Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Budapest

Kate and Elliot and I went backpacking through Eastern Europe in May and June 2007. We wanted to combine travel with some sort of service project, and while that part didn't turn out exactly as we'd hoped (more on that in the Bosnia installment), we still had an amazing time. Just looking back over the photos is thawing out my toes (more snow tomorrow, says the weatherman, and these days the weatherman is always right), so I think I'll start retroblogging a bit before the three- year mark.

(Three years! How did that happen?!)

We did Budapest for a few days, then RomaniaSigh
işoara, Braşov and Rasnov, hiked in the Piatra Craiului mountains, back to Braşov, Sinaia, and to Bucharest to meet my Romanian publisher—then a night train to Belgrade, one night in Kotor in Montenegro; then Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar Island in Croatia; then a night each in Mostar and Sarajevo, where we split up—Elliot had to go home, so he took a train back to Budapest, and Kate and I went on to Brčko (still in Bosnia) to volunteer at a summer camp for ten days.

There aren't as many descriptive journal passages on this trip; I was focused on taking notes for stories and working on rough drafts of answers for a
Mary Modern Q&A, because the book was coming out two weeks after we got home. I also read even more than I usually do when traveling—three Angela Carter novels, The Pesthouse, and a bunch of other good books. I copied this little gem from Wise Children (one of my very favorite novels) onto the first page of a new journal:

“It doesn’t matter if what happens next spoils everything; the anticipation itself is always pure.”

(So true, it hurts.)

(Kate going for attempted drowning #2 at the Gellert baths.)

I have to say, apart from the baths Budapest wasn't my favorite stop—we had a weird hostel experience, and all the supposedly quaint and old-fashioned bars and cafes the guidebook recommended turned out to be tourist traps.

Of course, the middle-aged men in speedos at the Szechenyi baths made up for all that...

d here are a few shots from Castle Hill (the painting is a detail of Klára Zách I, on display at the Hungarian National Gallery; better view on Wikipedia):

Elliot: “It’s not that I’m being contrarian. It’s just that I’m right.”

Outside the opera house—we did the tour, which was worthwhile. (I have a thing for sphinxes. I don't know why, except that they're awesome.)

Next installment: Sighişoara, Romania (my favorite!)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Witchcraft versus Sorcery

Another tidbit from Peter Somerville-Large's Irish Eccentrics:
'The distinction between witchcraft and sorcery seems to be one of degree; sorcery is the more sophisticated pursuit, since its practitioners seem to be rather masters of the devil than his slaves. Of course, the advantage is only temporary.'
So remember that the next time a winged man-goat offers you wealth, success, and eternal life for a nominal fee.

[Woodcut from]

Monday, February 22, 2010

Victory Jumper

I'm not a monogamous knitter, for the most part, but I'm making an exception for this because it is keeping me cheerful:

I have been wanting to make the Victory Jumper in a not quite so patriotic color scheme. (Here's the link to the original pattern page on the Victoria & Albert Museum website; the pattern was published just after V-E Day.) A teeny bit of irony: I'm knitting it in German sock yarn.

(Actually, Lang is a Swiss company, so the blue and the green are neutral.)

Isn't it a lovely color combination? I'd originally picked up the Jawoll and Regia at a couple yarn/craft stores in Berlin, and when I showed Kelly my loot she pointed out how well the three colors would look together.

Colors aside, I think it's a good idea to use wool/nylon sock yarn—this way the underarms won't felt like they did on the jumper I made out of Yorkshire Tweed. (Something I have learned: it is not wise to use 100% wool for a jumper you plan to wear against the skin.)

(Should have windexed the mirror first...)

Oh yes, there will be three-quarter sleeves. Wrote up the other mods I'm making on my Ravelry project page.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Irish Saints and other Human Oddities

In the course of researching my new novel—(what a terrible thrill I just got when I typed that!)—I came across a delightful book called Irish Eccentrics by Peter Somerville-Large. The chapter on "Miracle Makers, Rhymers, Witches, Giants and Oddities" is especially weird and entertaining:

There were ten speckled saints and eleven leper saints. Others more fantastical had attributes connected with ancient fertility beliefs. Many were prolific, like the female saint, Darerca, who had seventeen sons and two daughters. The sons all became bishops while the daughters remained virgins. A bisexual like Mochue Cicheach had remarkable breasts which 'fed babies of future eminence.' Other saints had three and even four breasts. Others were odder still, like Fer Caille, who had buttocks like cheese, one arm and one leg and a long enough nose to be looped around the branch of a tree.

(No, I'm not making this up.)

More excerpts to follow...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Art of Kissing

"Arrange it so that the girl is seated against the arm of the sofa."

Back in high school I came across The Art of Kissing, a reproduction of a booklet first published in 1936, and seeing as it's Valentine's Day I thought I'd dust it off and blog about it. As the following passage will show, it has very little to offer in the way of practical advice:

"For a kiss can never be absolutely defined. Because each kiss is different from the one before and the one after. Just as no two people are alike, so are no two kisses alike. For it is people who make kisses. Real, live people pulsating with life and love and extreme happiness."

Gotta love that florid old-school prose, especially when applied to the subject of "osculations"; we are also provided with a very illuminating definition of the word tumescence. Every time I rediscover this book I wonder about the author, 'Hugh Morris.' Debonair man-about-town, or middle-aged pervert hunched over a typewriter in a terrycloth bathrobe? (Two guesses and the first doesn't count.)

"Different Sizes of Mouths Require a Different Technique in Kissing."

Morris quotes liberally from the love poems of Catullus, Horace, and somebody named Sir John Suckling, but as you might expect from a pamphlet published in 1936, misogyny is the overarching theme: "It is, therefore, necessary that the man be taller than the woman" because a man "must always give the impression of being his woman's superior, both mentally and especially physically."

(Good God, am I glad I was born at the right end of the twentieth century!)

It gets worse—the author stops just short of condoning out-and-out rape. "If she flinches, don't worry. If she flinches and makes an outcry, don't worry. If she flinches, makes an outcry and tries to get up from the sofa, don't worry. Hold her, gently but firmly, and allay her fears with kind, reassuring words. Remember what Shakespeare said about 'a woman's no!'"

Oh, but he's just warming up: "However, if she flinches, makes an outcry, a loud, stentorian outcry, mind you, and starts to scratch your face, then start to worry or start to get yourself out of a bad situation. Such girls are not to be trifled with...or kissed. It is such as they, in most cases, who still believe the story of the stork which brings babies because of the consequences of a kiss."

What an absurd little man you were, Hugh Morris! No doubt you concocted all this dangerous nonsense simply because every woman you encountered was much too smart to be snogging the likes of you.

I sat down to make fun of this thing and look what came out. Sorry about that. I think I'll go eat some candy hearts now.

(Thanks to eliz.avery on Flickr for scanning all the delightful illustrations. Check out her photostream, there's plenty more where that came from.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I meant to post my aunt's snickerdoodle recipe before Christmas, but I had trouble recreating the fabulously chewy and flavorful cookies she produces seemingly without effort. (This is heavily tweaked from a recipe out of a magazine, I can't recall which one.)
4 cups flour
2½ cups dark brown sugar
1½ cups unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons baking soda
6 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive)
6 tablespoons cinnamon
(The more cinnamon you use, the better—dump it in! My aunt Kathy's snickerdoodles are like a cinnamon explosion in your mouth.)

Preheat to 400º. Mix dry and wet ingredients separately, then combine. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for ten minutes. Yields about four dozen medium-sized cookies.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snapshots from Galway

St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church; a double rainbow (view from the Bridge Mills); the prom at low tide; boats on the Claddagh.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gretel #2

I haven't knit a hat to keep until now. Fuschia—fuchsia?—oh heck, magenta—may not be the most flattering color on me, but it makes me very happy whenever I look at it. This yarn has delicious little flecks of lavender and purple and green. I love Donegal tweed: vibrant colors, very sturdy, softens with washing, excellent value.

Pattern: Gretel by Ysolda (regular size; the Gretel I knit for my grandmother was fitted)
Yarn: Studio Donegal Aran Tweed (a.k.a. Kilcarra), 2 balls fuschia, from This is Knit.
Needles: #6s for ribbing (should have used #5s) and #7s.
Raveled here.

I was afraid the ribbing would be too stiff on #5s, but it's too loose on #6s—I think I'll thread in some elastic to make sure the hat stays put.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We pray for those we have loved, and see no more.

While I was in Rye I entered St. Mary's Church during the daily service, and decided to sit down in the back and pay attention just for curiosity's sake (I'd never been to an Anglican service before). This line from the prayers of the faithful has stuck with me—we pray for those we have loved, and see no more.

Today would have been my grandmother's 87th birthday. She's been gone nearly fourteen years but I still miss her every day, and every time I pass the cemetery I think about the day they bought the plot, how she told my parents they could wave whenever they drove by on Route 130. Then, according to my dad, she started laughing hysterically, which kind of weirded him out; but if I'd been there, I know I would have laughed too.

Anyway, every so often doesn't it feel good to celebrate the people who have helped make us who we are? My grandmother was kind and smart and patient and wise. She was selfless to a fault. She made the best meatloaf (and I say that as someone who hasn't eaten meat in almost ten years). She was one of the few adults who would play games with us—Old Maid, Go Fish, Trouble, and swimming races. She always let me win.

And she was, of course, a voracious reader.

Now this portrait looks over my writing desk.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Socks for the New Year

(Happy Birthday, Shelley!)

I love travel knitting because whatever you wind up working on will bring to mind all the other experiences you had during that trip. These socks will always remind me of hanging out at Seanan's with Deirdre and Diarmuid, and meeting Emma at Foyle's, and that lazy snowy day in Rye, and the sweet ladies in the Ryanair queue (after our flight was cancelled) who had a bet going as to what I was working on (one said socks and the other guessed it was a sleeve on a baby sweater), and knitting with Jenny and John at a pub in Galway that looks like somebody's great-granny's sitting room, and 'crafterevening' with Shelley, and staying up until 4 with Bríd in Dublin.

This pattern is fantastic. I really enjoyed working with the yarn too, although I wish I'd read the Ravelry comments about Smooshy before I decided to knit socks, because a lot of people say it doesn't wear well. The twisted rib feels quite sturdy though, so we'll see.

Pattern: Julia Socks by Emily Johnson
Yarn: Dream in Color Smooshy, spring tickle (one hank with enough left over for a pair of baby booties, yay!)
Needles: #1s
Raveled here.

(Yes, I stuck my feet in the air and took a picture.)