One of my favorite gifts that I received for Christmas this year was a set of salts from around the world. I didn’t think I’d love it quite as much as I have wound up doing so, but it is fabulous. Instead of boring sea salt in a grinder, now I have vials of exotic salts from all over the place. I have crystals from the Atlantic Ocean, which are lovely. There is fleur de sel from the French coast. There is black salt from Hawaii that leaves everything with a smoky flavor and a black residue. There is pink Himalayan salt, which makes me feel endlessly elegant. I mean, it doesn’t taste any different from any other kind of salt, if I’m honest, but there is something wonderful about it being pink and being from the mountains. Very exclusive. My current favorite vial is salt that comes out of the Kalahari Desert. I used it when I made lentil soup the other day, and it felt wonderfully authentic to make an authentic African recipe with authentic African ingredients. Isn’t life grand, sometimes? I don’t really have anything much else to say about salt except that I love it. It’s so much nicer to use good salt. I understand the human body’s need for iodine, but I am not a lover of ionized salt. I can taste it. And I’m not a fan. So, I shall use my glorious salts and revel in simple luxury.
The best part about being on break from DMACC, which is sadly over now, is the ability to do anything. It’s fabulous, because without homework and reading and testing and studying every night, there’s a remarkable amount of time to do fun stuff. Of course, I filled my time with writing and reading and trip planning — which I still need to finalize. Maybe New York for spring break, Romania in the summer, and Cuba for Thanksgiving? I need so much more money, ugh. Anyway, I decided that I should use the Netflix subscription that I pay for every month, even though they ripped my beloved Murder, She Wrote away from me and are now insisting on taking away Keeping Up Appearances. The removal of these two series is criminal and Netflix should be taken to the Supreme Court in Washington DC to deal with this crime against humanity. BuzzFeed had an article about the shows on Netflix that are underrated gems. One that intrigued me was about an unscripted Korean show that’s supposedly a less profane Big Brother. The other one that really stuck out was called Lady Dynamite, and it is about a comedy actress trying to deal with crippling mental issues and finding success in Hollywood. That is an intensely simplified version of what the show is, and once you watch an episode, you’ll understand why it’s so hard to explain. Each episode follows a timeline…kind of…but time goes backwards quite frequently to explain why Maria, the main character, is the way she is in the present. Maria Bamford plays herself, and I knew that I knew her, but I didn’t know why, but she played the role I recalled her in in the show. SHE IS THE HYPERACTIVE SHOPPER ON THE HOLIDAY TARGET COMMERCIALS. I was obsessed with those commercials. They were so funny. Let’s watch a couple, shall we?
Now, reader, I guffawed my way all the way through the show, and I highly recommend you tune in. It’s genius. And it’s bizarre. But it’s wonderful, I hope there’s another season.
Vivian Maier Exhibition:
I can’t recall where or when I first heard about Vivian Maier. It was probably online somewhere. We hear everything on the Internet these days. I was intrigued by the depth of feeling in her black and white photography, and I was even more captivated by the mystery of her. She was a reclusive, private woman who rarely printed the pictures she took. So, when she died, she was left with hundreds and thousands of negatives in boxes. A young man bought them for a couple hundred dollars at auction, and he was soon absolutely captivated by what he found in them. These were the work of somebody with great artistic sensitivity, who had an eye for capturing beauty in commonplace events. She should be ranking up there with the great American photographers, but she was a complete unknown. As he researched her more, he was gobsmacked to find she was nothing but an eccentric nanny. It’s the weirdest story. If you want to get a good sense of her and the strangeness that surrounds her story, watch Finding Vivian Maier, the Academy Award winning documentary about the discovery.
It’s fabulous, and there’s this scene where they go to a minuscule French village and try to find out more about her, and if you’ve read my blog before, you know how similar this is to part of my own life. I have scrounged through little French villages, looking for people and places from my grandmother’s past. There are many parts of this time period that are mysteries to me still, so to see the guy with the pictures gallivanting through the French Alps in pursuit of Vivian, well it about made me cry. (It did.) For some bizarre reason, there has been an exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center for the past few months of the pictures she took on the streets. I don’t know why Des Moines, of all places, has it, but I always dismiss Des Moines. It’s more of a cultural hotspot than I give it credit for. So this weekend, the last weekend of the show, I decided to drive to town and see it. I wasn’t really expecting much other than to see some lovely pictures of Chicago and New York in the last century. What I saw captivated me. The images were rich and sensual and felt romantic. I couldn’t get over how so many of them felt like moments of frozen film noir. They were absolutely gorgeous. Some were crystalline and others were blurry and so many were enchanting. There is one of a couple dining on train, and I just stared and stared and stared.
On an artistic high, I wandered through the rest of the museum and was surprised and delighted to find a brilliant painting done by John Singer Sargent. I’m hoping to use one of his sketches as the cover of my next book, so I felt like I was coming upon an old friend. Anyway, I had a good day, and if you ever have the chance to see Vivian’s work, do so. And then I found out she travelled all over the world and took this picture on the Giza Plateau:
I lost my mind.
Now, I have been doing this for years, and I most always hate it. But for whatever reason the novel I am working on now, On A Desert Wind, has been nothing but an absolute joy for me to research and write. Even if nobody ever reads it, if it’s never published, even if it’s just one of the books I have bound with my own hard earned money and efforts, I will have enjoyed the process enormously. For me, the story is so much fun, and it has really shown me how fun writing is when you have practiced it. I have fancied myself a writer since I was in the eighth grade, but I never did much. Somebody said that you can’t be a writer if you don’t write, and that really stuck in my craw. Isn’t that a ridiculous expression? But I took to the idea totally, and now I write at least a page of something every day — except the weekends…weekends are for catching up on Netflix, going on long walks, and doing mindless chores — and that has really helped me get things done! And, I say this long, rambling, self-congratulatory nonsense to say that I have had the draft of this book done for over a year, but my damned curse of procrastination refuses to let me get the thing done and printed and then maybe…maybe…maybe someday published. I even made a mockup cover (see above) instead of working on it. But, I need to say how much I truly enjoy the editing of the book. I allot myself thirty minutes to work on it so that I can fit in the other nonsense I have to get done each night. The book takes places in Victorian England and Egypt, so it has been ridiculously fun to research the life and technologies available to people in those places at that time. It may not sound that riotous to you, but learning about the history of incandescent lightbulbs, the scandal surrounding the publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the death of the hansom cab, and the current design of the British Museum in London have all been divine. I’ve had such fun, and I’ve learned so much, and I can’t wait for you to read my book. It is about the same characters that I introduced in Haskell & Eudora, which is still available on Amazon to download as a Kindle book. I think I might have earned enough money off of that to buy a couple bottles of ALDI wine. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It was worth it.
Back when George Bush 2 was president, I found myself suddenly disagreeing with his actions and his statements. You see, reader, I grew up in a Republican household, and for whatever reason, as children tend to do, I had the beliefs of my family. It took me quite some time to come around to the realization that this was nothing that I wanted to be because the values of Republicans are not ones that I share. They tend to want small government and doing the most to help yourself, often at the expense of others. I have never been of that mentality. I am fond of a large government that works to help all people. And so when it came time for the first election that I could participate in, I cast my vote for Barack Obama, and I was happy about it. I did it again four years later. Now, I must mention, I was a bigger fan of Hillary Clinton in those days and I will always adore her, but Barack Obama has become, and was, a tremendous President. He made me feel included and considered and important. Of course I’m nobody and nothing, but there is a sense that my life mattered. That’s what ending the Defense of Marriage Act was about. That’s what the Affordable Care Act was about. That’s what his speeches and his values and his personality traits were about. He cares for every American and wants them to be successful and healthy and as happy as they can be in hard times. We do live in historically hard times, reader. And in that time, his leadership has been steady and hopeful, which has translated into a world that looked on us favorably again. This is so different from before, and I don’t know if you can understand it without living it out yourself. When I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, I watched the Inauguration from my beautiful apartment in the Marais and was struck by how happy the people were and was more intrigued at how ecstatic the Parisians were. Later that day, I was walking down the Champs Élysées and saw huge banners of President Obama and American flags, and it was remarkable. That is not happening today. Today a man with limited, if any, political experience is going to be sworn in as the president of the United States. Just think of the lunacy of this moment when you compare him to his predecessors. We have Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and even the now seemingly tame behavior of both the Bush presidents. And then him. It’s unfathomable. He wants to have lists for Muslims, he wants to build nonsensical walls, he dreams of dismantling an insurance program that has saved lives, he is an aggressive bully, he degrades women, he mocks the disabled, he can barely form coherent tweets let alone speeches and policies. I’m so annoyed, reader. I hope I’m overreacting, but I worry that I’m not.