Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tik-Tok's Hat and Other Treasures

You don't imagine for a moment, do you, that in all this haring around on top of mountains, we have forgotten our new delightful activity, foraging in thrift shops?  Certainly not; and here, in no particular order, is a sampling of our newest finds, from the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other exciting venues that make the expensive new Santa Mammon Mall, I mean Santa Monica Mall, look boring!

Pindar contemplates the Tik-Tok lamp, which is lit in this picture

It was Paul who found this lovely lamp, whose shade reminded him of the hat worn by the robotic character Tik-Tok in the Oz books. I quickly appropriated the lamp for the chatchka-laden table where, Midas-like, I like to sit and fondle my baubles. Paul thinks he's getting the lamp back. Ha!

Catullus's turn to enjoy the lamp.  I think you see its grey tones better when it's unlit.

Why we call this lamp "Tik-Tok's hat"

The next acquisition was this pretty little octagonal wooden table.  I was amused when a visitor to our reading group commented, "There were so many books we had to eat on them!"  This struck me, however, as a little too true to be comfortable, so in the picture below you'll see how I've placed this little table so my reading group guests can have a bit more table space to rest their teacups.

Inlaid wooden table

Placement of the little table

The two Swedish blond bookcases (one is in Paul's house) aren't thrift store finds, per se; our neighbor Rita was moving out and bequeathed them to us.  But this one really transformed Peter's study and made it look much more light and cheerful than it did in the days of the particle board boxes - no!  shudder!  I don't know how we ever stood them for 30 years!

Swedish blond wood bookcases

A small selection of thrift store pins, animal and flower themed

Then there was the 30-piece set of little Chinese dishes, with soup tureen for centerpiece, bought for a song, and just the thing to enhance the home made wonton soup!

Chinese soup tureen with little gold handles

It all goes nicely with this pretty cloissone Chinese vase, in "my" cobalt blue, with flower pattern.

Chinese blue vase

The brass traditional Jewish serving platter, and white Venetian mask, are both thrift store acquisitions.  Perhaps they go oddly with the pine cone (not to mention, with each other)...


Peter's desk - the two glass vases are new (to us)

Below, a better view of the two wonderful 18th century political cartoons we bought in Oxford many years ago.

And these are some of the masks we brought home from Venice - not thrift store ones!

And now, to finish off, I give you a small collection of Jane Austen quotes about Shopping.

"Their eyes were immediately wandering up in the street in quest of the officers, and nothing less than a very smart bonnet indeed, or a really new muslin in a shop window, could recal them."  - Pride and Prejudice

"'And we mean to treat you all,' added Lydia; 'but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there.'"  - Pride and Prejudice

"Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not."  - Pride and Prejudice

"Oh! but there were two or three much uglier in the shop."  - Pride and Prejudice

"Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat."  - Persuasion

"Once, as he had stood in the shop in Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without there being a tolerable face among them."  - Persuasion

"...examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop..." - Sense and Sensibility

"What a happy day for booksellers, music-sellers, and print-shops!"  - Sense and Sensibility

"I have entered many a shop to avoid your sight."  - Sense and Sensibility

"What are Men to Rocks and Mountains?"

August 23, 2010 - Late summer in the Sierras.  Paul and I spent a weekend hiking with old friends, while Peter stayed home and guarded the cats.

Paul at May Lake, Yosemite - a most peaceful place!

We drove up to visit our friends Mike and Eleanor who were staying in Mammoth (300 miles, 5 hours north of Los Angeles), and next day went on one of the best hikes in the region, the Saddlebag Lake Loop Trail in the Twenty Lakes Basin.  This is reached by turning off main highway 395, and driving ten miles on the spectacular mountainous Tioga Pass Road, to Saddlebag Lake, a few miles east of Yosemite.

Boat ferry on Saddlebag Lake

At Saddlebag Lake, we took the short boat ferry ride across the lake.  It's a beautiful ten minute ride, and costs $11 return; you book it at the Saddlebag Resort (where they bake fabulous berry pies and make sun-brewed iced tea) and reserve your ride back.  You can walk to the far end of the lake, but it adds a mile or so walk on shale. 

The start of the trail

The loop trail winds past approximately ten of the basin's Twenty Lakes, and is extremely wild and beautiful.  It's a well marked trail, easy to follow and not too steep, though you are at 10,000 feet elevation the whole time, which makes any hiking more difficult! 

The first lake, Shamrock

A steep shale chute down to Helen Lake, filled with yellow monkey flowers

Paul at the chute, which had some of last winter's snow, still there in August.

White alpine columbine

Me and Paul

At this ridge above Helen Lake, we took a detour to look at the overlook into Lundy Canyon (a beautiful place to hike in fall because of the golden aspens).  Can you see Paul, Eleanor and Mike on the ridge?   You can click to see this, or any of the pictures full size.

Beautiful flowers by the lake

Leelee on the trail

Sierra Primroses - first time I've ever seen this flower

A variety of paintbrush called Indian pinks

Greenstone Lake, almost back to the start of the trail and the boat landing.

The next day, Mike and Eleanor hiked to the Conness Lakes, beautiful, pristine, high altitude lakes above the Saddlebag Loop trail, but Paul and I, out-of-shape city dwellers from sea level, wanted to do something easier.  So we had a lovely drive (about 20 miles) into Yosemite, to the May Lake trail.  That's only a mile and a half easy hike, though with about 500 feet elevation gain to 9,250 feet, which took us 45 minutes.  There's a High Sierra camp at May Lake, and our original plan had been to spend a night there, but we couldn't get reservations, so we did it just as an easy day hike.

Paul at May Lake, Yosemite

The day was perfect, temperature in the 60s, and we lounged by the lake for a long, relaxing time.  Then, when we were rested, we climbed the ridge above the lake, to the lovely meadow below Mt. Hoffman.  Many people use this trail to climb Mt. Hoffman, but getting to the meadow was enough for us.  Some years there are beautiful black and white striped gentians there, but the summer was so late this year, they weren't blooming yet.

Me at May Lake, Yosemite

Mt. Hoffman, over the meadow above May Lake

On the way back, I saw a ptarmigan. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

Looking for Happiness: Rasselas, Jane Austen, and Cats

I read Rasselas by Samuel Johnson today, and thought about it in terms of Jane Austen, as it is a book she read and loved.  My musings about the two will best be illustrated by cats, as some people have told me I have given them short shrift lately and I am ashamed, very ashamed.

Martial, a rather Johnsonian cat

Henry Austen famously said about his sister, "Her favorite moral writers were Johnson in prose, and Cowper in verse." And so I will go through Rasselas, commenting like Mr. Knightley reading Frank Churchill's letter, as Emma wished it; and making extracts, as Mary Bennet did, you remember:

"What say you, Mary? for you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts."

"Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how."

 Rasselas is about an Abissinian Prince who grows tired of being confined in the Happy Valley where heirs to the king live in peace and prosperity, but are denied knowledge of the outside world. He digs an escape tunnel and goes traveling with the poet philosopher Imlac, and his sister Nekayah. They see the world, searching for the nature of happiness, and the book basically serves as the occasion for many epigrammatic wise, witty, and characteristically depressing observations by Johnson.

Rasselas was an Abyssinan Prince...

 For example, Johnson writes, in 1759, 144 years before the first flight, about what the ability of man to fly might bring: "A flight of northern savages might hover in the wind, and light at once with irresistible violence upon the capital of a fruitful region that was rolling under them."

How prescient, savages and all.

I kept finding lines that are famous and exclaiming, "So that's where that came from!" Such as:

"But I soon found that no man was ever great by imitation."

(And here I've spent my life imitating Jane Austen; for shame!)

Pindar, a rather Austenian cat

Also, "The prince cried out, "Enough! Thou hast convinced me, that no human being can ever be a poet."

Well, that fixes my poet husband Peter. (You may say it is rather suspicious, how this book is speaking to us.)

"There is so much infelicity, said the poet, in the world, that scarce any man has leisure from his own distresses to estimate the comparative happiness of others."

Very true, and here is a sentence that sounds as if it could have been written by Jane Austen, yet I am not so sure that the sentiment would have been hers.  It is true she shows people wrongly estimating the happiness of others.. For example, there is Marianne's obliviousness to Elinor's unhappiness; or Julia, tired of walking with Mrs. Rushworth: "Why, child, I have but this moment escaped from his horrible mother. Such a penance as I have been enduring, while you were sitting here so composed and so happy! It might have been as well, perhaps, if you had been in my place, but you always contrive to keep out of these scrapes.”  Yet the thought is more Johnson than Austen, for I can't think of anywhere that she dwells on all the infelicity in the world.  In fact..."Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."

"They are surely happy, said the prince, who have all these conveniencies, of which I envy none so much as the facility with which separated friends interchange their thoughts."

So Johnson would have very much approved of email, though I am sure he would have drawn the line, as I do, at Twitter.

"And why should not life glide quietly away in the soft reciprocation of protection and reverence?"

Why not, indeed, if they could be had...doesn't that sound like the closing of an Austen novel. Certainly she learned something of her style of forming thoughts into sentences, from him.

Life gliding by

Johnson writes about those "whose minds have no impression but of the present moment, are either corroded by malignant passions, or sit stupid in the gloom of perpetual vacancy."

And Austen writes, "but still, saved as we all are by some comfortable feeling of superiority from wishing for the possibility of exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind for all their enjoyments."

An elegant mind

Johnson says that he does not "know not one house that is not haunted by some fury that destroys its quiet."

This is certainly true, if you have ever observed my cats for very long...

Haunted by some fury

"Thus parents and children, for the greatest part, live on to love less and less: and, if those whom nature has thus closely united are the torments of each other, where shall we look for tenderness and consolation?"

Now there is the first thing which with I do not agree. And I don't think Jane Austen did either, quite. This sentiment doesn't reflect in what she wrote about brothers and sisters:

"Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connexions can supply; and it must be by a long and unnatural estrangement, by a divorce which no subsequent connexion can justify, if such precious remains of the earliest attachments are ever entirely outlived."

Sisters three

Ah, and here is perhaps the most famous Johnson quotation of all!

"Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures."

And Jane Austen duly paid tribute to that magnificent epigram:  "Mansfield Park might have some pains, Portsmouth could have no pleasures" really is a very Mary Crawford-like joke.

"Marriage has many pains..."

We may wonder to what extent Johnson's thoughts on the institution of marriage influenced Jane Austen, who did not marry (as nor did he). Pity they were not contemporaries, but Johnson (1709 - 1784) died just before Jane's (1775 - 1817) ninth birthday.

"What can be expected but disappointment and repentance from a choice made in the immaturity of youth, in the ardour of desire, without judgment, without forsight, without enquiry after conformity of opinions, similarity of manners, rectitude of judgment, or purity of sentiment."

If that isn't an Austenian sentiment about marriage, I don't know what is.  Here she is in Persuasion:

"Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be truth; and if such parties succeed, how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition?"

Cats and Faun

More Johnson on marriage:

"I know not, said the princess, whether marriage be more than one of the innumerable modes of human misery. When I see and reckon the various forms of connubial infelicity, the unexpected causes of lasting discord, the diversities of temper, the oppositions of opinion, the rude collisions of contrary desire where both are urged by violent impulses, the obstinate contests of disagreeing virtues, where both are supported by consciousness of good intention, I am sometimes disposed to think with the severer casuists of most nations, that marriage is rather permitted than approved, and that none, but by the instigation of a passion too much indulged, entangle themselves with indissoluble compacts."

Perhaps here we have come to the heart of the very reasons why Jane Austen did not marry. Who, having read that passage, could say a lasting yes to Harris Bigg-Wither? But observe that Johnson's syntax is getting ever more tortured as this book reaches its heart. Thank goodness that did not happen to *her.* Perhaps she did not live long enough to become less than sublime...or to write well enough to be unintelligible.

Reflecting on mortality, Johnson unsparingly cinches the misery of it all:

"I rest against a tree, and consider, that in the same shade I once disputed upon the annual overflow of the Nile with a friend who is now silent in the grave."

I rest against a tree...

"Praise, said the sage, with a sigh, is to an old man an empty sound...Riches would now be useless, and high employment would be pain. My retrospect of life recalls to my view many opportunities of good neglected, much time squandered upon trifles, and more lost in idleness and vacancy. I leave many great designs unattempted, and many great attempts unfinished."

The dark meditations of Catullus  
(somewhat lightened by her frivolous Tail)

Jane Austen died too young to have had space for many such reflections, though possibly it would not have been in her happier nature to indulge in them. Instead she observes:

"The only literary pursuit which engaged Harriet at present, the only mental provision she was making for the evening of life, was the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin quarto of hot-pressed paper, made up by her friend, and ornamented with cyphers and trophies."

Rasselas has a mad astronomer character, whom I liked.  Here is a nice fancy about him, that would appeal to my night owl family, both cat and human:

"The princess and her lady retired; the madness of the astronomer hung upon their minds, and they desired Imlac to enter upon his office, and delay next morning the rising of the sun."

(I believe, however, that Jane Austen was a day person, rising early to play her piano.)

Pindar in the Morning
"The princess thought, that of all sublunary things, knowledge was the best: She desired first to learn all sciences, and then purposed to found a college of learned women, in which she would preside, that, by conversing with the old, and educating the young, she might divide her time between the acquisition and communication of wisdom, and raise up for the next age models of prudence, and patterns of piety."

A very proper feminist conclusion; we can see why Helen Burns in Jane Eyre was such a Johnsonian, she had that cast of mind, though she did not survive to exercise it.

Well, there, I've finished with Rasselas. And I am quivering with wisdom, it feels absolutely like eczema breaking out all over me! So that was very good indeed, though personally I might have preferred to have read something more amusing, like Journey to the Hebrides, or Flush. The experience reminds me suspiciously of Nancy Mitford's father who only ever read one book, White Fang, and liked it so much he never read another. I don't feel like reading anything again for some time, I can tell you. No, no. What a mercy I did not read Rasselas until now, if I am going to indulge in a Johnsonian retrospective of my life, I conclude that it is happier to have spent it in the company of Austen.

And now what - shall I go back to Abyssinia, as they do in Rasselas? I suppose New York would be my Abyssinia, the Happy Valley that I escaped as a foolish young woman. No; for I am not a prince or a princess, and could not afford the place. I could, I suppose acquire an Abyssinian cat. But I suspect Pindar, Martial, and Catullus would object.

"What should prevent us?" said Henry Crawford. "Not these countenances, I am sure.”