Thursday, January 16, 2014

Makers and the things they make

I took an art class and the teacher brought with her this puppet from Indonesia. Later, in another class, I made this etching after a photograph I had taken. I have loved the delicate arms of these puppets ever since I saw my first one. There are so many beautiful made things all over the world. And the puppets of this tradition, Wayang Golek and the sister tradition of Wayang Kulit are surely among the finest.

Another of the made things that had long interested me is diaries, notebooks and journals. I happen to live in a rich time. The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982 is available on Kindle and used copies are widely (and cheaply) available. It is the sort of very fat book that should be read in shorter chunks. Oates typed her journal quite faithfully over a long time. The typescript now rests in an archive and she left the selection of entries up to an editor. I think this sort of record kept over long periods of time is valuable and very interesting. I certainly wish I had kept one.

Recently, I read about The Diaries of Hans Christian Andersen, selected and translated by Patricia L. Conroy and Sven H. Rossel, University of Washington Press, 1990. I ordered a copy and it came yesterday. It's in translation, naturally, and only a selection. Andersen was born in 1805, which makes him a century older than my father, who was born in December of 1905. Anderson also made many drawings in his diaries, which is another thing I am very fond of. My favorite illustrated diary is Muriel Foster's Fishing Diary. Over 35 years in the early part of the 20th Century Ms. Foster kept a journal of her fishing expeditions, with watercolors and measurements of the fish she caught and various things that caught her eye by the river. She kept the journal in a long ledger that was made for recording fishing statistics, but her embellishments are strikingly beautiful. The facsimiles of this book are out of print and used copies are quite expensive.

The Anderson Diaries are illustrated in black and white and the drawings he made look like he used pen or pencil. I will know more after I finish the book. H. C. Anderson traveled all over Europe and beyond and met many interesting people on his travels. Here is a sample from page 123:

Wednesday, May 5. [1842] We set sail at 4:30. (It's the anniversary of the day Napoleon died.) I was awakened by the motion. It was very foggy, but the fog had just lifted enough, so that you could see the whole coastline. It looked like a long road on both sides; and behind, low, forest-covered mountains. Gardens, towns, cemeteries alternated. Leafy trees, tall cypresses and flowering fruit trees. The sun broke through just once, and then the warships seemed like transparencies. Therapeia, closed in by forest. Buyukdere, in a bay; this is where Medea is supposed to have been, Somebody showed me Hubsch's house. We came out into the Black Sea in cold fog and wind. The sea was calm; and by 12 o'clock, lovely weather. A little bird flew up to us and stayed on the deck. Down in our lounge there was a canary in a cage singing. Our captain is from Dalmatia and is called Florio. Sundown. I'm suffering from a strange apprehension.

I think I might read a poem that began "We came out onto the Black Sea in cold fog and wind." I know I would love to write one. Many other sentences in this short passage could trigger a poem. Look for them; I am doing so now. I love the single-word sentence "Sundown." I love the idea that this traveler wrote these thoughts and images down so many years ago, and I can read them now. The place where Medea was supposed to have been. So many stories! So many lives, long and short.

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