Forum Holitorium

Month: October, 2015

Exiting October: A Still Life

Why is it only today that I realized how much I enjoy still lifes and that I would like to learn more about their history? In art museums, I gravitate toward them, not portraits or landscapes, perhaps because they offer a glimpse  into the everyday life of the painter, the objects lying around at the moment brush touched canvas. Food is a common subject – fruit, for example – and flowers too. And then there are still lifes with a momento mori touch: a skull here, an hourglass there, reminding the viewer that everything in life is in a state of perpetual change, that all is fleeting.

Of course still lifes can be joyful, a carefully arranged composition of disparate objects. The one you see above offers a visual summary of the previous week. I finished knitting a cabled rectangle that will soon be folded and made into a pencil/double point needle case. A friend gave me the blank yellow notebook for my birthday. The pendant with the Roman goddess Ceres is a souvenir of a trip to the living history museum at the site of Carnuntum, a camp along the Limes which protected the ancient Roman province of Pannonia and where Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations. The loaf is a Striezel, a braided yeast bread with raisins typically eaten on All Saint’s Day in Austria and southern Germany. TC will make a batch of laundry detergent with the horse chestnuts we gathered. And the leaves are from one of the oldest trees in Austria.

This oak tree near Bad Blumau in eastern Styria is more than 1,000 years old – not the oldest oak in Europe as it claims to be, but still awe inspiring. Younger than the Roman walls at Carnuntum, yet older than the House of Habsburg. It was wonderful to be able to approach it, to walk around it, to touch its bark. I am thankful it was not roped off like a museum piece. My thoughts meandered back to a story I had just heard. There was a storyteller at Carnuntum reading ancient Roman myths. TC and I sat down to listen to one. It just happened to be a version of Ovid’s tale of Philemon and Baucis. The gods Jupiter and Mercury disguise themselves as peasants and visit a town, looking for a place to sleep at night. The only people to offer them hospitality are an old couple, Baucis and Philemon. As a reward, the gods grant them one wish. Satisfied with their life up till that point despite living in poverty, they ask to die at the same time so as not to be alone in old age. The gods grant them their wish, and after the couple die, they are transformed into two trees, an oak and a linden, whose roots grow together intertwined, keeping them united in death. I did not see a linden near this oak tree, so it must have been a bachelor.

After our visit to Carnuntum, we took a stroll along the Danube at Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, a small spa town also dating back to Roman times. We were not alone as we watched the traffic on the river. I have heard of trainspotters, so I assume the middle aged man taking a selfie of himself against the backdrop of each of the boats that went by is a member of the species Homo sapiens boatspotterus. In a lovely park full of fallen leaves, we happened upon this sculpture of the river god Danuvius. Previous visitors had left him an offering of horse chestnuts.

Autumn is a beautiful word, derived from the Latin autumnus of uncertain origin. One theory I like is that it comes from the Etruscan and means the passing of the year. Its synonym, fall, comes from the Old English feallan, to fall or die, indicating the prevalence of deciduous trees in the area where the language developed. The German word for autumn/fall, Herbst, is related to the English word harvest. The Polish word for November, listopad, means leaves fall, and by the end of the upcoming month this natural process will be complete for the year. Only a few more weeks to marvel at the blaze of yellow and feel the sink of your feet into a layer of leaves.

Enjoy the fleeting beauty of everything around you!

Peter Quince and Nick Bottom

The autumn rainy season arrived last week and continues. When there is a pause of an hour or so in precipitation, TC and I throw on the wool and hiking shoes and head out in search of adventure. One such foray led to a serendipitous sighting of three donkeys chewing on a fence near the parish church in Straßengel. I feel a certain kinship to donkeys, and not just because my great-grandmother’s maiden name was a Tuscan dialect word for donkey: this animal and I are willing to work hard to do what we want to but have no difficulty refusing to do something that another creature wants us to do if we are not convinced of its appropriateness. Stubbornness need not be seen as a negative quality – a stubborn individual is not easily pushed around.

After a few failed attempts at sweater projects with this yarn, I finally finished a bulky jacket of handspun wool from sheep on an island in the Baltic Sea whose name eludes me. I modified a popular pattern by adding an intricate cable from a scarf and lengthening the sleeves. There are so many cable patterns out there. While many speak to me, others leave me cold or make me wrinkle my nose. The trend at the moment is extravagant. Designers seem to be capitalizing on the appeal of cables by trying to cram too many into a single project. (This may have the inadvertent effect of scaring away potential cable knitters who are daunted by the number of different charts they need to follow on one piece.) Just a few well positioned cables on a classic design (like the mostly stockinette base of the jacket above) are all you need to jazz up a basic sweater. I’ve started printing out cable patterns that I like and collecting them in a folder. Then when I find a basic pattern I like, I will be able to incorporate cable elements into it. There is still so much to learn, but it is fortunate that there are so many good resources for knitters available on the Web.

There is still much to learn about quince processing as well. TC transformed our first windfall of quinces into membrillo, or quince paste, and quince jelly. The second group of beauties shown above came from the farmer’s market. Since their beautiful skin is unriddled by bruises, they should keep awhile. What an intoxicating aroma they give off! I can’t bear the thought of cutting them up. I think we’ll plan on getting uglier ones at the market on Saturday, ones that need to be processed right away.

Though the lack of sunshine (and thus adequate light for taking pictures) is getting to me, rainy weather is conducive to reading and knitting. I have decided to experiment with setting specific goals for what I want to read and knit over shorter periods of time and see if this helps me work through my stacks of books and yarn stash any quicker. I’d like to read the books and knit up the yarn in the picture above by the beginning of November. If this weather holds, it shouldn’t be difficult.

 Keep warm and dry, be stubborn when necessary, and good luck with your projects!

The Woods are Watching the Bounty

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We thought we were alone, walking along the trail to the reconstructed Celtic farmstead near the village of Kleinklein. But then I spied this fellow, most likely an intimate of the Green Man, and recognized my error. These hills have long born witness to settlement, to cultivation of the land, to farmers and smiths and weavers and people not incredibly different from you and I in their hopes and dreams. Love, understanding, acceptance, meaningful work, prosperity, good health, enjoyment. In our pursuit of our dreams, we humans tend to leave traces, and those in southern Styria date back more than 6000 years. This past weekend, TC and I visited numerous sites populated by the Romans, the Celts, and those who came before them. The lush, fruitful landscape of the Sausal region is still an attractive place to live, work, and play, with a microclimate much warmer than the Alpine region located just to the north and nourished by the Sulm and Lassnitz rivers. It is equally beautiful yet much more peaceful than the popular South Styrian Wine Road to the south.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Harvest time: gathering, collecting, celebrating the year’s bounty. The grape harvest is in full swing. Apples, pears, and quinces may or may not still hang heavy on the trees in the Streuobstwiesen, or traditional small orchards that can feature a variety of different kinds of fruit trees and that are unfortunately endangered by the spread of monocultures like grapes or corn and the building of new houses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Though the idyllic image of life in the countryside rests upon the expectation of peace and quiet, working farms are loud with heavy machinery like tractors, harvesters, and liquid manure spreaders – at this time of the year in particular. The fresh air often contains pockets of diesel fumes from said equipment or tourist automobiles (thank you, VW). Nonetheless,the chance of finding pockets of stillness where you can breathe deeply without fearing for your life is much higher than in the city, and we were very fortunate. Autumn is truly a splendid time to visit the Sausal.

The hikes we took over hill, over dale, over the rivers and through the woods, were incredibly restorative. At night when the clouds rolled away, I could see the stars and waning gibbous moon. In the early morning when the mist had risen up from the valley, I felt cozy and happily cut off from the rest of the world. And in the late afternoon sun, it was so warm that I was able to sit outside knitting, drinking lemon balm tea, and savoring homemade walnut cake.

Yes, it is nut season, and I am married to a squirrel. We drove home with a car weighted down by 10 kilos of walnuts, 2 kilos of chestnuts, and several kilos more of apples, pears, and quinces. Bounty: abundance, plenty, something given in generous amounts, a word that dates back to the 13th century, when it meant goodness or generosity.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Enjoy the bounty of the season!