Wednesday 25 August 2010

Book report.

Moby Dick or, The White Whale, Herman Melville, 1851

Finally, I finished reading Moby Dick yesterday. Yes, it did take two months to get through. As I’m sure there are plenty of people who know of the book and may be tempted to read it someday, I won’t spoil the ending. If you like the first chapter, it is worth it to finish the whole thing, take your time. It doesn’t dribble out towards the end. The very last sentence packs an emotional punch.

If you don’t like the first chapter, put it down; it starts as it continues. Melville is very fond of fancy-talk, complicated words, cultural references and phrases like poetry. At one point, he seems a bit over fond of the word “monomaniacal” but he gets past that.  From the foreword, it seems the Melville was wanting to explore the nature of truth and human existence, using symbolism with multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings. The characters and situations aren’t supposed to feel realistic, but to explain deeper meanings. Without the foreword, I wouldn’t have understood that. I can only say I enjoyed it for the language rather than the plot or characters. I don’t understand Ahab. That sort of motivation just isn't in my nature.

In Ishmael, Melville did create quite a character. He’s tough, but very intellectual and not at all humble about it. Generally, I think of myself as familiar enough with the classics to at least keep up with the overall meaning of a reference. But Melville’s Ishmael seems to delight in casually pointing out my cultural ignorance, as well as my ignorance of whaling (which is perfectly understandable).  I don’t think this is simply because of the 150 years that have passed. I’ve put 33 scraps of paper in the book, marking points where I just don’t know what he’s on about (the lack of access to Google on the bus is probably a blessing, otherwise I would have spent even longer looking all this stuff up). I am particularly interested in the reference to Darmonodes’ elephant.

Now, I could be wrong here, but I found Ishmael very funny, a narrator with a wicked sense of humour. From chapter 13, Wheelbarrow:  “I settled my own and comrade’s bill; using, however, my comrade’s money.” How can that not be funny? The book isn’t full of jokes, but there are points where Ishmael is poking fun, rather than just being moody. Or maybe it’s just me.

On a different note, I had a very superstitious day yesterday. Shortly after finishing the book, a black cat crossed my path, which was quite cute. The bus had stopped at a crossing point, and as it was beeping a cat jumped down from the wall on our side of the street and casually crossed to the other side. I also saw a dead pigeon, which wasn't cute. But then getting off the bus on my way home, I found an especially nice button.

Today, I'm back to knitting. P's got an old pair of headphones where the 'skin' is flaking off the ear pads. I said I would try to make covers for them, and the headphones have been in my crafting pile for, oh, about 5 years now. Hopefully it will only be another month before they are out of my pile and back into active use.

Monday 23 August 2010

My summer vacation: Helsinki

Finally awake enough to blog about our trip to Helsinki. I do feel a bit guilty about flying- all that carbon dioxide, and other pollution as well. And I also feel guilty that I didn’t recycle my drinks bottles while I was there. Yes, I should have just asked how to do it, but I feel very awkward talking to people. My bad.

We didn't see any moose or flying squirrels, but I did have a neat wildlife encounter. While trying to photograph dragonflies at Nuuksio national park, an especially large dragonfly landed on my chest, on the left side of my cardigan, exactly where a broach would be worn, like those big Art Nuevo dragonfly broaches. It was big enough to notice the weight of it. No photo because it flew away too quickly, perhaps because I was covered in insect repellent.

Nuuksio is beautiful and very quiet. My initial impression was that it was like the Lake District. But the walking is very different. The ground is bouncy, maybe because it's thin dirt over granite, or possibly something to do with the hot summer.

Helsinki is packed with cute buildings, and loads of low relief decoration. I noticed several bears with flowers, especially big ball roses. Despite having a translation of the Kalevala on my bookshelf, I’m not familiar with Finnish iconography, so I have no idea if bears have a particular symbolic meaning or not. Yes, I know bears will eat you, but they do look cute with flowers.

The ball roses in those reliefs triggered an idea to try some fabric manipulation. I’m curious about how a strip of fabric would work up if used to make a spider's web rose. I’m also inspired by some pastries and cinnamon rolls, to try to copy the shapes of the pastry in fabric, not to make a toy pastry (fabric fake food is just wrong, cruel even) but just a 3D fabric manipulation as part of a quilt or embroidery. If anything, I've been a bit over inspired by the architecture and food. It makes me want to randomly start new projects at a time when what I meant to do is concentrate on finishing stuff. What I ought to do is capture the enthusiasm in a journal, and let the ideas mature into something that I feel would work in fabric. (That's what I learned from Sharron B's course!)

holiday goodies

Helsinki has a higher craft shop per capita ratio than Manchester. I didn't find any nylon embroidery ribbon, but I did buy some thin organza ribbon instead, some cotton lace (one of my favourite things) and a foam kumihimo loom. The conversation on Craftster is still relevant. There's also Punainen Lanka, upstairs in Hakaniementori covered market, for laces and ribbons, plus other haberdashery, including petticoats! The pastries downstairs and the fruit stalls outside at the market are worth seeing, too.

To keep my crafting needs satisfied while on holiday, I had packed an old shirt with a worn out collar (the stripy background fabric in the picture here)and some embroidery thread. Careful unpicking of the collar and re-seaming with a bit of running stitch should have given me a grandfather shirt. I was feeling quite pleased with it, but then noticed another hole worn through the front of the shirt, just above the buttons. How had I missed that? Now, I don’t want to have just wasted my mending efforts, but I am a bit flummoxed about how to salvage the shirt. Maybe I should put some of that lace over it.

And today on the bus, I was back to reading Moby Dick. It's a classic but very slow read.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

too lazy for fun

On my way home from the office, I try to sit on the right side of the bus. It's to spoil myself with a better view of the clothing in the Islamic Relief shop on the way home. I dream that someday there will be room in my fabric stash to buy something there, a random treasure, brightly coloured and embroidered, to turn into a quilt block, or something.

But today, I sat on the left side; that's the side by the bus stops here. And I wasn't reading, just staring out the window. So I had a good view of the big black four hole button on the ground at the bus stop just past Longsight library.

Now, bear with me if I've explained this before, but I collect buttons. Not in the serious 'glass-imitating-jet-because-Victorians-were-like-that' button collecting way. No, the buttons I'm after are common, but special in a different way. I collect lost buttons. Someone else has the bad luck to lose a button, and then I have the good luck to find it. A little bit vicious, just a little bit, profiting off others' misfortune. (Please note: I don't fight a person for the button that has just fallen off their coat. That would be rude, and far to interactive.)

Anyway, to get back to the story, this button was an ideal specimen for my collection, but I was TOO LAZY to get off the bus. There was nothing keeping me on the bus. I wasn't in a hurry home, and traffic was moving, so the next 192 would have been only 10 minutes away at most. But instead of doing something just a little bit fun, I just sat there. Not good.