Monthly Archives: August 2014

Spooning

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The word spooning, used  in either of its two meanings (conveying food to one’s mouth via a spoon, or cuddling close with someone), implies a kind of physical intimacy.

Norwegian designer Stian Korntved Ruud offers a third meaning for spooning with his art project of carving a new spoon every day from a different kind of wood.

Artist: Stian Korntved Ruud

Artist: Stian Korntved Ruud

He sketches each new creation, then tries carving it out, and the process sometimes requires several iterations.

The work also requires the right tool for every kind of wood and spoon.

Artist: Stian Korntved Ruud

Artist: Stian Korntved Ruud

I guess it goes without saying that this 365-day project is being disseminated through social media, which offers a completely different kind of transient intimacy.

Artist: Stian Korntved Ruud
Artist: Stian Korntved Ruud

But I am drawn to the patience, determination and quiet commitment to the daily exploration of fresh solutions for a problem that has long since been thought solved:

The humble spoon.

Read more about the project here, visit Ruud’s studio here, and see the Daily Spoon here.

Artist: Stian Korntved Ruud

Artist: Stian Korntved Ruud

 

Least Favorite Things

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It’s been a cool summer here in eastern France, and the last week in particular has been autumnal. This might explain why I’m finding very large spiders in the house – they usually seek refuge  once September is fully underway. Given the temperatures, I can understand why they’re confused. It doesn’t mean I’m happy to see them. I may not be a true arachnophobe, but spiders the size of my palm are not the kind of feral visitors I welcome.

That said, I do my best to capture the beasties and release them outside, preferably far enough from the house that they won’t just stroll right back inside.

Mosquitoes are another case altogether.

A mosquito wing. I don't care how pretty it might be, or how graceful the lazy bobbing flight of the insect might be, I still don't like them.  Photo: Laurie Knight

A mosquito wing.
I don’t care how pretty it might be, or how graceful the lazy bobbing flight of the insect might be, I still don’t like them.
Photo: Laurie Knight

My family has always been amused by my single-minded focus on killing any mosquito that gets in the house. For me, this little insect is one of the few earthly creatures I would happily never see again. Even though I’m one of the fortunate types who seems to repel them, as far as I’m concerned, mosquitoes are just finely honed carriers for all manner of disease.

Our trip to Vietnam marked the first time I took every precaution against mosquitoes. A supposed plant remedy taken two days before departure, long trousers and shirt sleeves at all times, insect repellent – in short, all available tools. And look, none of us got a single bite, except on the last night in Saigon, when we let down our guard.

Mosquitoes have been more dangerous to humans than any other animal besides humans themselves. The increase in international travel, as well as changing temperatures and climate, mean that mosquito-borne disease is becoming more common in areas previously spared.

Technically, the mosquitoes aren’t the problem; they just carry diseases like malaria, dengue fever or encephalitis (although not, as some people fear, HIV). Still, many of the 3500 species of mosquito are able to carry some kind of disease. A look at the chart below will show that my dreaded large house spiders don’t even make the list of truly dangerous critters.

Source: GatesNotes

Source: GatesNotes

I missed World Mosquito Day, which was on August 20. What does one do to celebrate the day dedicated to mosquitoes? Usually animal-related awareness days are intended to save that particular animal – this day is different. This day is to raise awareness on how to avoid, eradicate and diminish mosquitoes and the powerful diseases they spread.

Which is what I’ve been supporting in my own small way for my entire life.

Road Works

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We’re back from our trip to Vietnam, and I’ll be posting a few pieces from that visit.

For starters, I thought I’d put up this photo of the largest, cleanest, newest road I encountered in Vietnam (or almost anywhere else, for that matter).

Three lanes in each direction, lined with broad sidewalks and trees, with a fully landscaped median strip, it ran for several miles between nowhere and nowhere on the central coast outside Quy Nhon. It was utterly devoid of traffic – with the exception of our little bus and the guy up ahead of us on a loaded-up scooter.DSC02635

But since it’s harvest season and rice is out on the roadsides to dry, this super-sized six lane thoroughfare didn’t go unused – outside the small village where it began, it was used for rice drying.

A blurry shot taken from the bus…but there's the farmer's scooter and the large grain rake for turning the rice, which takes a day or two to dry.

A blurry shot taken from the bus…but there’s the farmer’s scooter and the large grain rake for turning the rice, which takes a day or two to dry.

Each square of rice represents the harvest of one small field, cut and threshed mostly by hand. The rice husks are used by some to fire small ovens.

Women separating rice from chaff near a gas station parking lot.

Women separating rice from chaff near a gas station parking lot.

Drivers make a careful arc around the rice, even on very busy streets.

What a cooperative approach to road use.

Rice drying in another coastal village.

Rice drying in another coastal village.

Heads or Tails

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Yesterday we visited the Reunification Palace in Saigon, also known as the Independence Palace. First built as a Franco-colonial Governor’s Palace in the 19th century, it’s had a storied history – including being the location of the end of the Vietnam War.

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The reception room for the First Lady.

 It’s been kept in the state it was in when that war ended in 1975. A place where time stands still as new Saigon grows up around it – opulent upholstery, carpeting, artworks and bunkers intact in all their 1960s glory. A monument to the transience of power.

The President's War Room, a small desk, a couple of old telephones, a few yellowing maps on the walls, all located several stories below the Palace in a concrete bunker.

The President’s War Room, a small desk, a couple of old telephones, a few yellowing maps on the walls, all located several stories below the Palace in a concrete bunker.

What caught my eye in particular was this wall of animal trophies – elephant feet, antlers, antelope skulls replete with the animals’ tails emerging from their mouths like strange, tufted noses.

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Stale symbols of another, ongoing kind of dominance.

String Theory

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These pieces of urban lace art by NeSpoon, a Polish artist, have been called urban art, a twist on graffiti, a commentary made in crocheted granny lace.

They look like doilies, lacy spider webs creating unexpected connections between pipes, walls, concrete, streets, twigs, leaves.

For me, these surprising string concoctions are a visualisation of the invisible lines that connect the environment in which we live: Street, signpost, beach, vineyard, trees.

The only part missing, for me, is perhaps the presence of a few humans crocheted into their surroundings. A reminder that we are part of what’s around us, and it’s a part of us.

Artist: NeSpoon via Behance

Artist: NeSpoon via Behance

Washed Up

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Knobby Sea Star Artist: Jane Kim/InkDwell

Knobby Sea Star
Artist: Jane Kim/InkDwell

Warmer water temperatures, reduced ability to fight illness, pathogens passed on from shellfish – it’s not quite clear which of these, or maybe which combination is raging through the sea star populations of the United States West Coast. But the fact is that millions of sea stars from Alaska to Mexico are wasting away, suddenly and across a number of different species.

Sea stars feed on shellfish, and are apex predators of marine coastal environments – when they suffer, the entire ecosystem is affected. Many of the sea star species affected are endemic to their small regions; they aren’t found anywhere else in the world.

It’s not the first die-off that’s been observed among sea stars, but it’s by the far the largest in terms of geographical area and number of species affected. If the juvenile sea stars can manage to develop immunity to the current illness that is wiping out the adults, the populations will have a chance of eventual recovery. Researchers and citizen scientists up and down the coast observe, record and try to figure out the exact causes of what’s been labelled the sea star wasting syndrome.

The disease forms lesions on the sea star, which eventually cause the limbs to dissolve. Sea star Pisaster ochraceus, the most commonly affected species, is pictured.  Photo : University of California, Santa Cruz, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The disease forms lesions on the sea star, which eventually cause the limbs to dissolve.
Sea star Pisaster ochraceus, the most commonly affected species, is pictured.
Photo : University of California, Santa Cruz, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

When I was a kid, we had a salt water aquarium that included a couple of starfish, now more commonly known as sea stars. But we could never get it quite right, and the poor creatures kept making extremely ill-conceived attempts to escape by climbing out of the tank at night. All we could do was pick up their desiccated forms in the morning. We gave up when the seahorses started hurling themselves on to the carpet. We never did quite figure out exactly what we were doing wrong.

As for the Pacific coast, my hope is that the future holds more promise than an increase in the kind of science taking place around sea stars right now – the monitoring and understanding of an extinction in progress.

Simple, Slow, Good

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We harvested the last of the mirabelles today under heavy skies and to the sound of rolling thunder, the first raindrops already falling as we packed away the ladder and hurried inside with the last couple of kilos of yellow plums.

There’s something so simple and satisfying about making old-fashioned jams and cordials, a word that has a distinctly Victorian ring to my ears. Or at least, it’s simple and satisfying once the pots have all been put away and the kitchen is clean.

We were in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, and I was talking to one of the fellows behind the bar at The Library in the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

A vodka cocktail from The Library.

A vodka cocktail from The Library.

It’s a dimly lit place of deep leather seats and candles, with thick stacks of books piled up as table supports. The kind of place that invites spending more time than foreseen, and maybe a few unplanned confessions

After we’d tried the first couple of surprising cocktails, I had to go over and see what this guy was up to. I’ve never had such a bright pomegranate vodka martini; the margarita was spiked with unexpected cilantro and green chili.

As it turned out, the countertop looked more like a salad bar than a standard bar for booze. Fresh fruits, everything from pears and pomegranates to bell peppers and chills. Not to mention a wide variety of fresh herbs in bunches. Any juice for a drink is crushed or squeezed on the spot, the herbs mashed with a mortar and pestle.

A not-so-great picture, taken in very low light, of a small part of the bar counter.

A not-so-great picture, taken in very low light, of a small part of the bar counter.

Impressive.

What I liked even more was the time taken to really pay attention to each concoction, including the strawberry/balsamic vinegar/vodka creation I had (top picture), topped with a foam of elderflower St. Germain liqueur.

Sure, it all takes longer, just like cooking up and straining mirabelles for a couple of liters of sunny golden cordial. Still, so satisfying, a real pleasure.