Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Ball Dropped at 8:15 PM

New Year's Party down the block with kids:
the ball drops at 8:15 PM and then bedtime!

Also posted on my food blog.

Happy New Year and Good Birds in 2015!

Another beautiful high-key photo that Len took this week.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Smokers in Art: With Update

Sapeck (Eugène Bataille):
Mona Lisa with a Pipe, 1883
I hate smoking. But I'm quite fascinated by smokers as they appear in artworks. A few days ago, I did a post on smokers in art for my food blog -- since some people have viewed smoking as a kind of consumption, analog to eating. I'm aware of a lot more smokers in art than I included there, though, so I'm expanding the post to include more pictures along with those in my earlier post.

Of course the first artwork I want to add is one of the numerous parodies of Mona Lisa smoking (though recently, she seems to have given up tobacco for other substances).

I chose the very early Mona Lisa parody at left. It was made before the theft in 1911 inspired a rage of interpretations, and long before Marcel Duchamp's famous "L.H.O.O.Q." Its creator was "proto-performance artist Sapeck (Eugène Bataille), who was known to travel the streets with his head painted blue." Evidently there were surrealist types in Paris well before the Dada movement! (source)

But to return to the topic of smoking in more serious art: during the Dutch Golden Age many painters of homey scenes included smokers. Around 150 years after America -- source of tobacco -- began supplying novel products for the European market, smoking seems to have been very well-established:

Adriaen Brouwer: The Smoker, 1630-1638
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Adriaen Brouwer: Smokers, ca. 1636
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gerrit Dou: Self-Portrait, c. 1640.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 
Gerrit Dou: Man Smoking a Pipe, c. 1650.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Adriaen Van Ostade: from Travelers at Rest
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Adriaen Van Ostade: The Smoker, c. 1647.
Adriaen Van Ostade: Smoker at a Window,
c. 1667. Detroit Institute of Arts
Dirck Hals: Gentlemen Smoking and Playing Backgammon, c. 1687
Vincent van Gogh painted several smokers:

An early Picasso in the Barnes collection surprised me with the cigarette in her hand:

Picasso: Woman with Cigarette, 1903
Throughout his career, Picasso continued to include smokers in a large number of his works. Many photos of Picasso show him with a cigarette. Here's one from over 60 years later:

Picasso: The Smoker, 1964

Cezanne painted a few smokers as well. Two pipe smokers are included in his famous card players, and his 1897 portrait of Henry Gasquet includes a cigarette:

Finally, also at the Barnes, this wonderful picture -- I believe the man in the lower left is smoking as he waits for his child to finish his music lesson. I couldn't stop looking at this painting.

Henri Matisse: The Music Lesson

Lucien Freud: Boy Smoking, 1950-51
Tate Gallery, London
As I said on my food blog -- I dislike the smell, the activity, and the risks involved with smoking. I'm very happy that it's no longer allowed in most public interior spaces, and it's becoming less and less common in outdoor public spaces. It's been years since anyone even gave a single thought to smoking inside my house, or inside most homes. That said, smoking was once a common activity, shared and enjoyed by a large part of the population (though some paid dearly for having done so). And it's thus well-represented in art.

Update, December 6, 2014. From the book Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures by Marcy Norton -- an exceptional early Spanish painting of smokers:
(atribuido a Antonio de Puga)
La taberna, ca. 1660-1670
Museo de Pontrevedra, Pontevedra, Spain
... and one of many paintings with smokers by David Tenniers the younger (1640):

"The Smoker" by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1863)
Detroit Institute of Arts.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Good Books, 2014

Well, 2014 is almost over and people are making lists. Here goes: good books that I've read this year, including some that we read in my various book clubs. I've written blog posts here or at my food blog about quite a few of them, but it never hurts to make a list.


  • Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
  • A Replacement Life, Boris Fishman
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami
  • The Family Mashber, Der Nister


  • Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, Bee Wilson
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey, Gary Paul Nabhan
  • Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, Jeffrey M. Pilcher
  • The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret world of Hershey and Mars, Joel Glenn Brenner
  • My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Ari Shavit
  • One Summer: America, 1927, Bill Bryson
  • The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, Dan Jurafsky
  • Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, Thomas McNamee
  • Breaking Bread in Galilee: A Culinary Journey into the Promised Land, Abbie Rosner
  • Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live, Marlene Zuk

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Helping people in need

I want to start with a very moving poem that I first heard at a reading by Allen Ginsberg around 20 years ago. He chanted the poem while playing the tune "Amazing Grace" on his hand-organ. The poem is from the Poetry Foundation website.

New Stanzas for Amazing Grace
By Allen Ginsberg

I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place
Where I was lost alone
Folk looked right through me into space
And passed with eyes of stone

O homeless hand on many a street
Accept this change from me
A friendly smile or word is sweet
As fearless charity

Woe workingman who hears the cry
And cannot spare a dime
Nor look into a homeless eye
Afraid to give the time

So rich or poor no gold to talk
A smile on your face
The homeless ones where you may walk
Receive amazing grace

I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place
Where I was lost alone
Folk looked right through me into space
And passed with eyes of stone

April 2, 1994

As this poem so clearly expresses, it's almost impossible to imagine oneself into the position of a homeless person, it's so painful. It's much harder than imagining the experiences of families who experience hunger, as I wrote in today's food blog post:

In this food blog post I briefly described how two social service organizations help needy people in our town, Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Many homeless people beg on the streets here as described in the poem, and despite Ginsberg's opinion, and compassion, I feel that the way to help them is through organizations that try to address all of their problems, not by giving them spare change.

In our town, SOS Community Services (that I discussed in the food blog post) and the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County both have important programs to help homeless people find both temporary and permanent housing. If you live here, I hope you will donate to these organizations, and if you live elsewhere, I hope you will find your local helping organizations and donate to them.

Shelter Association
SOS Community Services

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Book Discussion Questions: Miss Peregrine

My book club is meeting later this week to discuss Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Most of the questions available on the web were intended for the young adult audience that's central to this book. So I made up some questions for us: middle aged and older adults!


  1. Riggs offers several parallels between the "Peculiars" in his story and the Jews during the Holocaust (see note below). He specifically says that Jacob Portman's grandfather was doubly affected because the Nazis were trying to exterminate the Jews while the Hollowghasts were trying to destroy the Peculiars. How does this comparison work out in the experiences of Jacob Portman? 
  2. Discuss Jacob's experience discovering identities: his own, that of his grandfather, that of all the monsters who had been in his life, that of the Peculiars, etc?
  3. Did you find the descriptions of "monsters" horrifying – especially because only Jacob can see them? How did they work into the theme of betrayal – Dr.Golan is a monster, the school-bus driver is a monster, etc. Parents, aunts, uncles, age-peers are all unsympathetic or hostile. Only the grandfather, the least-plausible adult, turns out to have been trustworthy. That is, until the Peculiars appear.
  4. Was the use of old photos effective? Do you think Riggs' choices were good? Did he combine his love of old photos into a seamless plot?
  5. How does the author use the three extremely different settings -- modern Florida, modern Cairnholm, (the fictitious island off Wales with a spooky ruined house and a time-travel “loop” entry under an ancient grave), and the same island during World War II?
  6. Do you know kids who have read it? What was their reaction? 
A little background about the title. “Peculiar people” has for a long time been a term used by various authors for the Jews. A few examples:

  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651: "But supposing that these of mine are not such principles of reason; yet I am sure they are principles from authority of Scripture, as I shall make it appear when I shall come to speak of the kingdom of God, administered by Moses, over the Jews, His peculiar people by covenant."
  • Israel Zangwill's 1892 novel is titled Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People.
  • Isaiah Berlin, The Power of Ideas (mid 20th century) "An American wit once declared the Jews were a peculiar people because they were just like everyone else, only more so." 
  • Eric Hoffer, 1968: "The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews." 
I reviewed both published volumes of the Miss Peregrine series in this blog post.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


This weekend we did some very nice birdwatching. We were successful in photographing several new birds, including snow buntings and snow geese. We also know of several other "snowy" birds, that we have in our photo collection. Among North American snowbirds, we are missing the Himalayan Snowcock, which is native to Pakistan and India, but has been introduced into the Ruby Mountains of Nevada. Below are our photos of the other North American snowbirds.

Snowy Plover, Coal Oil Point Reserve, Santa Barbara
Snowy Egret,  Chincoteague Island
Snow Bunting, Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Saginaw, MI.;
Snow Geese, Watkins Lake, Jackson County, MI 
Snowy Owl, Washtenaw County, MI
Dark-Eyed Junco, informally called the snowbird
We are just starting to see juncos this week, as they arrive at our bird feeder. "Juncos are the 'snowbirds' of the middle latitudes. Over most of the eastern United States, they appear as winter sets in and then retreat northward each spring." (Cornell Ornithology Lab)

Of course the term snowbird means something else too
(source: Gabe Clogston)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

At Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge near Saginaw yesterday we enjoyed driving around the loop designed for vistas over the marshlands and flooded woods that welcome many birds. We both took quite a few photos.

Flying sandhill cranes -- Len's photo.
A swan, canada geese, coots, and ducks swimming in one of the ponds, illustrating the incredible abundance of birds.
In the middle distance are two groups of sandhill cranes.

Two little snow buntings were hopping around on the road in front of us for a while.
Much of the loop, a one-lane, one-way semi-paved road, is built on a kind of dike above the surface of the ponds, marshy areas, and ditches that run through the refuge. The Saginaw River is on one side, and you can see the pumping equipment that controls the flow of water through the area. Everyone was driving very slowly, stopping whenever they wanted, even when there were no turnouts, because there's no reason to be there if you aren't a birdwatcher -- or, at other times, a hunter.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Barnes Foundation Gift Shop

We loved the art collection at the Barnes Foundation today, but Mona Lisa always deserves a special shout-out! Here are the gift shop items I noticed:

Monday, October 06, 2014

Beautiful Fall Day

Arnold Road just into Jackson County is the location of Watkins Lake
(confusingly sometimes called Thorn Lake)
We spent the morning there yesterday in beautiful fall weather.

We were there looking for a Cackling Goose, which might just be the one on the left in this photo. Recently, ornithologists did DNA tests on the smallest Canada Geese. These geese have a somewhat smaller beak (compared to their heads, so it seems to be kind of stubby). DNA revealed that they are actually a separate species that hang out with the big guys. So we wanted to see it. Problem is, Canada Geese vary a lot in size.