Postcards from D.C., Washington’s Cherry Blossoms!

The blossoms are set to burst any day now, so I’m sending those photos to all of you in hopes you’ll make the trip to Washington, D.C. and share in this spectacular sight. I promise you, there is no description in the world that will equal the experience of walking through showers of petals, or being engulfed in the scent of cherry blossoms!

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Palms and Traditions: Celebrating Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, a holiday that many Americans overlook. But in churches around the world, people gather, pray, and use palm fronds during the mass to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase

Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase

Among Italian-Americans this day is a whole lot more. I remember my father making us go to a second church service if the palm fronds at the first church weren’t to his satisfaction. Then we’d spend the day making little things out of the blessed palms — heart of Jesus rings, crosses, Jacob’s ladder. He regretted not learning the things his father and grandfather used to make — little donkeys, sheep and other animals.

Palm Processional

Palm Processional. Dad would have loved these gorgeous palms!  (c) Diana Belchase

 

These items would decorate our house all year long. At the end of the year, the church requires palms to be burned, but we couldn’t ever seem to do that. We just added to the ever-increasing collection of straw-like bric a brac that festooned our home.

Dad's Jacob's Ladder

One of my late father’s Jacob’s Ladders still sits on my bookshelf. (c) Diana Belchase

 

Palm Sunday also meant an elaborate midday dinner with special treats my grandmother made only once a year. Her recipes took hours to make and every bite was infused with love.

Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase

Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase

I miss those days and now, married into a non-Italian family I see the blessing growing up Italian really was. My husband’s family has been here for three hundred years. There are no family traditions other than an annual reunion that will probably die out when the last of his parents’ generation does. His cousins are scattered far and wide. They rarely see one another, rarely call, although the love in that family is as real as it is in my own. They just have a different way of expressing it.

I think, perhaps, this is more common than I ever suspected. It’s recently occurred to me that all those Martha Stewart magazines we love, all those home cooking shows on TV, the special issues and episodes with holiday ideas, are the symptom of a country minus an identity. We are so wonderfully integrated many of us have lost a bit of the “old country” that originally brought us here.

Entering Church with Palm Cross

We long to remember what grandma cooked and what our great-grandfather made. Second-generation Americans like Martha and me are so full of traditions, we can’t help wanting to share them with others. For Martha it’s become a cottage industry, for me it’s stuffing my friends’ faces with food they often say they can’t believe I made.

Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase

Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase

Today I smiled as I saw first-generation Filipinos and Africans quickly fashioning little crosses during the service from the fronds in their hands. They gathered more as they left the church, and I realized their homes must look much as my own used to. I loved that their families aren’t just full of love, but also full of tradition, the way mine used to be.

Wedding rings and Palm Fronds

Wedding rings and Palm Fronds (c) Diana Belchase

 

So I wonder dear reader, do you have family traditions? Are you searching for more? Are you able to pass these down to your children? Please tell me, I’d really like to know.

Wishing you all the blessings of a wonderful season — be it Easter, or Passover, or just plain spring. We’re lucky to be here, in the land our ancestors fought so hard to bring us to — whether it be three hundred years or only one. We’re Americans and that’s a tremendously wonderful thing to be.

XO

Mark Catesby: the Curious and Ingenious Naturalist

91fyceeC6xLDiana: Editors E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott have compiled a book about a man I’d never heard of: Mark Catesby. One of the earliest naturalists, as well as an author and illustrator, Catesby studied the fauna and flora of North America over a seven-year period. He influenced Audubon, Darwin, and the explorers Lewis and Clark. The book, The Curious Mister Catesby, is a treasure and I’m lucky today to have E. Charles Nelson do a guest post telling us more about this intriguing man.

E. Charles Nelson: The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands is undeniably a rare book, and a very remarkable one, too. Its author and illustrator, Mark Catesby produced the book himself beginning soon after he returned to England from South Carolina and the Bahamas sometime in 1726: “The whole was done within my house, and by my own hands …”. He learned how to etch on copper, and then etched the 220 copperplates, signing most of them with his distinctive “MC” monogram. After the plates had been printed by Godfrey Smith, Catesby hand-coloured them, or supervised the colouring. It is easy to see that to create the 170-odd copies of The natural history … that comprised the original printing required an immense personal investment of time and energy.

 

 

Mark Catesby had the first copies of the first part, containing the first 20 plates and accompanying letterpress, ready in mid-May 1729. Several contemporary British newspapers reported that Catesby, introduced to Court by Lord Carteret (one of the Lords Proprietors of the Carolina Colony), personally presented a copy to Her Majesty Queen Caroline. That Catesby and his book about the natural history of North America merited this personal introduction to the Queen Regent was exceptional, as was the praise the book received: “… a Work superior to any Thing of the Kind” being one comment. Dr Cromwell Mortimer, the Secretary of the august Royal Society of London, went so far as to claim that Catesby’s Natural history … was “the most magnificent Work I know of, since the Art of Printing has been discover’d.” The superb copy which Mortimer owned, bound in full russia with his armorial design stamped in gold on the covers, is today in the Smithsonian Institution’s library.

 

Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society©.

Carolina Parakeet and Bald Cypress. Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society©.

Mark Catesby continued to draw and design, etch and colour, and write for 18 more years until his book was completed in two volumes, each with 100 plates, and with an appendix of another 20 plates. It was no pocket-book: the pages of bound copies measure around 52cm × 35cm (more than 20ins tall, by 12ins across).

Born in 1683, Mark Catesby grew up in the east of England. His father was at one time mayor of Sudbury, a market town situated about 50 miles (as the crow flies) north-east of London. Mark inherited houses and land in Sudbury, as well as

Digital realization or original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

Cashew. Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

houses in London, after his far died in November 1703. Thus he was truly a “gentleman of small fortune” and this legacy surely enabled him totravel to Virginia in 1712 in the company of his older sister, Mrs Elizabeth Cocke. That first visit sparked Catesby’s enthusiasm for exploring the natural history of North America, and by the time he returned to

Digital realization or original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

Magnolia Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

England in 1719, he was already lauded as “a very ingenious gentleman” and had been labelled “that curious Botanist … of Virginia”. Plants raised from the seeds Catesby had sent to nurserymen were blooming in London gardens by 1715.

Although somewhat elusive, Mark Catesby’s links after 1728 with several parishes situated on the eastern side of London indicate that that was where he set up home with his partner Elizabeth Rowland. Between April 1731 and December 1737 the couple had four children, but, unconventionally, they did not get married until October 1747. Mark died “at his House behind St Luke’s Church” on Old Street, London, on 23 December 1749.

Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

Bobolink and rice. Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

 

Mark Catesby’s sumptuous Natural history … was  never intended as a “popular” book. The handiwork of one curious and ingenious man, it was grand in execution and ground-breaking in conception.

© E. Charles Nelson

Ten Fingers Touching & Victorian Fairy Tales

I wanted to let you all know about a real treasure of a book I recently came across. It’s called Ten Fingers Touching. What makes it unique is that it’s a fable for everyoneEllen Roth spins a tale that has excitement for adults and kids alike. The illustrations by John Blumen are breathtakingly beautiful.

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I love that Roth is reviving a tradition of story-telling that we’ve only recently lost. From the most ancient times when tribal people gathered around their fires, to the Brothers Grimm, and throughout the 1800’s, we grownups were expected to enjoy these kinds of stories as much as the little ones did.

Here’s the trailer.

This became even more apparent with my next pick, Victorian Fairy Tales. I started reading this merely because I do love a good fairy tale. But these were extraordinary.

If you liked the Princess Bride, the kind of story with a plot that twists and turns unexpectedly — and always with a droll sense of humor — you will LOVE this book. After I got through a few stories, I had to research the writers.

Well!

Imagine my surprise when they were written by the likes of Oscar Wilde, W.M. Thackeray, and Rudyard Kipling. These aren’t just tales, they are literature. Michael Newton, the editor, does a fabulous job of explaining the role of fairy tales in society, their evolution, and puts together a wonderful volume filled with original illustrations. Who knew Thackeray was originally an artist? His story, The Rose and the Ring, was one of my favorites.

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Isn’t this a gorgeous cover? I hope to interview Ross, Blumen, and Newton  in the upcoming months. Stay tuned.

There’s no reason for us to always be so serious and to discount little gems like these. Besides, don’t even we adults need a little fairy magic in our lives? Both books are now on sale. So, enjoy, dear ones, and above all, keep reading!

Mourning John Rehm

Too many people don’t know who John Rehm was and that’s a great pity. Not that he ever sought the limelight — he was a humble, gracious man who preferred to stay in the shadows and support those who knew how to shine best. He was many things: a D.C. insider, an attorney, an author, a husband and father. He was genius bright with a razor wit and self-deprecating humor. Most of all he was a really good man.

I fell into a teeny sliver of his life, but that sliver will stay with me forever.

One day my husband called me from work. “The employees have been invited to go to the Freer Gallery at lunchtime, would you like to come?” I adore art, so my answer was an immediate yes. I wasn’t an employee, so I figured I’d hang back at the edge of the group and try to blend in. That office was huge, surely there’d be a crowd.

The crowd turned out to be just three people: John, my husband, and myself. I remember him turning toward me with a sparkle in his gentle eyes, not caring whether or not I came from the office, just glad I was there.

This was the first of many lunchtime art sojourns we took with John. On that first trip, he brought us into an enormous room filled with books and scrolls. At first glance, it looked as much modern art does — odd, pretentious — is it really art?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wenchee/70721710/in/photolist-mbdZZN-mky452-iy2Ev2-iv4AhC-mtByCD-6sNWJN-mtByWz-mtCdNp-mAYWQ8-7ft6Q-6xQvFL-mhQLXX-6xQx1S-7p4RGQ

Xu Bing’s Book From the Sky courtesy of Wenchee

John never lectured to us. Instead, he started asking questions. Through his Socratic method of teaching, we learned Xu Bing, the artist, was a victim of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. How, at that time, while still in exile, he’d created over one thousand imitation Chinese characters to get the viewer to understand his point — that all the little red books in the world, even when stacked end to end, would never have real meaning. The message of his installation, Book From the Sky, extended past his own political struggles: No matter how dedicated the writer, humans still struggle with communication and understanding.

It was one of those “ah ha” moments. I stayed long after the lunch hour ended, mesmerized by what I’d seen and learned.

princesswallfull

On other museum forays I learned about the Peacock Room and how Whistler painted insults into his design, depicting his patron as miserly. We delved into the art of the scroll and screens. In the ceramics room, he learned that I threw pots and asked me to explain what I saw to him.

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You see, John never lectured. He guided and tended my knowledge of art like a gardner does his best roses. He opened my eyes to new beauty and images and let my imagination soar as he buoyed me upwards.

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The tours stopped after a while. First because of his book tours with his wife Diane, then because he wasn’t well. John never told me how he suffered, but I could hear it in his voice when I called. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I hoped with the most stubborn denial that he’d be back at the museum once again. I would tell him that Diane might have 2.5 million listeners, but that I was President of the John Rehm fan club.

I meant every word.

John never made it back. His passing was hard on his wife, his kids, and most of all, him. He deserved more. He deserved better. But that is a story for another day.

XuBing

I go to the Freer often. I like to take my cousin’s kids with me and talk to them about art the way John talked with me. In the foyer is a piece designed specifically for the museum by Xu Bing, called Monkeys Grasping for the Moon. I remember my delight as John once explained that each of the monkeys are formed from the word for “monkey” in the script from different languages. Based on a Chinese folk tale, the monkeys link arms and tails trying to capture the moon as it reflects in a lake below them, only to discover it cannot be grasped.

Full Moon (c) 2014 Diana Belchase

Every time I see it, I think of it as a permanent memorial to John.

I hope John has grasped his moon and that he’s happy and at peace. I know my life wouldn’t be the same if he hadn’t been in it. I hope he knows how thankful I am.

I miss him so.

Joyful Noise: Lessons Learned from the Yam Girl

Diana Belchase:

My dear friend Sharon wrote a tribute to our late, mutual friend , Karen below. It’s one year since Karen passed from a horrible disease, but her incredible spirit lingers on thanks to Sharon. Karen, we’ll never forget you!

Originally posted on Kiss and Thrill:

On Tuesday, I reposted the eulogy I wrote for my best friend who died last year on March 4. Today I am following up with the story I wrote about how fate intervened and gave me the words I needed to honor Karen. IMG_2069

“Yams? I don’t want yams!” The woman ahead of me yelled at the cashier of my local grocery store. “I want sweet potatoes.” She slammed down a plastic bag and got in the cashier’s pale face. “And I want them now.”

I checked my watch and bit the inside of my mouth until I tasted blood. I was late and my arms hurt from holding two bakery boxes of muffins and a half-gallon of orange juice.

All of the self-checkout lanes were getting their yearly computer upgrades and I was in the “10 items and under” lane which had a short conveyor belt I couldn’t reach yet…

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