salt bowl
sitting together on the stove
while the mac and cheese from the purple box
cooks in the big new saucepan
The pale blue bowl of noodles with the silver fork thrown in
eaten at the dining table with my book propped against the fruit bowl
And the musty smell of its brittle brown old pages
while reading in bed with cool white sheets

This morning I took out the trash
(And as I came back into the apartment
the subtle aroma of our home met me on the threshold
That scent you always know
but rarely notice
Made up of paper and linens
and coffee and olive oil and vanilla and geranium
Old sun
Hot water
Warm towels
Once inside of course I couldn’t smell it anymore)
and I made the bed, did the dishes, picked up the clothes from the floor
The earlier I get up
the more time I find to do tasks beyond the minimum
I like the feeling that I’m helping
I like the meditative lack of thought as the soapy water gets pushed around the big new saucepan
I like the window box
The perfect morning task is a mindless one
just staring out the window at the parsley

image source is here

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Becoming a Digital Agnostic

I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again: I make no claims to being any sort of publishing industry expert, pundit, or guru. I'm also about the biggest luddite you're ever going to meet. Back in the aughties I resisted first cell phones, then texting. I don't own a microwave or a working television. However, it's my very technophobe tendencies which make what I'm about to say seem a little bit significant to me: I've stopped minding about e-readers.

I still understand the emotional arguments against them. Who wants to curl up in bed with a piece of hardware? And what about the wonderful object quality of books? Indeed, working for a house that publishes almost entirely illustrated and visual books makes learning and thinking about e-publishing very interesting. If I was a fiction editor I admit I'd be pretty freaked out about my new books selling more and more as digital editions for $9.95, rather than as $24.95 hardcovers; whereas with art books, their very object-ness is a big part of what makes it seem like we'll likely see both print and digital versions thriving side-by-side in the future.

So what sold me on e-books? Reading. As much as I love books (and I love them a lot), I love reading even more. One of my favorite things to see is people reading on the bus. And I realized--I don't really care if I see them reading a book, or a kindle, or an ipad, or what have you, I just love that they're reading. I love looking around a crowded bus and seeing bunches of people with their heads buried in their novels--whatever the form--and knowing that though their bodies are here, their minds are inside an entirely different landscape. Good for them. Good for all of us. Quibbling over the format is starting to seem as silly as railing against the advent of the paperback in the 1930s. Literacy. Never a bad thing.

image source is here and here

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Travel Fantasies

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies...

Shakespeare, of course, was talking about a lady--specifically Cleopatra, I believe (moment of tribute to the late great Elizabeth Taylor) but he could just as easily have been talking about travel. Going places is, for me, one of those rare experiences that, the more you do of it, the more you want to do of it. I never do get tired of journeying and, just having gotten home from a Major Trip, my mind inevitably turns to the next trip I can take--where? and how soon?

Now, if we're being honest, we will admit that most of our travel fantasies, especially about places we've never been, come from the images we have of places from books and movies. So, without further ado, my current top five international travel destinations--along with admission of their somewhat embarrassing antecedents:

Tokyo. Almost entirely because of Lost in Translation, one of my all time favorite movies. Not that I want to go there and be morose with an older tragic clown of a man--I imagine trotting around quite cheerily with Bill and Mabel--but still, my image of the city is certainly heavily influenced by Sofia's dreamy vision.

India. Some places, on the other hand, you want to go for the clothes. For the color. And just for the general so-completely-someplace-else-ish-ness of them. Though of course a number of films have evoked India in recent years, my real fascination derives from several Indian weddings I've attended stateside.

Botswana. Another embarrassing admission: my desire to go here springs almost entirely from watching The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Not that I expect the clothes to be as preposterously stylish as they are in that show--but wow would I ever like to see that landscape.

Iceland. This one I come by honestly--having heard stories and seen photos from several people who have been there. Majestic landscapes made of volcanic rock! Tiny farmhouses! Endless day or endless night, depending on when you go. The northern lights! What's not to love?

Venice. I've actually been to Venice, briefly, in college, and loved it and would love to go back. My desire is regularly fed, however, by reading Donna Leon's mysteries set there. Oddly, I have the yen to go in the winter, in the hopes of getting caught in aqua alta. No one seems to understand this desire. But a girl can dream

Monday, March 28, 2011

At the Pantheon

Another Rome Polaroid today--this one from our first full day trotting around the city. Mabel perched on the bosom of her father in the baby carrier, in front of one of the most stupendous sights (or sites) in all of Rome: The Pantheon. Man oh man was this cool. Mabel loved it, too.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Views of Rome Then and Now

This awesome art book, belonging to my husband Bill, pairs Piranesi's eighteenth century etchings of scenic sights in Rome with Herschel Levit's 1970s photographs of the same subjects, usually taken from as close as possible to the exact same angle and vantage point. The results are mesmerizing:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This Week’s Only Non-Rome-Related Post, In Which We Return Briefly To Autumn of 2005

August 31, 2005
Last night we ate oysters at Zuni CafĂ© for Bill’s birthday,
the Oyster Depot being closed

The first oyster
tastes like the ocean
A cold taste
like saltwater but better
like the scent of saltwater as opposed to its flavor
A mouthful of ocean is decidedly unpleasant
But when you stand on the beach in a stiff wind
and inhale
that’s what the first oyster tastes like
A sudden inrush of air and water and freedom and brine
in a restaurant crowded with the frantically chic
and all those windows

What’s more
as we stood at the long copper bar
drinking white wine while waiting for our table
the bartender crushed some mint in a tumbler
next to my elbow
the wet green leaves pressed up against the glass
releasing their sudden cold smell

at home
there is
the prospect of an evening on my own while Bill’s in class
and the expectation of a dinner made from ripe red tomatoes

image source is here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rome Books

Here are the books we gathered in the weeks and months leading up to our trip to Rome. The Blue Guide and the Eyewitness Guide made a nice pair of guidebooks, the former being more high-brow and the later more pop-y. Palladio's Rome was a gift which, I must admit, I haven't cracked yet--though now I'm back I'm looking forward to. City Walks Rome is not actually a book but rather a deck of handy cards, each featuring a walk.

Now, having also planned trips--and therefore bought books about--Paris and London within the past five years or so, I must say that in comparison to those other two European capitols Rome seems to be rather under-published. For instance, there is no current restaurant guide to Rome that I could find. Travel publishers, take note.

These are the books we bought in Rome. A most modest number, for us, because our luggage was already full up with baby stuff and so we did not have the room to cart home as many volumes as we usually do. Il Grande Libro de Colori and the blue address book are from the Galley Borghese bookshop. The Geometry of Pasta and Madeline and the Cats of Rome are from this charming English-language bookstore--

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Roman Holiday

For our trip to Rome, I'd decided ahead of time that there were three main groups of things I wanted to be sure to see:

Ancient ruins...

Renaissance Madonnas...

And Baroque churches...

With some contemporary food and drink thrown in for sustenance...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Baby in Rome


Here's the baby Mabel on her first ever day abroad--specifically outside our flat in Rome which directly abutted the Spanish Steps. My my, what a jet-setting nearly-seven-month-old child she is. She, along with my husband and myself and her grandfather, had a fantastic time in the Eternal City last week. More details and tidbits to come.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze builds things. Amazingly intricate things. One of the best things about this book is that it's organized chronologically, so you get to see the things she builds get bigger and bigger and crazier and crazier as time goes on. To start, she's filling up the corner of a room at SVA...
But before long she's filling larger and larger spaces with an ever-increasing variety of things in ever-increasingly complex assemblages...
This next one is actually how her work originally came to my attention--this very deconstructed car flew off the staircase of SFMOMA and out into empty space for the better part of a year. Every time I would climb the stairs at the museum I was mesmerized...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Second Poem about the Autumn of 2005

August 30, 2005
Bill’s birthday

We’ll go to the Oyster Depot tonight
and I’ll give him his gifts
a belt, a book, bird motif boxer shorts, and a plate and bowl painted with sailboats
I woke several times in the night
murmuring a groggy happy birthday
into the back of his neck
Afraid we’d forget in the dark
It was warm under the blankets
and the homemade quilt that was a wedding gift
in the evening
I run my fingers along its fabric strips
the soft pink velveteen
the stiff moss-colored velvet
the rough gray wool
while eating one small ball of pistachio ice cream in
one small blue teacup
with a silver teaspoon burnished and pointy
The sweet setting off sparks of consolation in my brain

there are repeating patterns in
our new morning routine
While I’m toweling myself dry
Bill goes to get the paper
Standing on the blue bathmat
I hear the front door open and close
What we have for breakfast though
varies with the day
This morning it was birthday oatmeal
in the yellow pot
He put walnuts and dried cranberries and spices in there
cooked the berries in the oatmeal
until they were dark, warm, soft, sweet

image source is here

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Girls in Publishing

Over at The Inc. Blot (the blog of Australian publisher Black Inc.) they've dug up and "reviewed" this awesome pulp novel set in the apparently very torrid publishing world of 1974. So of course it's now making the rounds of female types in the current publishing world, and is pretty hilarious. A few choice tidbits--

"Things we learnt from reading The Girls in Publishing:

Cigarettes and whisky are acceptable during editorial meetings. Cover designers prefer hashish.

Every girl in publishing should own at least one pair of "mint-green lounging pyjamas".

Agents ain't what they used to be: "Foster was a slimy, cigar-smelling, toupee-wearing man who would demand payment in bed for anything he did ... He was the best agent in the business."

Contracts were a lot messier back then too: “… the usual ten percent commission - plus one evening a week screwing until he got bored"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011



The above picture (of the contents of my purse: calendar, notebook, novel, business card holder, zipper pouch for advil and bandaids and the like, flash drive, phone, office entry card, glasses case, coin purse that holds ipod, wallet, and a nickle) was inspired by the awesome blog Things Organized Neatly. The images on this site appeal in such a wonderful visceral way to the persnickety, type-A, anal retentive, obsessive side in all of us. Below, a sampling of a few of my favorites--

Monday, March 7, 2011

Many Moons Ago

This is one of my all time favorite polaroids of Mabel. In it she is just a little over one month old and is trying to decide whether to squawk about having been put down on her tummy--something she was not then, and still is not now, a huge fan of (though these days her enjoyment of it can sometimes extend into a period of minutes, rather than seconds as was the case back when this photo was taken). I love the light, here, and her little white onesie and bare limbs. When I look at pictures, now, from this newborn era--or see tiny new babies out on the street, with their heads the size of oranges and their floppy limps and heavy small bodies like sacks of sand--I feel a rush of nostalgia for the Mabel that was. These days she is an elder statesman baby: she sits up, she eats things like green bean puree and mashed sweet potato, she bangs on a pot with a wooden spoon. Next week, we think, she might call for a pizza. Hard to believe it only takes a few months to start feeling that ultimate cliche of parenthood: They grow up so fast! And as amazed and proud and infatuated as I always do feel at every new stage in her existence, the old lying-like-a-lump-on-the-floor phase will always hold a special place in my heart and memory.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kiki Smith Photographs

Today's art book is Kiki Smith: Photographs. This concept at first seemed a bit odd to me--why publish the photographs of an artist who is primarily a sculptor, taking pictures of her own sculptures, which presumably could be better captured by a professional photographer? Isn't that a bit like navel gazing? But I was in for an unexpected treat. The book features five photo essays by Smith, alternating with five text essays focusing on various aspects of her work. (This organization is something I would quibble with. If I ruled the world--or had edited this book--I'd have advocated for all the text pieces to go up front and in the back, with the nice big juicy body of photos as the core of the book in the middle. But that's just me.) And the photo essays are by and large delightful. The first one was especially wonderful, and by far my favorite. Entitled "Nature" it features lots of images ganged up small--eight per page, so sixteen on a spread--depicting nature wherever Smith happened to find it. Great stuff:

 The other photo essays are "Studio-Nature":

 And "Narrative":