Archive for December, 2008

Back to work….

December 30, 2008


Yes, that’s a snowy Christmas Eve day at home in the Northeast Kingdom.

But now it’s back to work, with an unreasonably strong wind blowing up College Street from the lake.


Winter doldrums

December 22, 2008

Have set in!!!!!

But don’t get me wrong, I love all the snow. Please, don’t think I’m complaining about the snow. It’s just that winter is a tough season to weather, that’s all.

Blues for a snowy afternoon

December 21, 2008

I spent this afternoon working at the store and listening to about 60 tracks from a Charley Patton box set.  We were having a crazy snowstorm all day and so it was slow — I shoveled twice.


Mavis Gallant

December 18, 2008

I’m reading a book of short stories by Mavis Gallant right now.

Mavis Gallant

The book I have was a remainder, and I probably only bought it because of the Mavis.  But I’m so glad I have it.

Mavis Gallant was born in Montreal and many of her stories are set there.  Others are set in Paris, where she lives now.  In this collection, at least, she’s concerned with the big decisions that young people had to make, mostly in terms of marriage, often without having much real information about them, and the push and pull of families keeping up bourgeois appearances.  Then also, the sort of crumbling apart of life and indignities of older men, and their judgments and befuddlements about children.  She started out as a reporter in 1944, and started writing fiction in 1950.  She lives in Paris and seems to keep pretty private.

Mavis Gallant is now up there for me next to Alice Munro, who was probably my first really major literary discovery.  I started reading Alice Munro in high school and I keep her books with me: they’ve given me a lot and I know they will keep being helpful to me.

I met some elderly ladies last weekend in Montreal at a memorial service, and they told me that they started a book club in 1952 and they have been meeting ever since!  They read 9 books a year!  They were all stylish and intimidating with French names I’ve never heard before.  I could only aspire to this kind of friendship and book discussion, in my dreams.

Charlie Kauffman has thought of everything

December 18, 2008

Went to see Synecdoche, New York last night.

We came out of the movie, and the conversation went like this:

Me: I wish it had truly been more about Schenectady.

D: It was.  The whole movie was about Schenectady.

Me: Oh, right.  It was synecdoche about Schenectady.


More Christmas!

December 17, 2008

I am lucky to have in my possession some fine Christmas music played by none other than the old-timey genius (I don’t want to say American Primitive because I may take issue with the word “primitive,” but let’s not get into that here), John Fahey.

John Fahey Christmas Guitar

Oh it’s lovely.  Especially on a snowy morning when you wake up and do some stretches in your living rooom!


We have another Christmas album too, but I can’t find the cover picture online — it must be a repackaging.  But there he is, looking like a high school history teacher.  It’s officially now the start of my second intense John Fahey phase! The first phase was just on CD, and this phase is on vinyl.  The first phase went hand in hand with a Skip James phase, and the second phase does too.  The first phase was all about The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, and this phase is about Yellow Princess and Christmas albums.  It’s mostly about the Holly and the Ivy.

The Holly and the Ivy

On Yellow Princess, he also dedicates a song to his cat.

Christmas is coming!

December 16, 2008

Christmas tree!

Our little apartment Christmas tree.

And in Montreal this weekend, a special family Christmas tradition!Clemetine

I kind of can’t believe I’m even giving away the secrets here.  I won’t give them all away….all I will say is that this fancy dessert involves:

A clementine for each person, the skin cut in half and turned up into a little cup

A sugar cube

A little bit of warmed up brandy

Black coffee


Best of all, then you get a cup of coffee with sugary-orangey brandy in it, alongside a clementine to eat.  Happy Christmas!

The Music Tapes come caroling!

December 12, 2008

We received a magical visitation on Sunday night here in the Old North End, when the Music Tapes came caroling!

The Music Tapes!

The Music Tapes!

The Music Tapes, aka Elephant Six and and Neutral Milk Hotel member Julian Koster, came up with a brilliant idea for a tour this fall — a caroling tour, of living rooms around the U.S.!  You email in advance, and he shows up at your house, plays and sings a few carols, and then he’s on his merry way.  He’s been on the road since early November!  On Sunday night, we received word that he’d be arriving in Burlington, at the nearby abode of our good friends Joey Pizza Slice and Miss Marbles.  It had suddenly become the first day of winter, and it was crazy cold and the roads were slick.  We assembled in the living room, nervous that the guys were caught in the snow and ice someplace.  Until we heard a knock at the door, and in they came — Christmas sweater and all!

Joey Pizza Slice is a Music Tapes superfan, and it was fun to see him get all flustered and excited and earnest.  For me, as a currently-very-burned-out-DIY-show-booker, having someone just come to your house and play in your living room, with no money changing hands or promotional worries, seemed like the BEST TOUR IDEA.  (Disclaimer: at least for people like Julian Koster.  It’s wonderful to see musicians being able to perform in the way they want to.  I don’t have a problem with musicians making money, obviously).

We made some chit-chat while Julian’s saw and banjo warmed up from the car.  Mostly I talked with Julian’s Canadian photographer friend about the wildness and beauty of the martime provinces (very beautiful!).  It turned out later that Joey Pizza Slice was crazily resentful of me keeping him from full Music Tapes musical connection chit-chat access.

And then the show began!  Julian picked up his tiny bow, and serenaded us with some Christmas carols played on his musical saw, badger.  I didn’t take any photos or video, but here’s another youtube video from his caroling tour in Atlanta:

Here he does O Tannenbaum AND Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  Each song was prefaced by a bullshit fantasy story about how the song came into being, and closed with a tender and demure bow by the saw.

He also played a few self-composed carols, which is a genre I am fond of, in fact.  After about six songs, they had to be on their way — other houses in Burlington to visit!  I had to go to bed, but almost everyone else tagged along to the next visit.

Brilliant and beautiful!  Best of all, he played my favorite carol last — The First Noel — and yes, he did the way-up-high super-formal ending.

Go ahead and buy his album, The Singing Saw at Christmastide, here!

Achsa Sprague – and a book I want to own!

December 11, 2008

I read about this book this summer, and remembered it again today when I was at the Vermont Historical Society in Barre.

Vermont History Center in Barre

Vermont History Center in Barre

There, they have the paper of Achsa Sprague, a spiritualist, poet, medium and trance lecturer (whatever that means), and activist for abolition and women’s rights in 1850s Vermont.  I don’t know a ton about her — but it seems like she was kind of big deal among Spiritualists of the time, and she did the whole miraculous recovery from a paralyzing illness (rheumatoid arthritis) and then speaking in spirit voices thing.

Annie Murphy wrote and drew an incredible-looking graphic novel about Achsa Sprague!

By Annie Murphy

Copyright Annie Murphy

I can’t give a review, because I haven’t read it yet, but I am trying to order it — it’s self-published.  It looks AMAZING!  In part because of the beauty, and in part because it’s also about her learning about Achsa Sprague and her own relationship to this woman.  And I’m always interested in modern relationships to history.  I could spend the rest of my life trying to puzzle out my own kinship to the past.

Anyway, you can read a bit here on Annie’s blog, Comics and Synchronicity, and it seems like if you want a copy, you can get her email here.  That’s what I’m going to do!

And of course, Annie Murphy is a graduate (I think) of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT, which – holy shit – is amazing!

I don't know the artist here, but for sure, copyright CCS

I don't know the artist here, but for sure, copyright CCS

The CCS surely warrants its own post, probably after I visit down there in February for a workshop.  White River Junction, the town, deserves a big old post too.

The library at CCS, again, copyright CCS

The library at CCS, again, copyright CCS

Now I’m off to a nap, and waiting for this supposedly big snowstorm to hurry up and get here!


December 10, 2008

Christmas mittens.  Wool was a tweedy hand-me-down by way of my mother.  Mits!

Now on to the matching hat, with earflaps!

Cuff close up

Building up my callouses and wrist muscles for the knitting season.  I knit these on steel needles — they were my grandmother’s, and she knit with them during WWII!