30 August 2009

All or Nothing

A glimpse of one of my new holiday-knitting projects. It's sublime extra fine merino wool in a very warm, chocolate-y charcoal grey.

When I'm worried about finding work, it's hard for me to do anything but worry. But, this past week my September work schedule started to really fill up and as the worry started to melt away, I actually felt like I could relax, and enjoy some hours of knitting. It also made me feel like tidying the flat.

24 August 2009

Hoxton Square

This past Sunday was a gorgeous day, and so I went to the square to sit and knit. I ran into some friends, which was really nice. I love that kind of fortuitous encounter. Admittedly, they live around the corner so it's not blind coincidence, but it was still nice. Well, until P got stung by a wasp on his tongue. He didn't make a fuss, though I kept trying to tell him that if he's not going to take advantage of this opportunity to make a fuss, when can he? "Tiff uppah lip," he tried to say, though of course, it was really just a swollen tongue.

It's the season when secret projects start to work their way into my consciousness. While I'm not knitting presents for everybody this year, as I did last year, I still want to get started on the few I'm doing. I'll finish the legwarmers I started for my yoga teacher last year - it's great to start on something that's already 50% done! And then a couple of other things. Rog's yearly birthday scarf, which he loses yearly, but then asks for again, so I can't really take the losing as a hint. Or not as a hint that he doesn't like them; more as a hint that I should somehow include velcro on it. And the rest of the projects? Really secret, so I won't discuss them here.

When we were sitting in the park, two of our local drunks were sitting on the bench behind us. When P went to get an antihistamine for his tongue, the drunks started talking to me. The young one (who has aged so much in the past year and a half) said, "excuse me! excuse me!" til I realised he was talking to me. "What are you knitting?" he asked. "A scarf," I said. "Oh," he said pausing. "Where did you learn?" As he's asking this, the other drunk, who is much older and much more f**ked up was saying things like, "hhmfffs jumpah fu mmeh?" "I'da smmmss scarf?" I told the young drunk, "my best friend." I told the old drunk, "no, I'm not knitting you anything." The young drunk said, "not so many people knit anymore, do they?" I told him there are lots of us. He said, "Oh. I remember spending lots of time with my nan while she was knitting." Then P came back, and the conversation stopped.

I feel bad for this young drunk. He obviously wants social interaction with other people besides the other drunks who are overwhelmingly male and probably twice his age. There's one woman that I've seen, but she's twice his age as well. They all seem to share this big brown dog, who always looks so resigned, with a "why me?" look on his face. The young drunk kept talking to other people in the square, trying to help a small child, for example, explaining something about trees and why you can't climb them. As you can imagine, a lot of people are pretty snobby to the drunks, though generally they keep to themselves, and their dog is gentle. I find the trustafarians desperately trying to be cool in their "I just pooed my pants" trousers (you know the ones I mean) to be the really offensive ones, leaving their rubbish all over the square. Or opening crap galleries on the square (that's you, Julian Schnabel's son with your crap taste in art). (Seriously, his last show included plastic turds left on a stack of catalogues - that's what he thinks of the people who come to see his shit.)(Sorry for the cursing.)

In other news, I was longing for corn tortillas once again, and just out of curiosity, I googled "corn tortillas," and it turns out that there's a Mexican grocery about a fifteen-minute walk from here. I came home with corn tortillas, mole, masa harina and ancho chiles, and we had a lovely Mexican / New Mexican fusion green chile stew with little corn flour dumplings.

And now we're off to see Gang of Four at the Macbeth!

18 August 2009


I haven't felt much urge to knit all summer, but, as you know, I did start working on the pegboard lace tunic. It almost knit itself! I just did ten rounds a day, and before I knew it, the body was done:

Now I just have to knit up the i-cords, so I can finish it up. It's a very clever idea. And knitting i-cords seems like an ideal knitnight activity.

On Sunday, we went to see an exhibition at the Barbican. I didn't know what was on, but I like the outdoor space there, and it's so close to where I live, that I thought it was worth just taking a walk.

So, quite accidentally, we stumbled upon an exhibition that uses anthropology as a jumping off point. The artist, Clemens von Wedemeyer, creates a dynamic between the idea of "first contact" and the theatrical idea of the fourth wall (an imaginary screen that separates actor from spectator, though sharing the same space) and explores the repercussions of the ideas on real life; in this case, he looks at the case of the Tasaday.

The implication of course is that "first contact" is the breakdown of one imaginary screen and the creation of another: in other words, unsurprisingly the story or narrative of "first contact" is one of many stories Westerners tell themselves (maybe other people tell this story too; I don't know - but it's a well-known Western trope). The narrative changes to fit the needs of the storyteller. The reason the story of the Tasaday is interesting is because the narrative changed so many times in such a short period of time. Sometimes the narrative was quite innocent and idealistic (the anthropologist Nance, who wanted to see the alleged stone-age tribe as what humankind could be: a group of kind humans, who care for and support each other and their environment), while other times it was self-serving and political (Manuel Elizalde, Jr., the playboy Filipino official, who "discovered" the Tasaday, and convinced them to play the part of stone-age people, so he could use them as the poster people for his foundation - he raised millions of dollars for the Tasaday and then - surprise, surprise - disappeared to costa rica with the dosh). But, the story always told more about the storyteller than it did about the main characters.

As long as the narrative makes sense, there's no need to question it. I think this is Wedemeyer's point: we're all busy creating stories to make sense of the world behind our screens, and as long as nothing juts out and trips us up or rips the fourth wall, we can presume that others are thinking the same thing. But as soon as we make contact with the people beyond that wall, we have to question everything. And we should be constantly ripping through these walls and telling new stories.

I liked how von Wedemeyer explored old narratives, both those presented as fact and those presented as fiction, and then layered these stories with stories of his own. After wandering through the first floor of the exhibit, there was a small staircase that led up to a little room with a movie, which was a nine-minute loop. Here again fact and fiction meld, as the anthropologist character in the loop is played by the man who had directed a movie (fictional) based very very loosely on the Tasaday (in his movie they're cannibals, unlike in any other version of "real" life). The film is shot in one of the flats that surrounds the Barbican. Von Wedemeyer plies layer upon layer of narrative into this thick experiential mat into which the spectator is invited to immerse her / himself. And then, ask yourself: what narrative will you add?

I know that, as an anthropologist, it's the kind of exhibit I'm bound to like as I maintain that storytelling in whatever form, however formal or informal, lasting or ephemeral, short or long, is what makes life meaningful. But, I felt like this was the first solid piece of art that I've seen in a long time. I've seen a lot of people desperately trying to be cool, or continuing to make the same stuff they've been making for years, or just being facile, obvious, and dull.

01 August 2009

Sicily, again

We stayed just a little bit too long; and a little bit too long is just the right amount of time.

We stayed long enough to enjoy ourselves, and long enough that we were ready to come back home.

A lot of southwestern Sicily looks like this in summertime:

Sometimes summer in Sicily is known as its winter due to the death of everything by heat; apparently spring and autumn are gorgeous. Also, since there is a lot of poverty there, many people emigrate, but can't bear to sell or maintain their properties, hoping that one day they'll be able to return for good. So the landscape is littered with ruins both ancient and modern.

In the year since I last went to Sicily, and with no intention at all to do so, my palette has mirrored its parched colours:

The amazing thing about Gabi's olive grove is how they have clawed this rich oasis out of a dessicated landscape.

We stayed again at the cottage.

Rog thinks that the fruit and veg they grow are so intense in flavour because of the lack of water. I was only sad that the plums hadn't ripened before we left. I ate one anyway, and it's true, the flavours were intense - sweet and sour and, well, plummy. Gabi's father was telling me that he eats two pink grapefruit a day from the orchard, which ripen from October to May. Both he and Gabi are excellent cooks. They have a somewhat new breed of pig living there, a result of allowing their wild boar to mate with their pigs. And her father makes delicious sausage from them: lean and clean, they are all flavour, undiluted by fat. The salad they grow, on the other hand, has an almost buttery texture, soft yet crisp.

These pigs are some of the new breed babies, and they're also the composting system - all the fruit, veg, bread, whatever that we couldn't eat, we fed them. On the one hand, it's sad to know that some of these cute babies will be one day turned into sausage; on the other, that was some delicious sausage, and everything on the estate is used for something. Gabi's father makes fantastic limoncello from the lemons that he plied us with on our last day, and also some lemon marmalade that I've brought home. I also brought home about three years' worth of salt. There are salt flats along the western coast from Marsala (derived from the arabic - you can see the remnants of the "Allah" that once formed the end of the town's name) to Trapanì. I love this salt, and only brought home one bag last year - I only just made it: I ran out at the end of June. Good to know - I live on one kilo of salt per year. So, yes, I brought home 3 kilos of salt in my bag. Heavy, but worth it. I won't lie, I also shipped myself a lot Olio Verde (Gabi's line of products) things. Two bottles of olive oil, one bottle of lemon olive oil, marmalades, olive pâté... It'll be like Christmas come early when it arrives next week! (I would put a linky, but I can't find one...)

Our daily life included going to Mokambo beach, where there is a cute, very basic cafe, that serves coffee, fruit juice, panini and salad. And beer for people who like beer (um, I know I live in Britain, but not me!).

Out of some sense of obligation to do more than swim, eat, socialise and generally relax, we visited Mazara del Vallo, which has some amazing relics of many bygone eras: a Norman church built by one of the two King Roger's, for instance.

We also drove through Sciacca one day, but it was too crowded and too touristy, so we drove right back out.

And, do you remember this from last year? It was exactly as I remembered it - time had neither improved nor chipped away at the memory.

It wasn't as wavy last year, but every bit as magical. The water gets deep almost immediately, but it is so clear that it takes barely any effort to spot the white-sand-coloured fish who swim near the bottom; they are only just barely camouflaged. Looking down as I swam I could see huge flat rocks below me, and worried about what might hide beneath them. Regardless, I swam out to a big rock (I think you can see it in the photo, above, all the way towards the right edge of the image), from which kids were diving. Just once, and then swam back as fast as I could. You never know!

Overall, I think we can agree that I was a very happy girl!

I know I've mentioned this before, but I'll just say it again: one of the things that I'm so pleased about, living here in the UK, is the chance I've had to stay connected with old friends, like Gabi. There's just something about spending time with someone where we really know each other, and each other's stories, that is so vital. Time passes by quickly and these solid friendships are one of the few things I know of that moor me in this life.

Now that I'm home, I've been doing some rather late spring cleaning, and I've got a pile of ripping out to do:

And I've got quite a bit of knitting to catch up on, and I have to get my kefir up and running again...