Monday, 30 November 2009

Another train of thought

About 18 months ago, I posted the following on another blog I kept for a while ( I was prompted to re-post here, as I am re-reading War and Peace and I was challenged for a second time about my reading habits.

Flicking through a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room today set off a whole train of thoughts; a train with many carriages and compartments.

The article I leafed through was about Mark Twain. I am ashamed to say I have never read any of his works, even though I know he is revered as a writer and intellectual on both sides of the pond. My bookshelves don’t groan with many 19th century writers from North America. Emily Dickinson sits rather lonely between Keats, Manley Hopkins, Coleridge and Wordsworth.

This worries me. I would consider myself literate. I have an honours degree in English literature from a prestigious university. If I haven’t read Mark Twain, who of the next generation is reading him?

I am curious to know, is there anyone out there, under 35 (and not in a university) who is reading Tolstoy, Hugo, Dumas, de Maupassant, Eliot, Gaskell, Dickens, Dostoyevsky? What are we doing in our education systems if we are not inspiring young adults to read the greatest thinkers and observers of life? How can we make the world views of these writers accessible to today’s generation, so that the questions of life can be interpreted and in some case answered by these great minds?

For years I have revelled and rolled around in translations of Russian literature, like a new foal on warm grass. I just can’t get enough of them. But if my circle of young friends is indicative, they haven’t read any serious literature either in their native tongue or in translation.

Please will someone prove me wrong on this? I hope I am not the last generation to choose several hours with my nose in a book over several hours on Facebook?

Slow train a comin'

Lest you think I was exaggerating in my 21st July post (Shake Rattle and knit), above is a photo of the train I caught home this evening.

This is the train which was removed from the museum and returned to service, when it was apparent that we wouldn't have enough rolling stock to survive until new carriages were delivered in 2010.

The same train is being used for collecting food before Christmas to be distributed amongst the poor in our community.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Say Cheesecake

Just to make you feel hungry

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Being held accountable

Last night, I posted on my Facebook profile that I had a lot of projects this weekend to complete, and that any one of my 444 friends could check back with me and see if I'd managed to tick any off the list.

Well here is proof of one of them. I have asked the girls in the office to save their throw away coffee cups, as I wanted to plant some seeds on the windowsill. The trays at the bottom are recycled lids from cat food. The holes for the courgette seeds were drilled by a pair of bamboo disposable chopsticks, from one of our few sorties to the local noodle canteen. I doubled up the cups, so that I could poke a hole in the bottom for drainage.

I also bought a huge "inner" from a crock pot at our local charity shop. This is now planted with one of my french bean plants (until it needs repotting).

I suppose I should request that you check back with me in a month, to see if I have courgettes growing in bigger pots in the garden.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Dry Bones Blog

Another slice of life from Yaakov Kirschen

Saturday, 21 November 2009

An hour of power

I went to a rather trendy progressive Comprehensive School in the 1970s. It was stuffed with idealistic, radical teachers, and I have to say, I got a fantastic education there for five years. Most of the teachers were the “handpicked, cream of the crop” types. We had an award winning music department and some pretty good scientists strutting up and down in the designer labs.
There was one throwback to the “old school master” type however. He was our librarian. His name temporarily escapes me, but we all thought he was very eccentric and he could seldom keep control of us in our library hour.
He would regularly insist that a class of squirming, hormone rampant teenagers listen to LPs of bird song in his one hour of power. We were a captive audience. We were only allowed to leave the library for a different call of nature.
He would regularly give a monologue over the top of one of the recordings, telling us how to distinguish blackbirds from robins from chaffinches. It usually produced a cacophony of uniformed brats trying to be Kukaburras, parrots or that well known bird, the chimpanzee.
This evening, I was sat on our deck after a shower of rain, listening to the dusk song of birds well fed and settling down for the night.
I was able to identify every bird on every branch. And I know who I have to thank for that.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Number 37 Halevy Street

Through a strange series of “happenstances”, we have come to own a bundle of letters written by a family we never knew. The correspondence is from the 1920s and is between a family in Brooklyn and their relatives who have recently moved to Palestine.
The letters are written in English and Yiddish, and for the most part are the friendly banter of a family homesick for the familiarity of their native home, and yet enchanted by their new “exotic” neighbourhood.
One of the letters goes into some detail describing the house they live in, at 37 Ha Levy Street, in the relatively new town of Tel Aviv. They try to explain to their family living in a Brooklyn Brownstone how people use their covered balconies as sleeping areas during the hot nights.
My husband recently visited Israel on business; and he had a commission from his wife, to photograph 37 Halevy Street. I was desperate to see if the house still stood. Regrettably it doesn’t, an ugly concrete bank stands in its place. However, right across the street is a building that matches the description in the letters. Here it is, the original Tel Aviv in all its glory.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

In the shade of the Family Tree

My dad has been researching his family history for getting on for twenty years; a task made much simpler because he came from a LONG line of hoarders. When my grandmother and great uncle died within a short space of each other, we inherited boxes and boxes of letters, photographs, photo albums and curiosities. The latter have turned my 78 year old father into a detective and amateur historian.
The internet has made geneaology so much easier, and we found after sowing some random bits of information on various websites, that the “fruit” came back to us in the forms of distant cousins, in the USA, Australia and the UK. Most of these folk were descendants of the rather prolific and fecund branch of the Sollitts.
A few years ago, Dad was contacted out of the blue from San Francisco. This cousin (several times removed) was also researching the Sollitt family. The US branch had an insignificant impact on the city of Chicago and as this newly found relative had a Doctorate, he was no stranger to digging around for information and cross referencing and making connections. The rest of us looked like happy amateurs compared to him.
So here follows excerpts from an article about my Great Great Uncle, John Sollitt, taken from an article housed at The University of Illinois Library, Kuhois Historical Survey Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois.

JOHN SOLLITT, now in his eighty-first year, was in his younger days one of the largest contractors and builders of Chicago. He was born November 19, 1813, in Stillington, County of York, in what is one of the most beautiful sections of England. His ancestors were Huguenots, who emigrated from France to England some two hundred years ago. His paternal grandfather was John Sollitt, and his maternal John Cass. The former was a stone-mason, and the latter a carpenter. The father of our subject, John Sollitt, was also a stone-mason and a sculptor. All were prominent in their professions and lived and died in England.

At the age of six years the subject of this sketch entered the common schools of Stillington, and was graduated therefrom in his twelfth year, after which he began learning the carpenter's trade with his grandfather. He remained in his employ until his twenty-first year, when, in May, 1834, with his wife and child, he went to Canada.
He worked at his trade in Hamilton and Toronto for a year or two, when a friend, residing in Madison, Wisconsin, wrote to him glowing accounts of that country, and he decided to remove to that place. He started by way of the Lakes for Milwaukee, but, experiencing difficulty in reaching that point, on account of a storm raging on Lake Michigan, he landed in Chicago. This was on the 6th of June, 1838, and he had but $5 in his pocket. Chicago, at that time, contained a population of about four thousand.

Business was very dull in this city then, and he had difficulty in obtaining employment; but he finally made an arrangement with Azel Peck, a prominent contractor and builder, in whose employ he remained for three years. He then entered the service of Peter Lewis Updyke, with whom he continued for five years. On the expiration of that period he entered into partnership with Messrs. Peck and Updyke, and their 's became the leading firm of the kind in Chicago. Mr. Peck died in 1848, and the partnership was continued between Mr. Sollitt and Mr. Updyke until the latter's death, in 1850. In the fall of 1849 they erected the old Tremont House, which was destroyed in the great fire of 1871. Mr. Sollitt then carried on building operations alone, with great success. He erected several of the finest buildings in Chicago, including the old courthouse, built in 1852-53, and having acquired a competency through thrift and enterprise, he retired from business, and has since given his time to his private interests and the enjoyment of a well-earned rest. Soon after his retirement from building operations, he purchased large tracts of land in Kankakee and Will Counties, forty-three miles from Chicago, and there moved his family, hoping the country air would prove beneficial to his wife's health. This hope, however, was disappointed, for she died in 1871. During this period Mr. Sollitt spent a portion of his time in Chicago and the remainder with his family. The town of Sollitt, in Will County, was named in his honor, and he gave to the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad Company $1,000, with which to build a new depot at that place. After the death of Mrs. Sollitt, he brought his family back to Chicago, and now resides in his handsome home at No. 515 Jackson Boulevard.

When scarcely twenty years old Mr. Sollitt was joined in wedlock with Mary Smith, daughter of Thomas Smith. Her father, a farmer by occupation, resided in Tollerton, Yorkshire, England. Her uncle, Thomas Pollard, carried on a large and popular hotel, called the "Angel Inn," situated near Tollerton, on the main stage road between London and Edinburgh. Mrs. Sollitt died of cholera in Chicago, in 1850, and was buried in Graceland Cemetery. Eight children were born of their union. Elizabeth, now a resident of Englewood, has been twice married. Her first husband was Alfred Bromfield, and her present husband is William Ivers. By each marriage she has had three children. Mary died in childhood. Hannah, deceased, was the wife of Henry Curtis. Jane, deceased, was the wife of Thomas Wallin. James J. lives in Sollitt. Oliver died when one year old. John resides in Oklahoma; and Fanny died in Chicago in 1865. In 1854 Mr. Sollitt was united in marriage with Anna Rowntree, who was one of a family of seven children. She was born in or near Richmond, Yorkshire, England, and came to America with her parents, who located in Rochester, Racine County, Wisconsin. On their deaths she went to live with her brother Christopher, who resided near that city, and at his home was married. After a happy wedded life of seventeen years, which was all passed in Chicago, with the exception of one year in Sollitt, she died of consumption, and was laid to rest in Graceland. She had two children. Charles, who resides in Sollitt, where he follows farming, is married and has two children, Leslie and John. The daughter, Blanche, is the wife of Nathaniel Board, a solicitor for the Chicago & North- Western Railroad, residing in Oak Park.

In 1874 Mr. Sollitt was married in the town of Waterford, Wisconsin, to Anna Blackburn, and they have a son, Walter, a bright and promising youth of seventeen years, who is now preparing for college in a Chicago academy.

Mr. Sollitt cares little for society, preferring to give his time and attention to his family. He was reared in the Episcopal Church, which he attended for a time on first coming to Chicago. Later, he joined Robert Collyer's Unitarian Church, and occupied a pew there for a number of years. He erected the first Unitarian Church built in Chicago, its location being on Washington Street, between Clark and Dearborn. Politically, Mr. Sollitt is a conservative Democrat, and has, with few exceptions, voted that ticket. He is an advocate of free trade, the advantages of which have been made evident to him since leaving England. While never aspiring to office or taking an active part in politics, he ran for Alderman in 1852 and County Clerk in 1854.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that his great great niece also lives in a windy city in the southern hemisphere, we are still wandering Hugenots!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Bee apartments!

Foxglove Hollow

The first summer we were in our home, we were aghast at the number of foxgloves which appeared on the hill at the side of our driveway. We decided to dub our little haven "Foxglove Hollow". They have come early this year.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Ice cubes anyone?

Photo courtesy of the Dominion Post

Question: What is half kilometre long, flat and floating off the coast of NZ?

Answer: A part of Antartica. Yup, icebergs again folks (shades of 2006)

I knew there was a reason we needed two blankets on the bed as well as the duvet last night..........

Monday, 9 November 2009

7300 days

I believe I have lived through one of the most extraordinary periods of history. I can tell you where I was this night twenty years ago, the night the Berlin wall was breeched. I was in London on business and staying with a friend. We both could not believe our eyes seeing people attacking the wall and hauling it down with their bare hands.
I went to University in a town with a large Polish community. Only a few months into my stay there, I was raising funds for Solidarinosc. With friends we watched closely as the Soviet Refusenik movement gained momentum. We wrote letters to politicians, we supported people who went on clandestine trips to take aid to the families of prisoners. In the early 1980s we could never have imagined that people from the Soviet Block countries would one day pour over borders into Austria and Germany.
Tonight I want to cry. It’s only 20 years ago. So much has happened. The Iron Curtain felt immovable, Communism had squeezed the spirit and the life breath out of generations. No one would have believed that one day, it would crumble and crack, like the concrete walls of its Brutalist buildings.
For me, this is more than just the tale of regimes coming and regimes going, it is a story of hope. Contrast this twenty year anniversary with the thirty year anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis. The swing to radical Islam of the people of Persia; maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised by that, or the fact that it appears to have spread beyond Iran’s borders with viral-like swiftness. But regimes come, and regimes go. Ideologies rise and fall. Where there is a spirit wanting to grasp freedom, justice, and life, it will prevail. So often it is the ordinary man on the ordinary street living his ordinary life who does something which makes the first crack.
Being very ordinary, that gives me hope. I am watching out for the extraordinary.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Food glorious food

At the beginning of the day, after a very early start gardening, I decided to enjoy a leisurely stroll through a recent indulgent purchase, a travel/food book, “Saha” by Greg and Lucy Mahlouf. I was struck by how much the attitude to food has changed in my lifetime, and how privileged I have been, being able to sample food all over the world. As I read Saha, I recognised the Syrian cheeses, the date biscuits and meatballs common in the Levant.
I was raised on organic veggies grown in the garden and simple home cooking. The first time I ever ate in a restaurant, I was 11 years old. The choice in our neighbourhood was Chinese, Chinese or Chinese. Both of my parents experienced the scarcity of the Depression and World War 2, so Chinese food was pretty exotic and only for special celebrations.
Only a generation later, and looking at my bookshelves, you would think I was a food critic. My cookery books are the culinary equivalent of Around the World in Eighty Dishes; Middle Eastern, Indian, Italian, Russian, Swedish, French, Austrian, Jewish, and even one from Newfoundland. I have specialist books on Trifles, bread making and pasta. I use most of them, and can find the ingredients for most of the recipes in our city.
In the last 10 years we have the cult of the celebrity chef, an entire TV channel devoted to food, and specialised holidays where you can learn to cook your food of choice.
How sad that we live in the generation with possibly the worst famines and food wastage in history.
Makes you think doesn’t it?

Monday, 2 November 2009

Sailing to Eden's Edge

Take the ferry across the Cook Straits and through the magical Marlborough Sounds.
Finish the journey at Eden's Edge

Welcome To Eden

Jack takes his duties at reception very seriously.

View over Eden's Edge

Sitting on the deck at Eden's Edge, overlooking the apple orchards and stream

Eden's Edge

The view from the deck at Eden's Edge Backpacker Lodge, Motueka, S. Island