In The Phantom Tollbooth, each new experience makes funny and concrete some familiar idea or turn of speech: Milo jumps to Conclusions, a crowded island; grows drowsy in the Doldrums; and finds that you can swim in the Sea of Knowledge for hours and not get wet. The book is made magical by Juster’s and Feiffer’s gift for transforming abstract philosophical ideas into unforgettable images. The thinnest fat man in the world turns out to be the fattest thin man; we see them both. We meet the fractional boy, divided in the middle of his smile, who is the “.58 child” in the average American family of 2.58 children. The tone of the book is at once antic and professorial, as if a very smart middle-aged academic were working his way through an absurd and elaborate parable for his kids.
I don’t know about you, but Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth was an essential, constantly re-read classic of my childhood. Initially recommended by my friend Elise — probably at the age of eight, during our regular reading sessions on the bus ride to school — I immediately fell prey to its ridiculous puns and abstract concepts, drinking them in over and over again. Finding out that the book is fifty years old this year was a bit of a shock, since it seems to exist outside time. The New Yorker interviewed Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer (his Brooklyn Heights neighbor during the 1950s) for the occasion. It’s a great read on the timeliness of the book’s birth and the merits of a liberal education.
Also, how was I not aware that Juster was also responsible for The Dot and the Line? So magical.
I’m a huge Amy Poehler fan. Huge. (Parks and Recreation is the best thing on TV right now. Ron Swanson: so crushable!) This week’s New Yorkincludes a great piece on the Upright Citizens Brigade — which Amy and three fellow comedians founded in the early ’90s. Back in 1998, she and the other founders had a television sketch show that ran for three seasons on Comedy Central. (I wonder if it’s available somewhere…) The show allowed for lots of characters, and Amy was able to flesh out her alter egos, as evidenced in this series of Polaroids capturing her makeup tests. I can’t decide if these characters remind me more of Wigfield (Amy Sedaris’s crazy funny book about a dying town) or Cindy Sherman.
The main takeaway? There a goldmine of Halloween inspiration here. I think I’ll go as “herpes woman.”
Twin Peaks is a series that screams “fall” to me. I can’t hear the intro without thinking of snuggling up under a blanket, cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee.” The characters are so lovable, but often bizarre — Nadine and her eyepatch (and curtains), the backwards-speaking little person, Laura Palmer. There are infinitely more reasons to love this show, but ultimately, it’s certainly lives up to its cult status — which results in an incredible breadth and variety of fan art. Case in point, these can-size, miniature dioramas that show key moments from the series, including “the red room,” the scene of the crime (that’s Laura in a plastic bag, not a weird doobie, FYI) and many others.
“And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.”
Lately, I’ve felt the need to recede from reality. I’m burned out on the mundanities of my daily routine, politics (which makesme wanttoscream, but that’s another story), the endless regurgitation of the same ol’ stuff in my Google Reader, and the humid nastiness that just will not die. Something had to give, so after a long absence of fiction in my life, I decided to throw myself into the collected works of Angela Carter. I’m so glad I did. Her re-workings of classic folk tales and the lives of historical figures, magical realism style — including Lizzie Borden, Edgar Allan Poe and Little Red Riding Hood — allow me to contemplate a world where life-size puppets suck the life-force out of their masters and tigers live in abandoned castles. And her writerly style? Endlessly inspiring; in fact, it makes me want to take up fiction again. Her words are like cooling aloe on the harsh sunburn of my mind. (Dramatic much? Ha!)
My morning routine is not worthy of documentation. (But if you’re really curious, I whip a comb through my hair, toss on a dress from my pile — not joking, it’s a mini-mountain — and apply lipstick that usually wipes off before I get to work.) However, I can appreciate a more elaborate process, and geishas’ rituals are lengthy and steeped in tradition. This beautiful film from the 1930s shows geisha styling their hair, dressing and preparing for public life.
As soon as I caught sight of the “player of the dulcimer,” I knew I needed to look closer. This tiny automaton — as large as a bird-boned, ladylike toddler — is credited to German watchmaker, Peter Kintzing. However, a hundred craftsmen from 26 trades were involved in its manufacture (crazy!). It was presented to Marie Antoinette at Versailles in 1784, and she quickly snatched it up — eventually lending some of her own hair for the miniature’s bouffant. It has since been donated to the Academy of Sciences and continues to function. So beautiful.
Designer David Hanauer finds beauty in the aerial abstraction of Google Maps — specifically, the urban morass of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Not content to merely soak in overhead shots of pools and freeways, Hanauer began creating collaged patterns that quickly transitioned into carpets. What a novel concept! These beautiful rugs are available for purchase on his website.
Adorable much? Victorian anthropomorphic taxidermist Walter Potter was the master of cutesy, creepy scenes, which included “a rats’ den being raided by the local police rats; a village school featuring 48 little rabbits busy writing on tiny slates, while the Kittens’ Tea Party displayed feline etiquette and a game of croquet. A guinea pigs’ cricket match was in progress, and 20 kittens attended a wedding, wearing little morning suits or brocade dresses, with a feline vicar.” (And it’s important to mention that all the animals died naturally, so no need to be too sad about their preciousness.)
Though he died in 1918, Potter’s museum lived on until the mid-1960s, as shown in this short documentary. I wish it still existed! I’ve heard that the pieces were distributed to other museums and are now held in private collections. A girl can hope…!
Did you know that Iris Apfel is the subject of a Maysles documentary (of Grey Gardens fame)? And more importantly, have you heard she’s getting a Home Shopping Network collection?! I will be snapping up those designs! (I already have some Iris glasses, as a matter of fact.) Read more at The New York Times.
It’s a funny thing, using Pinterest: it really allows you to hone in on what attracts your attention. When it comes to photos of rooms, I’ll unconsciously bookmark the same images over and over again. I don’t know if that speaks to the fact that I’m always attracted to the same elements — fuzzy rugs, dark walls, textiles, wood, brass, antique quilts — or if I’m just very, very particular. (Or in a rut. Either, or!)
I first came across Kara Gunter’s smoke-fired ceramic eggs on Etsy. Intrigued by the premise, I looked up her website and the art project where the eggs originated, entitled “Trial by Fire.” I was not disappointed: the salt, smoke and ceramics are like candy to me! Kara’s artistic statement explains her motivations:
According to fire ecology — the study of fire and its relationship to living organisms — fire is a necessity for propagation. Certain plant life has evolved to depend on fire as a means to clear out the old and dying so new life can take hold. Seeds are split open by the heat, and the ground is fertile with ash.
Trial by Fire explores themes of devastation followed by the cycle of rebirth. Referenced are eggs, seeds and cast away skins, all signs that the metamorphosis has begun. Salt, also attributed with purifying and preservation, suspends the moment of purity in time, holding the cycle’s completion in stasis.
The majority of the work created for Trial by Fire, utilizes fire in some way in its fabrication. Clay must be exposed to extreme heat to become vitreous. Furthermore, clay work has been stained with fire and smoke in the smoke-firing process. Paper and wood have been blistered and scorched with fire.
The one, the only, Missy Elliott. I think this is my favorite video in her body of work. She’s truly an icon.
Random: Believe it or not, I used to fantasize about wearing a bubble/garbage bag outfit when I was in middle school — before the video even came out! In my naive, 12-year-old mind, I thought that everyone would be able to get along if we couldn’t see one another’s bodies. Oh, the bleakness of puberty.
There’s nothing like a well-designed business card to give you a little flair. However, these cards go far beyond some cute fonts. In the late ’70s and ’80s, Chicago gang members carried and distributed these business cards to function as a calling card for each neighborhood. The iconography and gang symbols are both entertaining (“Compliments of Insane Lady Vigilantes,” nicknames like Stubby, Snake, Outlaw) and a little uncomfortable. Ultimately, there was violence behind much of the cocky imagery, and that has to be remembered.
As soon as I laid eyes on Michele Quan’s ceramic bells, I knew I needed to see them in person. Like, needed. As soon as JB and I returned from vacation, I dropped my bags and hurried to the Love Adorned boutique, where Michele recently installed her bells in an epic arrangement. I was not disappointed: the glazes! The thickly braided ropes! There’s something about bells that just appeals to me on some basic level. I’d love to have a massive collection…and a porch to display them, but one thing at a time.
But checking out the bells wasn’t the only goal. The store is gorgeous and so well curated. I wanted almost everything…the smudge sticks, the textiles, the jewelry, the cedar incense. There was even a custom moccasin maker working in the store. Definitely follow Love Adorned’s blog to see all the cool stuff they carry.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a muff like this rabbit fur kitten. The attached head! The missing eye! (I’m a sucker for a cyclops.) I feel envious of the child that kept her paws warm inside this little bit of cute antiquity.
(No actual kittens harmed. I can’t speak for the bunnies, unfortunately.)
I feel like the entire blogosphere has been talking about Amy Merrick’s new website, and for good reason: it is ungodly beautiful. However, more to the point: If you haven’t had the pleasure of encountering one of Amy’s wild-yet-composed floral arrangements, you’ve been missing out. As a florist and photographer, her aesthetic eye is unparalleled (those black backgrounds: like a gorgeous Flemish painting!), and her new website reflects her talent. I hope to one day have an occasion that necessitates on of her bouquets.
I consider New York to be my adopted city, and I revel in its long history: the wily, narrow streets of the early city, restaurant crazes that have come and gone, tight-knit communities and the existence of hot potato vendors, as seen above. (I want one!) It’s crazy to see how much things have changed (and stayed in the same) after 60 years. The gritty streets and businesses of these photos are all long gone — except for McSorley’s and Delmonico’s, of course — but I think the personality of New York is one of continuous change. (“You can’t step in same river twice” and all that.) However, I hope it’s not too much to ask that the skeleton of the city at least stay the same. I love these streets. I love these run-down, dirty buildings. No more condos, please. And more kids playing on the sidewalk.
The word “whiskey” comes from a Gaelic word meaning “water of life,” and in its early stages, whiskey literally breathes — or exhales, anyway. If you visit a distillery and look carefully, you’ll see that some of the outside walls and even the nearby trees are covered with thick black mold, the result of whiskey vapor escaping from the casks — what distillers call the “angels’ share.” If the stuff does that to trees, what does it do to your insides?
I’m a big fan of the history of exploration, especially that of the North and South Poles — the only untouched tundra left to be discovered in the last century. In fact, explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew of hard-drinking dudes ventured to be the first to the South Pole in the Nimrod expedition of 1907. Aided by a few ponies (which were sadly eaten, as ponies aren’t really fit to drag sleds) and many crates of brandy and whiskey, the team made it within 100 miles of their goal before turning back due to starvation. (That’s them above, in fact. Can you believe those grizzled men are only in their twenties and thirties?!) In their hurry to return home and regain their health, they abandoned the crates of alcohol they’d buried beneath a hut along the way, which were (theoretically) being saved for their victory party.
In February 2007, workers attempting to restore Shackleton’s hut (which had been left in a state of abandonment for nearly seventy years before becoming a landmark) accidentally came across three cases of Scotch — “Rare old Highland malt whisky, blended and bottled by Chas. Mackinlay & Co.” — frozen in the permafrost. And miraculously, it was still good! It was assumed that 19th-century whisky taken to the Antarctic would be smoky, medicinal-seeming stuff, but it’s described as an elegant and delicious treat, tasting of “crushed apples, peaches, hints of cinnamon, toffee, caramel, notes of sherry wood.” And no peat taste. Since that’s my one complaint about Scotch, I’m very intrigued!
Now they’re planning on selling replicas of the storied Scotch for $160 a bottle. I want a taste!
So, my birthday is next week. I received several concerned emails about what I’d like to receive as a gift; I’ve been told that I’m very hard to buy for. (True. So true.) I haven’t decided yet if I’m actually going through with a party or not. All I really want is a freshly made pie (peach), some sweet cards and a vacation — and I’m taking all of next week off, in fact! Cape Cod, here we come.
However, if I had my way, here are some gifts I would open with great glee. Mostly that beautiful matte gold ring.
A little known fact about me is that I hosted an all-lady radio show during college (holla, KRUI!). As such, I was pumped to dig into my personal archives and contribute some of my favorite girl groups to the awesome female music blog, Lady Bang Beat. Check out my post here (and make sure to watch “Meeting in the Ladies’ Room” by Klymaxx — a kitschy ’80s favorite!).
What I wouldn’t give for a real summer vacation — lazy days, no work and endless ham sandwiches on a slightly inclined creek bed. We’d pick possibly poisonous berries, work on our tans and maybe hit up some casinos on the way home, listening to Queen with the windows rolled all the way down. A girl can dream, right?
Did I mention we’d be wearing cut-offs? Because that’s essential to the experience.
Miranda July has become the unwilling exemplar of an aggravating boho archetype: the dreamy, young hipster whose days are filled with coffee, curios and disposable enchantments. “Yes, in some ways Miranda July is living my dream and life, and yes, maybe I’m a little jealous,” wrote one Brooklyn-based artist on her blog. “I loathe her. It feels personal.” To her detractors (“haters” doesn’t seem like too strong a word) July has come to personify everything infuriating about the Etsy-shopping, Wes Anderson-quoting, McSweeney’s-reading, coastal-living category of upscale urban bohemia that flourished in the aughts. Her very existence is enough to inspire, for example, an I Hate Miranda July blog, which purports to detest her “insufferable precious nonsense.” Or there is the online commenter who roots for July to be exiled to Darfur. Or the blogger who yearns to beat her with a shoe.
…But unlike certain directors who fixate on marginalia, creating art in which the engraving on a character’s belt buckle takes precedence over the story, July’s seemingly superficial gestures service something greater: a pulsing emotional center. It’s odd that she has come to represent, for some, a kind of soulless hipster cool, because in July’s work, nobody is cool. There’s no irony to it, no insider wink. Her characters are ordinary people whose lives don’t normally invite investigation. So her project is the opposite of hipster exclusion: her work is desperate to bring people together, forcing them into a kind of fellow feeling. She’s unrelentingly sincere, and maybe that sincerity makes her difficult to bear. It also might make her culturally essential.
How anyone could hate Miranda July, I have no idea. However, I am an Etsy-shopping, McSweeney’s-reading kind of lady, so I guess I fall into the demographic in question. (Heh.) And call me crazy, but I want to believe in talking cats, pink sunrises and powerful moments in ordinary lives. Because deep down, we’re all living ordinary lives and trying to make the best of it, and I want to believe that there’s more to it than paying bills and making ironic statements out of insecurity and putting up false fronts. If she can show me the magical in my own life (and she has, in her fiction and her films), then I subscribe to the cult. Sign me up!
I used to be a swimmer; I’d spend my summers hanging from the pool’s edge, wolfing Laffy Taffy, rescuing frogs, and slowly frying on a worn Snoopy beach towel on the adjacent, boiling tennis courts. I was ten. Then puberty hit and it all fell apart. Boobs, hips and height washed over me, and my body felt unfamiliar and not my own.
While talking with my friend Jaime, reflecting on New York City beaches, I realized that I haven’t even put on a swimsuit for three years. Three years! And I haven’t even been to any of those beaches! Not the mythical, taco laden Rockaways, the nudist-friendly dunes of Fort Tilden or any of the other sandy entrances to the Atlantic. It’s a shame, really. I miss swimming, and I’ve never even overcome my personal equator (waistline) while standing at the water’s edge.
Reflecting on these historic bathing suits — modeled during the late ’30s in a retrospective of past swimsuits (lots of stockings and pantaloons) and future, imaginary renditions — I’m reminded that I shouldn’t view the beach as a vaguely threatening expanse filled with broken bottles and judgment; I should revel in the fact that I don’t have to wear pantaloons! Or a bikini! And that bathing suits are not, in fact, inherently scary. If anything, they’re playful and fun and maybe even a treat. How often can you feel so unencumbered and float, weightless, in a massive sea?
I’ll take one of the bathing suits with a cape, please. Body confidence: in for 2011.
Isn’t this house a dream? The owner, a writing professor in Philadelphia, bought this 19th-century house in Nantucket and furnished it with all-secondhand finds to create what she calls an “instant heirloom house.” Fun fact: the home was once owned by Samuel Robbins, a first mate on a whaling ship who died at sea in the 1820s. I’m a fan of the many nautical, New England paintings and artifacts.
My name is Alison and this is where I obsess // muse // and drop all of the curious, obsolete, eccentric and otherwise noteworthy things I come across on the weird, wide expanse that is the Internet. Also, cute cat posts.