Tuesday 26 February 2013

Das ist Wunderbar

Recently, I was on the hunt for a birthday present for my mum and found myself at Spitalfields Market. I don't tend to shop in there because I still remember its glory days, before it was tarted up, and the present incarnation is a mere, sad shadow of what it once was. But, I had a quick walk through and came across a stall selling second-hand books. This one caught my eye... for myself, not my mum...

I have to admit right here and now that I am something of a Germanophile. And so my heart obviously skipped a beat when I caught sight of this 1950s young adults' book, complete with a stylish teen on the cover.

Now, I'm trying to cut back on my possessions this year so, after delightedly flipping through the book, I put it back on the shelf despite the excellent price pencilled on the front page. And then I walked away...

But then I found myself walking back, by now utterly distracted from my original mission. I picked it up again, and flipped through it again. 'Well', I began thinking, 'another aim this year is to start learning German again and this would be a rather good incentive'. But would buying the book really focus me, or would it just end up untouched on my shelf? I put it back down and walked away again.

But still I couldn't shake the book from my head, so I walked back once again. "Make a decision, love", the man at the stall teased me. "We're about to close up." Well, when you go back to look at something not once but twice, I think you've already decided, haven't you?

So now I have to push on with my German so I can work out what's actually going on in this lovely book:

Oooh, "eine Sensation"! Can't wait to hear what it is!
(Speaking of sensations, that dress is certainly one.)

Mmm, a Mona Lisa, with milk, cream, egg, banana and... what the "Flip" is
Sanddornvollfrucht?? (It ain't in my dictionary - or on Google - so I may have to
live in eternal wonder...)

Why is Rita telling her father he's "the best Dad in the world!"
Is she trying to butter  him up? I'll tell you when I've translated the rest of it!

Oh no, Rita's got something on her chin - how embarrassing! 

Not sure what's happening but check out Fred's teddy boy bow tie

Whatever dramas I'm yet to translate end happily ever after with dancing,
I'm guessing?

Imagine if I could get my mitts on all these titles!

These are pretty much all the illustrations in the book so, to get the most out of it, I'm really going to have to learn to read it. I feel like reading teen story books is probably a great way to learn to read a language actually - naturally written, but not at too high a level of complexity. I certainly have better hopes of getting my head around this than Goethe or Nietzsche or Heidegger...

Is there any language you desperately wish you could speak and understand? Any foreign country you want to elope to one day (apart from the past, that is...)?

Friday 22 February 2013

O, Neville

The Google doodle for today is celebrating Edward Gorey's birthday. In my own nod to him, I decided to share my favourite Gashleycrumb Tiny...

For those who don't know, Edward Gorey is a wonderfully strange and macabre American illustrator. Young Neville above is taken from his book The Gashleycrumb Tinies, published in 1963, which recounts the tragically comical deaths of 26 children - one for each letter of the alphabet - in rhyming couplets. If you've not come across it, and you like your humour dark, I'd definitely recommend looking it up.

It's funny that Edward Gorey popped up today as I was just thinking of The Gashleycrumb Tinies the other day. I'd been listening to the Dresden Dolls and picked up my sketch book and a pencil to have a go at drawing up the image brought into my head by the song Mrs O off their album, Yes, Virginia.

Oh, Mrs O
Will you tell us where the naughty children go
Will you show
How the sky turned white and everybody froze
Heaven knows how they got into the fireplace
But everybody's saying grace
And trying to keep a happy face

And oh, Mrs O
Can you teach us how to keep from getting cold
Out we go and you watch us as we face the falling snow
What a show with our hairdryers aimed heavenwards
And fifty-foot extension cords
You really have a way with words...

The end result made me think of Edward Gorey's children, with their Victorian Gothic appearance and dark air.

Obviously, my drawing is a mere scribble of an amateur but I was pleased by the feel of it. Oh, and for the record, I have actually mastered the ability to draw decent faces but I ended up preferring the effect of the blank face on this occasion... Really, it's true!

And for those who don't know the Dresden Dolls, they're a duo from Boston who describe themselves as Brechtian cabaret punk. If that doesn't intrigue you enough to look into them, then probably nothing I say will. 

Image source: www.dresdendolls.com

But if you are intrigued, then Girl Anachronism is a fine place to start. I'll even help you on your way:

Thursday 14 February 2013

Love, Sweet Love

I made treats for Valentine's Day! Long-time readers who remember my Valentine's post last year may be surprised by this. But, if you remember, I am not at all opposed to the tradition of Valentine's Day, but rather the commercial and predictable event it has become. I'm a total Romantic, and I love the idea of taking someone by surprise and professing your undying affection. I love the idea of people selecting or making special, personal gifts and sharing their true feelings. But the disheartening sight of desperate, sweating men crammed into shops buying tacky cards and regulation roses does not speak to my Romantic heart.

I also dislike that Valentine's Day seems to stop at people in established couples these days. Love is so much more than that. What about love between friends and family - the relationships that often last longer than romantic ones? What about sharing joy with acquaintances that are neglected in love and friendship? What about smiling at and conversing with strangers? What about finding the beauty in unexpected places and falling back in love with the world?

So, this year, I opted to share the love far and wide. Well, within the walls of my office, anyway... So I baked lots of biscuits for everyone! I adore cherries - they're the fruity love of my life - so they were a natural choice for my sweet treats. Cherry pie is my favourite, and I was considering making more cup pies, as I did for Halloween, but wanted something a little less fiddly and which could go further. So biscuits it was.

Cherry and chocolate biscuits

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 250g butter
  • 2 teaspoon maraschino cherry juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 2 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherries, drained and chopped (I used black cherries in syrup, as I couldn't find maraschino ones)
  • large chocolate chips

  • Combine sugar, butter, cherry juice and almond essence. Blend well. 
  • Add flour and salt. Mix well. 
  • Add cherries. Mix well.
  • Shape into 1" balls. Place 2" apart on a biscuit tray covered with greaseproof paper. 
  • Bake at 180C for 8-10 minutes. 
  • Immediately after baking, top each biscuit with a chocolate chip, pressing down firmly. Remove from tray and cool on wire rack.

Yes, I am dressed in a Valentine-cooking-appropriate red dress with a little heart pattern...

I failed to get a picture of the finished product (apart from the one at the top of this post). They took much longer than the stated time to cook... I think that maybe my oven isn't the greatest though. I bake so infrequently that I'm not aware of its quirks and how I might need to compensate for them.

In the end, the biscuits didn't come out looking quite as appetising as I had hoped and I wasn't overly delighted by the overall result - I feel I would have preferred just munching on cherries! I think dark chocolate would have been a better option than milk chocolate but I couldn't find dark buttons, sadly. But the biscuits went down well at work, and that's the important thing. I =got to share the love and subtly make my point that Valentine's Day shouldn't just be for couples. 

I also got so carried away with my loved-up enthusiasm that I created a Valentine's Day mix, for your listening pleasure. Not much thought went into this, I must confess, I just cast an eye over my itunes library and pulled out a few songs... Or rather, as it ended up, more than a few songs... I opted to throw in friends, love lost, unrequited love, innocent love, less innocent love and "other", just to cover a greater spectrum of experiences and circumstances. And it all kicks off with the worldwide love that inspired this post title, and which I was humming to myself all day today. Click below to enjoy! (And yes, the cover of my compilation is inspired by the fact that my excitement continues to mount over the upcoming Lichtenstein exhibition...)

Sunday 10 February 2013

... When There's Lisa(s) Around

I watched Rear Window for the first time ever recently. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can certainly see why it's considered to be such a classic. And, incidentally, I was tickled when it came to light that Grace Kelly's character shares the name Lisa with me.

Grace Kelly as a very glamorous Lisa in Rear Window (Image source)

It particularly amused both me and The Cat because her bubbly character contrasted with the serious (and occasionally grumpy) Jeff, stuck at home, was somewhat reminiscent of me and him, particularly as The Cat works from home (though out of choice, rather than being stuck in a wheelchair like the character in the movie).

I wouldn't consider Lisa at all an unusual name but, at the same time, it doesn't seem to crop up that often - for the names of characters, for famous personalities, or for people I meet in real life. And I'm always quietly chuffed when it does - especially when it is given to appealing characters, such as Grace Kelly's in Rear Window.

This goes back to my childhood, when I still remember being slightly upset by the Cat Stevens's song, Sad Lisa, because it distressed me that the only time I'd ever heard Lisa appear in a song, she was sad! I didn't know or understand any of the lyrics, except that the chorus repeated "Lisa, Lisa, sad Lisa, Lisa." Very upsetting for a young girl. More cheerful was my older brother and sister singing Happy Birthday, Lisa from The Simpsons.

Oh, and then there has been my life-long need to clarify that no, I was not named after Lisa Marie Presley. Though I struggle to convince people who know my mother because she is a big Elvis fan...

Lisa Marie and Elvis (Image source)

In more recent years, I have been infinitely pleased and endlessly intrigued by the fact that a girl called Lisa pops up in so many songs by one of my favourite bands, Belle & Sebastian.

The oh-so-wonderful Belle & Sebastian (Image source)

She first appears on the classic Tigermilk album, in She's Losing It, as Chelsea's friend. I think I may have squealed with delight and had to start the song over the first time I heard it, to make sure I hadn't imagined it. And now I always heartily sing along to the line "Who needs boys when there's Lisa around?" with my little actions, which involve a shrug as I sing "who" and pointing at myself with the "Lisa", followed by joyfully dancing around. At which The Cat always shakes his head in a despairing way...

She also gets fleeting references in Like Dylan in the Movies ("Lisa's kissing men like a long walk home...") and The Model ("And if you think you see with just your eyes, you're mad, because Lisa learnt a lot from putting on a blindfold...").

And then there's her starring role in Beautiful, off one of their EPs.

Is it the same girl in all the songs? In Beautiful, "they let Lisa go blind, in The Model, she puts on a blindfold. Chelsea's the one who's "losing it" on Tigermilk while Lisa's "only slightly mental" in Beautiful but it sounds as though it could be the same Lisa in both songs. Why wouldn't they use different names if it wasn't the same character? And I always wonder if she's based on a real girl and, if so, who she is...

And finally, as I recently discovered, there's this Lisa, which greatly amuses me:

Apple's ground-breaking Lisa computer, released the year of my birth, no less.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get like this when they hear their name used?

Monday 4 February 2013

Coming Soon to a Gallery Near You...

 I just found out about this exhibition which is about to open at the National Portrait Gallery...

Well, that'll certainly be a worthy distraction as I expectantly wait for this to open at the Tate Modern later in February... 

And then I still have this to look forward to the following month...

Oh, London, you know just how to treat a girl, don't you? Indulging me with all this wonderful 20th-Century art and design...

Keep an eye out for posts about all of the above over the coming months!