Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sepia Saturday 178: My pea brain

 This week Sepia Saturday is paying tribute to the human face. The selected picture comes from the collection at George Eastman House which is featured on Flickr Commons. It is listed simple as "Woman's Face" and dates from somewhere around 1915.

My Aunt Jeanne's image came to mind when I saw this sad face on the SS prompt this week.  I remember a very dark, very sad picture of her, but when I finally found it, I was surprised to see that my aunt didn't look sad at all!
Jeanne Fortier Comeault

Funny, the way a few decades can distort memory. The circumstances of Jeanne's death were very sad - she was only 32, her death was sudden (related to an asthma attack) and she had two young sons left motherless. Because my memories of her death are so sad I believe my tiny and unreliable brain erased the small smile from her face and ringed her happy eyes with shadows and uncertainty. This is the picture they used on her obituary.

The day she died, I was seven years old, disobeying my mother's instruction to stay out of the garden; instead I was merrily picking sun-warmed peas off the vine and eating them with great relish. My mother suddenly came out the back door, screen door slamming, tears streaming down her face. She picked me up and sobbing, told me my Aunt Jeanne had died.  Mother left me in the garden and shortly afterward, I was violently sick to my stomach.  I couldn't eat peas for 50 years. The aroma would make me wretch, so I stayed as far away as possible from them. Guilt and shock had wormed their way into some deep spot in my subconscious and anchored there, I thought, for the duration.

My long, long pea-less spell finally ended at an event in Napa at the Culinary Institute of America where, as part of a tasting session, I was presented with a plate of lightly steamed fresh peas tossed in butter and freshly chopped tarragon.  One of the best things I've ever eaten. Icy cold prosecco was involved with that tasting session; perhaps it contributed to my cure?

And now this Sepia Saturday exercise. Cheap therapy isn't it?

Thinking about the subject of memorable female portraits, two favorite images kept floating in and out of my brain during the week. Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring.

...and the ultra famous photo of the Afghan girl which appeared on the cover of National Geographic
June, 1985.

Steve McCurry, National Geographic
And the photo of the same girl, Sharbat Gula, taken in 2002 when her age was estimated as 28-30.

Steve McCurry, National Geographic

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


“Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes.” – Robin Leach

All over the routes we traveled in India, the roads were plastered with billboard signs featuring groupings of faces with no names and perhaps a political slogan of some sort. The Indians didn't particularly notice the signs. We asked if there were elections coming up or why they were posted. No answers.

The signs are called "hoardings" and they're not legal. The police ignore them.

The hoardings celebrate everything from politicians’ birthdays to appointments to cabinet, or visits of dignitaries to the city. Indian citizens on the whole, I read are not particularly interested in seeing these mug shots everywhere but they seem to just accept them as part of the landscape.

I read that The High Court has ruled against the unlawful use of public space; the municipal councils have pulled down hundreds of thousands of hoardings. But nothing has changed. The presence of hoardings seems to be a fact of life, sort of like our bumper stickers, only worse.

The line up of faces at the bottom kills me!

We loved names, just rows of faces

Hoardings: noun

  1. a large board used for displaying advertising posters, as by a road .
  2. a temporary wooden fence erected round a building or demolition site

M is for Madison

We have another great great niece coming in early June. Madison will be her name. That will make me a double G Aunt for the sixth time. Three great great nieces and three great great nephews. I hope Madison gets her mother's dimples!

The happy couple had a series of pre-birth photos taken...all lovely. As a genealogy dabbler, I can't help but think how great it would be to have photos like these of our grand parents or parents. Lucky Madison will have a lot of fodder for memories as she ages.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sepia Saturday 176: Chemistry Cloches


From the 2013 Restoration Hardware Catalog entitled, "Chemistry Cloches".  Old lab glassware is making it's way out of the lab and into the chicest (most chic?) living spaces on the planet.

Could these students ever have guessed how this glass might end up?

Restoration Hardware catalog: Chemistry Cloches

Kochi and Dinner with Nimmy Paul

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

I'm still writing about our travel in India in March.

All over India, trucks were colorfully painted with ornate designs: peacocks, lotus blossoms, religious symbols, famous personalities, sometime political slogans. Drivers love to personalize their vehicles;  they're always named. Sadly the truck paint artists are under threat of extinction now because of the increasingly popularity of decals and stickers. Highway art as it's called,  began during the post-war era when a surplus of military vehicles were converted for highway transport.  These trucks were waiting to off-load from ships coming into Kochi harbor.

The Taj Vivante Hotel on Wellington Island in Kochi was terrific. We enjoyed the luxury after the night on the house boat..not that the boat wasn't comfortable. It's just that the Taj was so elegant and we were treated so very well. 

 The restaurant in the hotel has a rice boat decor theme. The meal we had there was splendid. You can't get better service when you're the only ones in the place!

We got a bit of shopping done in Kochi on the streets and in small stores. Knick knacks and cheap clothes. Debra brought along wads of rupees for the trip and it was looking like she had too many so we didn't need no stinking ATM's or money changers. Debra was our bank, trading dollars for rupees when we needed them. We called her the Bank of Debra.

Our fearless little group: Bank of Debra, Zouzou, me, Richard

We enjoyed a walking tour of the old streets of Fort Kochi, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and now a heritage Zone. Every tourist takes an obligatory picture of the Chinese fishing nets.
They don't really use them seriously anymore - just for tourists, although they still catch things every time they lower the nets which I think is amazing so close to shore.

In the evening we were feted by Nimmy Paul, one of the foremost culinary people in India,  in her home where she did a short cooking demonstration and served us a very fine dinner:  tomato basil soup with tiny perfect tomatoes from her garden followed by a cutlet and a delicious fish with coconut milk sauce garnished with fried shallots. Here's more about Nimmy from her web site.

 Nimmy Paul is the only teacher at her school. She started out as a local caterer and cooking teacher. In the late 1990s, when Kochi experienced a foreign tourism boom, she began to offer cooking demonstrations in her home. The late R.W. Apple Jr., a celebrated New York Times food and travel writer, happened on Nimmy Paul’s classes, and was so taken with her that he recommended her for the 2004 Worlds of Flavor, an international conference organized by the Culinary Institute of America. Her home-based cooking school has since garnered international attention and is now considered a must-stop for foodies passing through Kerala. Nimmy Paul is cordial and welcoming, but takes cooking very seriously, so be prepared for an intense experience. You’ll also meet Nimmy’s husband and business partner, V.J. Paul, who, following the local custom, is known simply as “Paul.” The two have a loving but bickering dynamic, rather like India’s own version of The Honeymooners.

When we arrived at the house, we were ushered into a kind of patio area, dimly lit. We sat at a table where several large bottles of water and a coke were set out for us to drink. Nimmy sat down with us and really grilled us about who we were. She was very charming once the ice was broken but initially we felt a little uncomfortable. She explained that she offered the coke because many travelers arrive with Dehli Belly.  

Once we were all on the same page, she started her demo.

Wouldn't you just love to stick a bill on that plain white wall? Nimmy's house is an oasis on a madhouse of a street crowded with shops. Hundreds of people an hour probably pass that wall. It's a miracle that it stands unblemished. 

Nest stop: Bangalore.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sepia Saturday 177: A Tribute to Blarney


These Madrid street kids are upside down, the wrong way up, and all over the place. That's what happens when you place kids next to the slightest excuse for a piece of acrobatic equipment. This 1908 photograph comes from the George Eastman Collection which has been made available by the wonderful Flickr Commons initiative.
Upside Down
Aileen Fisher

It's funny how beetles and creatures like that
can walk upside down as well as walk flat.
They crawl on a ceiling and climb on a wall
without any practice or trouble at all.
While I have been trying for a year (maybe more)
and still I can't stand with my head on the floor.

With a small tumor permanently lodged on my vestibular nerve, I experience a continuous mild vertigo. My brain has adapted to the presence of our unwanted clingy house guest;  I navigate reasonably well, except for the occasional stagger. Because of my condition, I read anything I can find on brain adaptation. Here's an article about studies done on adaptation to - seeing the world upside down.  In a scant week, test subjects wearing glasses which literally turned the world upside down could fully function including pouring tea, playing catch, riding a bicycle.
Seeing upside down

In a upside down frame of mind, I searched through my pictures and was delighted to unearth this old photo of my father kissing the Blarney Stone in 1964. He was even wearing a tie for the occasion! My father didn't need additional blarney as he was born with sufficient to last a lifetime; I'd say a double dose.  This kiss I believe was his tribute to Blarney and all it did for him.

 Uh oh! Looking closer I see the print "Kissing the Blarney Stone" is almost upside down. I'd better rotate the picture so the print is right side up. Now I see my father is actually on his back and is only partly upside down!

As for myself, I fondly remember hanging upside down on various fences but have no pictures of the events. I was a climber too. Fences and trees. The Mercurochrome bottle and I were well acquainted as I was a good "up climber" but very clumsy on the downward journey. Here's me and my little friend at 5 years old, standing on my favorite fence at the beach - we look about ready to launch into a swing or a tumble.

Darn -  it's so hard to lie about your age when the dates are so clearly written on the photos.

For more amusing stories swing over to Sepia Saturday.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Spice Village and a Massage

Spice plantation worker

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

It was a long drive to  Periyar (Thekkady) a natural wildlife sanctuary with ever-improving scenery along the way. We passed fields of tropical fruit, nuts, vegetables, tea plantations and trees with cotton hanging all over them, cleverly called cotton trees. We saw families washing laundry on the river rocks - Manoj told us he often loses his buttons at the laundry - broken on the rocks.

River washed laundry spread to dry

All kinds of vehicles heave and moan, chug and putter their way along the winding road up.
The boniest animal I've ever seen. The driver was sleeping...just rocking along.
Manoj drove with great patience and skill even though his leg was killing him and he couldn't honk the horn nearly as much as he'd like. Drivers are advised to honk the least amount possible, for the tourists sake which is almost impossible for an Indian driver, anywhere, never mind on a slow, winding road. En route, Zouzou and Debra consented to having a massage; if they had one, then Manoj would get one free and he needed some relief for his leg.


The Spice Village resort was very well appointed with, as usual in India, a wonderful staff.


Our room was attractive and the restaurant/ grounds were in excellent condition. An ecological model resort, the waste water is treated in the resort’s own plant, where kitchen waste is also converted for use as biofuel, biogas and compost in its extensive organic gardens. The swimming pool is sanitized without use of chlorine. Water is solar heated. Only natural cleaners are used. No chemical pesticides or herbicides. The place is crawling with monkeys. All natural monkeys.

After checking in, Manoj took us to one of the many spice plantations, I think he said there were more than sixty, for a tour where we had an enthusiastic young guide - very westernized with excellent English - American idioms. At last, we could revert to using our American cliches; he got everything we said.  Starting out LARGE, he took us to see their two elephants, grazing on the ton of vegetation they eat every day.

You can't minimize the value of the elephant poop. It's a big deal, in every way. For the spice plantation, it pencils out to be a decent business investment - the cost of the feed for the elephants versus the high quality and quantity of poop plus the charge for rides on the beast's back not to mention the WOW value of the male elephant's considerable endowment (on the wane side of Wow in this photo), which is cheerfully pointed out to everyone along with a big whoop of laughter. Oh so corny and touristy, but we enjoyed it anyway. How many times will a prairie-grown Canadian hick like me get to enjoy such a moment with Richard's niece's French Syrian mother-in-law in the jungle in Southern India? So, it's corny...big deal. I'd do it again in a minute. We'll laugh about it for years.

Zouzou sent a photo of the elephant's equipment to many of the men on her email list. She wondered when she didn't hear anything back if she'd offended them. We reassured her they were probably simply speechless.

We saw cashew trees, coffee beans - the super-expensive kind recovered from monkey poop,     cardamom, cloves, vanilla orchids, allspice trees, pepper vines (black, white, and pink come from the same plant but undergo different processing), ginger and turmeric to name a few.

Enormous Jack fruit

Monkey poop coffee beans

A particularly beautiful double hibiscus

After a lunch (icky) at a local restaurant, Debra and Zouzou went off to their massage. They described the location as down a back alley and in an old dirty door. They were each led off by their individual masseuse and instructed to take off their clothes. They weren't given a towel or robe or anything for cover. The very old masseuse with one tooth, placed a kind of diaper around  Zouzou's nether parts after which she was flopped down on the bare towels, no sheets. They were slathered with oil. Debra reported that every millimeter of their skin was covered, sparing nothing; they were kneaded and rubbed everywhere after which they were placed in a kind of steam box. Zouzou had an attack of claustrophobia because she couldn't figure out how to open the box from the inside. The masseuse  left the room and locked the door behind her.  Z screamed for help and the masseuse finally returned let her out. When they returned to the hotel they were each in the shower for quite a while scrubbing the oil off. They were exhausted from the experience but we laughed long and hard about it afterwards.

I think they had an Ayurvedic type massage. Nobody spoke any English so they had really no idea what was going on - the benefits of various moves, pressure points etc.  Makes for a very funny story.

That evening, we saw more beautiful classical Indian dance. 
Spice Village dancer

And the next morning, we packed up to head for Kerala and the houseboat. Too short a stay.

Zouzou and Richard

My succulent love/hate relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with succulents. When they're cared for properly and arranged thoughtfully, they can be beautiful - but if they're left to wander, overgrow their containers or struggle they're not very attractive at all. As Barbara points out, when they're in a gravel patch or you can see dirt around them, they don't look good. I agree. I have a few arrangements I've put together which by accident turned out well.  Here they are....

And I have a growing heap of plants in the scraggly category. Yesterday I painted some pots and started looking at the succulents in relation to the pot colors, something I've never done. I just plopped them in any old pot and let them grow.

This is the kind of hodge podge I don't usually like but for some reason this combination looks zany right now...blooms sticking out like hair licks everywhere. It makes me chuckle when I pass by. 

Now I'm attempting to match pots and plants more harmoniously. As I'm no artist by any means, I'm learning as I go. 

Kind of mahogany colored pot

Spray painted a few plastic pots bright yellow - yellow plants?
 Do these plants look better in the terra cotta pots? Or the blue green pots?

 What's better in the floral color? or a bunch of colors that match the pot?

 I think the yellow pot is better for this little ground cover. Hoping it will droop over the edges.


When I get sick of the succulents I check out the Mexican primrose - this is the first year I've grown this in De Luz. It's spreading rapidly.

 The sweet peas are finally ebbing after 11 weeks of non-stop bloom.

 And a finally a few more succulents. I don't like the pot with the tree-like's too high for the companion plants and it keeps leaning as if it wants to get out of there. I think it "vants to be alone".