Saturday, June 21, 2014

To the Flower Market

It’s Saturday, the main market day in town, and the day before your mother-in-law’s birthday. At 11am the hordes are out and the lines for the public elevators up the hill into the old city are long. A wait is better than 8 flights of stairs, and once at the top you make your way to the end of the hallway and out into the old city. Passing endless cafes, shoppers, university students, and day trippers from area villages, you make your way to the Markt, the heart of the Oberstadt.

Your goal is the flower market, nestled in the heart of the square under the looming façade of the old city hall. You’re looking for just the right flowers for your mother-in-law’s birthday, one of the traditional birthday gifts in Germany, so no pre-made bouquet will do; those are standard hostess gifts. A florist asks your price and then follows your waving hands, plucking blooms from tubs balanced on uneven cobblestones. 

Once the parts of the puzzle have been selected, you follow the florist to their work table, the top of which is covered with tools of the trade while the lower shelf features a modest basket carrying a lunch sack and a thermos of coffee. You watch as the florist quickly assembles the bouquet before deftly binding it together with twine. Straggling stems are snipped and the bouquet is wrapped in paper. You pay with cash, thank the florist, and once again blend into the crowds.

By now you’ve run into multiple friends, coworkers, and even some students you teach. You’ve watched café owners begin preparations for tonight’s World Cup game. Germany will play and the cafes will fill to overflowing, especially those who set up big screen televisions both indoors and out (most of them!). You contemplate coming back again in the evening, debating between your comfortable sofa and the camaraderie in the city streets. 

Lines for the elevators back down the hill deter you, leading you to take a little-known stairwell further down the hillside. It’s one the monks used in centuries prior, and one cats and drunks frequent today. The stairwell takes you under the wall surrounding Germany’s oldest Protestant university, down the hillside, and to the modern street where you’ve parked your car. The flowers need water, so you make your way home, the venture deemed a success.

What are you up to this weekend?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Color Rush: Tulips

I found myself switching out the down comforter late the other night because, hello, summer weather has suddenly shown up! And while it's fun to get excited about the warmer weather, I'm already missing the sublimeness that was this year's spring. Good thing I can relive it a bit by flipping through pictures from our trip to the Netherlands last month. Oh tulips (and Keukenhof), I love you!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Club: The Luminaries

It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.

So reads the blurb on the back of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries. The story was incredible, definitely deserving of the Man Booker Prize it won. It was also unbelievably long and complex. This lead to several things:

1) I was in perpetual awe that this behemoth was written by the youngest author to be awarded the Man Booker, 28 year-old Eleanor Catton (though it did take her 5 years to maybe that's even more awe-inducing?!). It's size made it unwieldly to read in bed and almost embarrassing to read in public, thanks to it's similarity in size to trashy romance novels (however, The Luminaries is much bigger at 832 pages). I took the paperback version with me on a few trips and, without fail, every person who saw me reading did a double-take.
2) Everybody in my book club is known for being able to plow through books, but not this one. We all needed to push back our discussion date! The author really did an amazing job of telling the story in a kind of 19th century language. Sometimes the prose was so dense I felt like I was bushwhacking through a jungle, other times it was simply the length that was bogging me down. Either way, this book is not beach reading material.

3) The complexity of this book's structure blew me away again and again and again. Wow. The shape of a piece of writing is something that fascinates me, and this novel was a true piece of art with regards to structure. The story is so intricate that it can be confusing until you hit a point where certain things fall into place enough to motivate you to keep reading to see how the next pieces of the puzzle will come together. 

Catton used star charts from the late 1860's to create her framework, saying in an interview in The Lumiere Reader, "I chose each star chart deliberately, with a view to how I could use it, and I relaxed my hold wherever I needed to. I painted myself into a corner a great many times, and was often stuck for weeks, frustrated, staring at the pattern...". She was dedicated to her framework, and it shows.
That said, the complexity of it all made for a fun book club discussion. It also presented ample ideas for setting the table that night: smuggled gold dust, a fortune from the Aurora mine,  the green of the pounamu, and the setting of a sham seance.

If you like reading through puzzles, then this might be a book for you. The length of the book definitely makes it more of a commitment, but then again, commitment often has its rewards.

Have you read The Luminaries, or is it on your to-read list? What are you reading now?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dutch Wheels

Last week's jaunt to the Netherlands brought us face to face with one of the world's most bike-oriented cultures. So it seemed fitting to share some of the fun on Earth Day.

Have you ever balanced a load on the front of a bike? I have a noticeably harder time when my front basket is filled, so I can't even imagine steering with the large plastic milk-type crates (filled!) that most Dutch bikes seem to feature, let alone maneuvering with one of the cargo bikes!

Also impressive were the numbers of child seats I would see on any given bike. Children could not only ride on the back of the bike, but also up front by the handlebars. Fathers and mothers would go whizzing by with babies and toddlers perched just behind the handlebars. And no, helmets were a rare sight on anybody...

What I do appreciate, though, is the fact that nearly every bike shows a bit of personality. Things like a teen's neon cargo crate, a red polka-dotted bell or a brightly painted luggage rack on an otherwise black bike, or -most fun- bikes featuring fun, brightly patterned oilcloth bike bags. I wish I could've justified getting a set for myself! Also popular were strings of plastic flowers woven around the handlebars. A little too kitschy for my taste, but totally fun nonetheless. And frankly, we could all use a little more fun, right?

Seeing all the cyclists in the Netherlands reminded me of how little I've been riding my own bike lately. I need to get out there more often! Any of you regularly ride a bike? Do you pimp your bike in any way? I have practical red bike bags on my otherwise black bike. Sort of something, but not as fun as I'd want. Maybe I need to do a little crafting to get me motivated (b/c the hill we live on is less than motivating, ha!).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fabric Collage Banner: Easter

"Der Herr is auferstanden!"
"Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden!"

"The Lord is risen!"
"He is risen indeed!"

Frohe Ostern! // Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Transfer Process (TAP and creativity)

I've been working on a project with a friend that is multi-layered and will end up as a kind of workshop. It involves concept design, project development, and personal reflection. It also involves material preparation, so I've been playing around with Lesley Riley's TAP (Transfer Artist Paper), a paper you can (inkjet) print, draw, or paint on, and then iron onto a variety of surfaces. I've been using it to print text and images and then iron them onto fabric, which is probably its most common use. It really is good stuff, but then again, I've never tried any other brand.

If you've never used TAP, then here are my top two tips:

1) Cut your image from the transfer sheet as close to the edge of the image as possible, shaving the edges as close as you dare. This prevents a clear polymer 'outline' of your image from adhering to your final surface.

2) You can't over-iron TAP, so when in doubt, just keep on ironing. Just don't scorch your surface in the meantime! That word 'joy' up there took me less than 30 seconds, FYI.

But prepping fabric with TAP images has only helped create part of the project materials. A second transfer process will be needed in order to finish the project, and still another to use/share the project. The second transfer process is all about tangibly expressing a personal experience in a collage format using the supplies on hand. I think the physical expression of an abstract concept is the hardest transfer to make, especially for those who may have limited experience with collage. In fact, I think this is the hardest part about creating anything...getting to the point where your creation matches your vision, and/or knowing when to let the creating process eclipse the vision you initially had.

The final transfer process isn't so much about the creator as it is about the person who may ultimately look at the creation. What is their experience like? Or even, how important is the viewer's experience to the creator? Perhaps that should be answered first! Sometimes I look at artwork and see a very clear message, other times I'm totally flabbergasted. I think my favorite experiences are where I see multiple possibilities; even better are the times when I get to talk to the creators about their creation. Many deliberately choose to only partially transfer their ideas into clear messages so as to create an opportunity for dialogue. And dialogue is actually a goal for these finished projects, so perhaps if that idea-to-project transfer isn't as complete as it could be, dialogue could still be inspired.

So yes, the wheels have been turning lately! I have a million ideas on other ways to use this TAP stuff, but those will have to wait until this workshop is behind me!

I'm curious, have you ever used TAP? If so, how have you used it?  And if you create things, what's your idea-to-project transfer process like? I definitely like clear messages when it comes to my work, but my art...not so much. Are you more of a 'give a clear message' kind of creator, or something else?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fantasy Urlaub

What is it about magazines that we still buy them? I mean, despite the amazingness of the internet there is still something about flipping through the pages. In addition to the dragon fruit, I also recently picked up the April issue of Schöner Wohnen. It wasn't until I got home and flipped it open, that my eye caught the corner of a picture and I instantly knew where it was, and not just because I'd seen it once before. No, by following a blog I had actually watched this space get designed, built, and decorated over the years.

Peacock Pavilions is in Morocco, specifically Marrakesh. In addition to hosting private travelers, this space is also rented out to creative retreats (painters, bloggers, etc.). The stencils used by the Royal Design Studio team (literally everywhere in this place; see the stair risers, below) just blow my mind! The architecture and collection of furniture aren't too shabby, either.

It's places like this that end up on my fantasy Urlaub (lit. 'vacation') list. What's on your fantasy vacation list?

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