Monday, March 30, 2015

Lugubrious Linguistics?

I love communication, and I love language. My last year of University I had to take an academic elective so I could fulfill my degree requirements. The only courses that would fit in my schedule were, English Romantic Poetry, and Linguistics. I loved the Romantic Poetry. The Linguistics became my nemesis, and I became a little jaded. I did eventually come to appreciate the crazy world of Linguists, who seem to love to fight among themselves. I did not have that kind of special brain it takes to be good at it, and just barely passed the course.

My love of words stems from my mother who did crossword puzzles everyday of her life. She had her favourite words that have become mine as well.
Milk toast, insipid, vacuous, extrapolate, ort, lugubrious, limp, jaded, lucid, salacious, doolally, loquacious, interlope, banal, bucolic, are just a few words I am most fond of, though I don't use them often. I like to make words up, and so why shouldn't we? Language is a living thing. It is always changing and ever evolving.

I would have enjoyed watching this video in my Linguistics class. What I did find most compelling in my linguistics class was learning that linguistics is about the history of people, and you'll see this for yourself in this very humourous and entertaining, animated History of English.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Marvin (Popcorn) Sutton - Moonshine Mountain Man

Marvin (Popcorn) Sutton - M. Reach

The other day I heard that the Appalachian mountains on the East Coast of North America were once joined all together with Scotland, before the ocean separated the continents. This truly is the history of Appalachia  with ancestors from the British Isles.

I've always been very drawn to Appalachia, the music, the people, and their connection with the land. Living along part of Appalachia trail, here in Nova Scotia it feels close to my heart and soul. It's a big part of my own family history.

The story of Appalachia is rich, tragic and beautiful. Alan Lomax did a documentary called Appalachian Journey , an amazing historical video made in 1991, that I just finished viewing. It's about an hour of watching but if you want to see something that certainly gives an in depth history of Appalachia, it is well worth watching.

There are many contemporary correlations in the way the land today in North America is being stripped for fossil fuel with fracking and oil, and the way North Carolina was stripped for coal and gold, leaving the land decimated and it's people in poverty.

I was especially captured by the linguistics of the people, the music and how folk in the mountains where basically forced into moon-shining to survive because of the dire poverty and the way corn was harvested.

A few years back I happened upon a You-tube video that musician Seasick Steve did about a mountain man by the name of Marvin (Popcorn) Sutton. It was really something. Here's short film done by photographer and film maker Andy Armstrong.

"The Work Is to Keep Doing The Work"

The Red Shoes-Egg Tempera, Catherine Meyers 2012

At night, while in bed, is how I like to read my books.
I absorb certain books little by slowly, and re-read the ones like Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, when I want to do some unconscious digging into my instinct. This instinct is about as Clarissa Pinkola says, is realizing that " the work is to keep doing the work", the work of new growth. Life grows and diminishes in different areas and rates she states.

Dr. Pinkola Estes is not only a Ph.D Jungian analyst, but a cantadora storyteller. She tells these stories to help women restore their vitality by doing what she calls " psychic archeological digs" into the the female unconscious, what she calls the Wild Woman.

We all have our way of doing things, of expressing ourselves, and I believe it's important to find out what this is in order to find our own voice and our authentic selves.

Thinking about alcoholism and myself as a recovering alcoholic, I decided to read a story concerning the topic of addiction, which brought me to re-reading The Red Shoes which is a fairy tale by the Danish poet and writer Hans Christian Anderson. It's a rather dark, disturbing story about a young girl who becomes enchanted by red shoes, which make her dance to the point were she cannot stop dancing. Eventually she ends up having her feet severed, the only way she can stop the dancing. It is the story of addiction and finding your own voice, being your authentic self according to your vision, longings, passions and what you value.
Surrounding ourselves with others who will support us in this, is vital to our sense of self, and happiness.

 " He who cannot howl, will not find his pack. " - Charles Simic

The Red Shoes


Hans Christian Andersen


ONCE upon a time there was little girl, pretty and dainty. But in summer time she was obliged to go barefooted because she was poor, and in winter she had to wear large wooden shoes, so that her little instep grew quite red.
In the middle of the village lived an old shoemaker’s wife; she sat down and made, as well as she could, a pair of little shoes out of some old pieces of red cloth. They were clumsy, but she meant well, for they were intended for the little girl, whose name was Karen.
Karen received the shoes and wore them for the first time on the day of her mother’s funeral. They were certainly not suitable for mourning; but she had no others, and so she put her bare feet into them and walked behind the humble coffin.
Just then a large old carriage came by, and in it sat an old lady; she looked at the little girl, and taking pity on her, said to the clergyman, “Look here, if you will give me the little girl, I will take care of her.”
Karen believed that this was all on account of the red shoes, but the old lady thought them hideous, and so they were burnt. Karen herself was dressed very neatly and cleanly; she was taught to read and to sew, and people said that she was pretty. But the mirror told her, “You are more than pretty—you are beautiful.”
One day the Queen was travelling through that part of the country, and had her little daughter, who was a princess, with her. All the people, amongst them Karen too, streamed towards the castle, where the little princess, in fine white clothes, stood before the window and allowed herself to be stared at. She wore neither a train nor a golden crown, but beautiful red morocco shoes; they were indeed much finer than those which the shoemaker’s wife had sewn for little Karen. There is really nothing in the world that can be compared to red shoes!
Karen was now old enough to be confirmed; she received some new clothes, and she was also to have some new shoes. The rich shoemaker in the town took the measure of her little foot in his own room, in which there stood great glass cases full of pretty shoes and white slippers. It all looked very lovely, but the old lady could not see very well, and therefore did not get much pleasure out of it. Amongst the shoes stood a pair of red ones, like those which the princess had worn. How beautiful they were! and the shoemaker said that they had been made for a count’s daughter, but that they had not fitted her.
“I suppose they are of shiny leather?” asked the old lady. “They shine so.”
“Yes, they do shine,” said Karen. They fitted her, and were bought. But the old lady knew nothing of their being red, for she would never have allowed Karen to be confirmed in red shoes, as she was now to be.
Everybody looked at her feet, and the whole of the way from the church door to the choir it seemed to her as if even the ancient figures on the monuments, in their stiff collars and long black robes, had their eyes fixed on her red shoes. It was only of these that she thought when the clergyman laid his hand upon her head and spoke of the holy baptism, of the covenant with God, and told her that she was now to be a grown-up Christian. The organ pealed forth solemnly, and the sweet children’s voices mingled with that of their old leader; but Karen thought only of her red shoes. In the afternoon the old lady heard from everybody that Karen had worn red shoes. She said that it was a shocking thing to do, that it was very improper, and that Karen was always to go to church in future in black shoes, even if they were old.
On the following Sunday there was Communion. Karen looked first at the black shoes, then at the red ones—looked at the red ones again, and put them on.
The sun was shining gloriously, so Karen and the old lady went along the footpath through the corn, where it was rather dusty.
At the church door stood an old crippled soldier leaning on a crutch; he had a wonderfully long beard, more red than white, and he bowed down to the ground and asked the old lady whether he might wipe her shoes. Then Karen put out her little foot too. “Dear me, what pretty dancing-shoes!” said the soldier. “Sit fast, when you dance,” said he, addressing the shoes, and slapping the soles with his hand.
The old lady gave the soldier some money and then went with Karen into the church.
And all the people inside looked at Karen’s red shoes, and all the figures gazed at them; when Karen knelt before the altar and put the golden goblet to her mouth, she thought only of the red shoes. It seemed to her as though they were swimming about in the goblet, and she forgot to sing the psalm, forgot to say the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Now every one came out of church, and the old lady stepped into her carriage. But just as Karen was lifting up her foot to get in too, the old soldier said: “Dear me, what pretty dancing shoes!” and Karen could not help it, she was obliged to dance a few steps; and when she had once begun, her legs continued to dance. It seemed as if the shoes had got power over them. She danced round the church corner, for she could not stop; the coachman had to run after her and seize her. He lifted her into the carriage, but her feet continued to dance, so that she kicked the good old lady violently. At last they took off her shoes, and her legs were at rest.
At home the shoes were put into the cupboard, but Karen could not help looking at them.
Now the old lady fell ill, and it was said that she would not rise from her bed again. She had to be nursed and waited upon, and this was no one’s duty more than Karen’s. But there was a grand ball in the town, and Karen was invited. She looked at the red shoes, saying to herself that there was no sin in doing that; she put the red shoes on, thinking there was no harm in that either; and then she went to the ball; and commenced to dance.
But when she wanted to go to the right, the shoes danced to the left, and when she wanted to dance up the room, the shoes danced down the room, down the stairs through the street, and out through the gates of the town. She danced, and was obliged to dance, far out into the dark wood. Suddenly something shone up among the trees, and she believed it was the moon, for it was a face. But it was the old soldier with the red beard; he sat there nodding his head and said: “Dear me, what pretty dancing shoes!”
She was frightened, and wanted to throw the red shoes away; but they stuck fast. She tore off her stockings, but the shoes had grown fast to her feet. She danced and was obliged to go on dancing over field and meadow, in rain and sunshine, by night and by day—but by night it was most horrible.
She danced out into the open churchyard; but the dead there did not dance. They had something better to do than that. She wanted to sit down on the pauper’s grave where the bitter fern grows; but for her there was neither peace nor rest. And as she danced past the open church door she saw an angel there in long white robes, with wings reaching from his shoulders down to the earth; his face was stern and grave, and in his hand he held a broad shining sword.
“Dance you shall,” said he, “dance in your red shoes till you are pale and cold, till your skin shrivels up and you are a skeleton! Dance you shall, from door to door, and where proud and wicked children live you shall knock, so that they may hear you and fear you! Dance you shall, dance—!”
“Mercy!” cried Karen. But she did not hear what the angel answered, for the shoes carried her through the gate into the fields, along highways and byways, and unceasingly she had to dance.
One morning she danced past a door that she knew well; they were singing a psalm inside, and a coffin was being carried out covered with flowers. Then she knew that she was forsaken by every one and damned by the angel of God.
She danced, and was obliged to go on dancing through the dark night. The shoes bore her away over thorns and stumps till she was all torn and bleeding; she danced away over the heath to a lonely little house. Here, she knew, lived the executioner; and she tapped with her finger at the window and said:
“Come out, come out! I cannot come in, for I must dance.”
And the executioner said: “I don’t suppose you know who I am. I strike off the heads of the wicked, and I notice that my axe is tingling to do so.”
“Don’t cut off my head!” said Karen, “for then I could not repent of my sin. But cut off my feet with the red shoes.”
And then she confessed all her sin, and the executioner struck off her feet with the red shoes; but the shoes danced away with the little feet across the field into the deep forest.
And he carved her a pair of wooden feet and some crutches, and taught her a psalm which is always sung by sinners; she kissed the hand that guided the axe, and went away over the heath.
“Now, I have suffered enough for the red shoes,” she said; “I will go to church, so that people can see me.” And she went quickly up to the church-door; but when she came there, the red shoes were dancing before her, and she was frightened, and turned back.
During the whole week she was sad and wept many bitter tears, but when Sunday came again she said: “Now I have suffered and striven enough. I believe I am quite as good as many of those who sit in church and give themselves airs.” And so she went boldly on; but she had not got farther than the churchyard gate when she saw the red shoes dancing along before her. Then she became terrified, and turned back and repented right heartily of her sin.
She went to the parsonage, and begged that she might be taken into service there. She would be industrious, she said, and do everything that she could; she did not mind about the wages as long as she had a roof over her, and was with good people. The pastor’s wife had pity on her, and took her into service. And she was industrious and thoughtful. She sat quiet and listened when the pastor read aloud from the Bible in the evening. All the children liked her very much, but when they spoke about dress and grandeur and beauty she would shake her head.
On the following Sunday they all went to church, and she was asked whether she wished to go too; but, with tears in her eyes, she looked sadly at her crutches. And then the others went to hear God’s Word, but she went alone into her little room; this was only large enough to hold the bed and a chair. Here she sat down with her hymn-book, and as she was reading it with a pious mind, the wind carried the notes of the organ over to her from the church, and in tears she lifted up her face and said: “O God! help me!”
Then the sun shone so brightly, and right before her stood an angel of God in white robes; it was the same one whom she had seen that night at the church-door. He no longer carried the sharp sword, but a beautiful green branch, full of roses; with this he touched the ceiling, which rose up very high, and where he had touched it there shone a golden star. He touched the walls, which opened wide apart, and she saw the organ which was pealing forth; she saw the pictures of the old pastors and their wives, and the congregation sitting in the polished chairs and singing from their hymn-books. The church itself had come to the poor girl in her narrow room, or the room had gone to the church. She sat in the pew with the rest of the pastor’s household, and when they had finished the hymn and looked up, they nodded and said, “It was right of you to come, Karen.”
“It was mercy,” said she.
The organ played and the children’s voices in the choir sounded soft and lovely. The bright warm sunshine streamed through the window into the pew where Karen sat, and her heart became so filled with it, so filled with peace and joy, that it broke. Her soul flew on the sunbeams to Heaven, and no one was there who asked after the Red Shoes.
The End

Friday, March 27, 2015

" Music Saved Our Lives "

Saul Dreier and Ruben Sosnowicz

 Another testament to survival, of how one's love, and passion for creativity, in particular music, can give you the will to live is seen in Saul Dreier and Ruby Sosnowicz, who started the Holocaust Survivor's Band, as a tribute to late fellow musician and survivor, Alice Herz-Somer. Such a beautiful soul.

I love these two guys Saul and Ruby. Saul, he reminds me so much of my father, who's family came from Poland with his Jewish Germanic name.

You can see more videos and listen to the interview with Saul and Ruby here on CBC Radio Q.

The Turnip Princess

Listening to late night radio, I hear and learn about so many things from all over the world. Many are tragic, some funny, entertaining, and some can spark my interest enough to blog about them, particularly when they involve stories about life related to anything creative.

My art work involves fairy tales and story, so I was especially excited, and very curious to learn about a volume of 500 new fairy tales that had been recently found in Germany. These fairy tales were collected by local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810-1886) in Bavaria from country folk all over, around the same time as the Brothers Grimm, however faded into obscurity as these tales never gained popularity, and  were stored away for over 150 years, until now.

This Guardian article explains that Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer found them.
I loved what she says about fairy tales. She calls them a " valuable treasure known to man: ancient knowledge and wisdom to do with human development, testing our limits and salvation. "

Here is an example of one of these fairy tales.

The Turnip Princess

A young prince lost his way in the forest and came to a cave. He passed the night there, and when he awoke there stood next to him an old woman with a bear and a dog. The old witch seemed very beautiful and wished that the prince would stay with her and marry her. He could not endure her, yet could not leave that place.

One day, the bear was alone with him and spoke to the prince: "Pull the rusty nail from the wall, so that I shall be delivered, and place it beneath a turnip in the field, and in this way you shall have a beautiful wife." The prince seized the nail so strongly that the cave shook and the nail cracked loudly like a clap of thunder. Behind him a bear stood up from the ground like a man, bearded and with a crown on his head.

"Now I shall find a beautiful maiden," cried the prince and went forth nimbly. He came to a field of turnips and was about to place the nail beneath one of them when there appeared above him a monster, so that he dropped the nail, pricked his finger on a hedge and bled until he fell down senseless. When he awoke he saw that he was elsewhere and that he had long slumbered, for his smooth chin was now frizzy with a blond beard.

He arose and set off across field and forest and searched through every turnip field but nowhere found what he was looking for. Day passed and night, too, and one evening, he sat down on a ridge beneath a bush, a flowering blackthorn with red blossoms on one branch. He broke off the branch, and because there was before him, amongst the other things on the ground, a large, white turnip, he stuck the blackthorn branch into the turnip and fell asleep.

When he awoke on the morrow, the turnip beside him looked like a large, open shell in which lay the nail, and the wall of the turnip resembled a nut-shell, whose kernel seemed to shape his picture. He saw there the little foot, the thin hand, the whole body, even the fine hair so delicately imprinted, just as the most beautiful girl would have.

The prince stood up and began his search, and came at last to the old cave in the forest, but no one was there. He took out the nail and struck it into the wall of the cave, and at once the old woman and the bear were also there. "Tell me, for you know for certain," snarled the prince fiercely at the old woman, "where have you put the beautiful girl from the parlour?" The old woman giggled to hear this: "You have me, so why do you scorn me?"

The bear nodded, too, and looked for the nail in the wall. "You are honest, to be sure," said the prince, "but I shall not be the old woman's fool again." "Just pull out the nail," growled the bear. The prince reached for it and pulled it half out, looked about him and saw the bear as already half man, and the odious old woman almost as a beautiful and kind girl. Thereupon he drew out the nail entirely and flew into her arms for she had been delivered from the spell laid upon her and the nail burnt up like fire, and the young bridal pair travelled with his father, the king, to his kingdom.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Making Viva Frida

I have been a fan of Frida Kahlo's for a long time now. I think I can say she actually is my favourite artist. Not only because of her art, but because of her spirit, her love, and passion for life.

I met a lovely young woman online from Spain the past week, and asked her today if she liked Frida Kahlo. She told me yes she did, very much. Then just today, I found out about a new children's book that has been published, called Viva Frida, by the award-winning author/illustrator Yuyi Morales who has produced it. Here is a video that shows the painstaking and loving process that the artist went through to create the machetes, that were photographed for this beautiful and enchantingly illustrated book.
You can vote for Yuyi Morales for best Children's Illustrator in the CBC book awards competition here:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Hooked On Hamilton - The Mystic Highway

I grew up in the east end of Toronto during the 50s, in a working class neighbourhood. At the age of ten my family moved to Southern Ontario in 1963, and then we lived in Guelph until I was 15. As a teenager, I was very aware of Hamilton and Kitchener. The cities were often thought of as being synonymous. One got the impression that Guelph thought of itself as a little more sophisticated, after all of the industrial factories were outside of the city, sight unseen. But there was an underside, of the pristine civilized city surface, as I found out first hand, in my pubescent youth, enchanted with the 60s counter culture.

My brother who was very much the 'greaser,' born in 1943 and ten years older then me, was getting into his own messes. He informed me that he'd spent his only night in the local jail, sharing a cell with a mafia guy. Seems the mafia had infiltrated Guelph. I certainly knew the biker scene was active, as was the drug culture.

Hamilton and Kitchener's reputation preceded itself, in that it was well known for having a lot of bikers, working class partying rough necks, and drugs. I'd never had the opportunity to spend any time in Hamilton, nor did I ever want to go, cause I was a little afraid, but when I hit my teens, I became acutely aware of the level of talent that was coming out of this area like Crowbar, and King Biscuit Boy, under the influence of Ronnie Hawkins. My brother worshiped The Hawk, and I began to learn through osmosis from my brother's love and knowledge of music, and about the bands that The Hawk was involved with, or them helped get their start. I was completely hooked on Hamilton and didn't know it.

One of the biggest reasons my brother loved Ronnie Hawkins was his salt of the earth personality, his great sense of humour, and his wild side. When musicians are loved, it's not just because of their raw talent, it's because of the kind of personalities they have. The more down to earth they are, the average working class person relates to them.

I love these interviews with Tom Wilson who talks about the rich musical history of Hamilton. Tom is about as down to earth, and working class as you can get, as are his associate members in the band Blackie and The Rodeo Kings. I think these factors all play a big part in why they have become so successful, loved, individually and collectively.

As a member of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, Tom Wilson, Stephen Fearing, and Colin Linden are very cognizent of the importance of musical history, and keeping this tradition alive, and I think unites them as a musical force of nature for a greater good. The name of their band, being a tribute to the late great Willie P. Bennett, who was the song writer's writer.

Here is what I think is the best video interview done with Tom Wilson, that embodies the musical history of Hamilton. It gives insight into the kind of person Tom Wilson is, as a musician and a Hamiltonian.