Sunday, March 07, 2021

And Lo, It Came To Pass...


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Nativity Scene

 I got this back from the framer's just in time for Christmas!  This is my 5-panel counted cross stitch Nativity Scene.  It has some history.  I started it between 20 and 25 years ago - I'm not quite sure when.  I think it's when the kids were quite small, maybe when we were living in Boston in the late 90s, though it's possible I started it even earlier, before we went to India in the early 90s.

I did the four outer panels one after the other, but when it came to the central panel, I lost my nerve because the pattern was so complex and used so much metallic thread.  I put it aside and pretty much forgot about it for years.  I'd also bought the frame kit that went with it, and the whole thing followed us around through moves and into storage.  Amazingly, the needlework stayed pristine, although the frame got some little damage along the way, though I didn't realize it until the framer called and pointed it out to me.

Well, once the lockdowns started in the spring, I was looking for projects to keep busy and figured I'd try to finish this, even though I haven't done counted cross stitch for nearly 20 years.  I had to order all the metallic thread from the US, and more DMC floss as well, though I still did have some of the original thread from when I first worked on it.  I guess it's like driving, though, because the technique came back quite quickly.

I started at the very end of May, and finished the last panel at the beginning of November.  The framer did a terrific job, and here it is, sitting on top of the piano in the living room.  

Saturday, October 24, 2020

International Bat Week

 In honour of International Bat Week, October 24 - 31, 2020, I thought I'd share this needlepoint picture I made.

Actually, I've made 3 of these so far.  The first one was for James, and I'd started it sometime last year, but what with the kitchen and bathroom renovations, I had a lot of time available, so I finished it back in February.  Then my sister really liked the photo of it I sent her, and asked me to make one for her, so I did.  And then, since we were still deep into lockdown, I made another one for our house, which is this one.  I've had a lot of time for needlework this year - I'll upload some more pictures shortly.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Movie Review: 'La Chute de la maison Usher' (1928)

‘La Chute de la maison Usher’ (The Fall of the House of Usher) 1928, directed by Jean Epstein. Silent, with French intertitles 63 minutes

Jean Epstein’s 1928 silent film “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a dreamy, evocative interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. It incorporates themes from other Poe stories, and diverges somewhat from the original at the end, yet succeeds in delivering a hypnotic sense of morbid helplessness and fatalism.

The movie adheres to the basic story of a traveler (given a name, Allan, in this version) who is summoned to the home of his childhood friend Roderick Usher by a letter which speaks of a mortal illness. However, it does incorporate some changes. In this version, Madeline Usher is Roderick’s wife, not his twin sister, and although she is mysteriously ill, the movie abandons altogether the theme of catalepsy. Madeline’s physician plays a larger role in the story; he is a sinister figure who seems designed to be a counterweight to Roderick. Whereas Roderick is hypersensitive and artistic, the Physician is impervious and almost mechanical in his movements.

Woven into this Poe story is another: “The Oval Portrait”. Roderick is obsessed with painting his wife’s portrait, and as he paints, he seems to transfer her life force from her body to the canvas. Although he loves her, he quickly forgets her in the presence of his art, and when she finally collapses during a painting session, he does not even notice. “This is indeed Life itself!” he declares as he stares raptly at the portrait. It is left to Allan to discover her body, whereupon Roderick has a mental breakdown.

Madeline is placed in her coffin, but the grieving Roderick flies into a rage when the doctor and his assistant try to nail down the coffin lid. Then follows one of the most beautiful scenes in the movie, as the four men carry the coffin across the countryside and over a river to place it into a surreal underground crypt. The long end of Madeline’s winding sheet trails behind them like a wedding veil, and as they walk, their path is lined by phantom double-exposure tapers. The beat of their feet on the ground, the shakiness of the camera work, sweeping up into the bare tree branches then down to Roderick’s stricken face, produce the effect of a nightmare from which the dreamer struggles to awaken.

At the crypt, the doctor stealthily nails down the coffin lid without Roderick’s knowledge, then the party of men returns to the house. Over the following days, Roderick’s nervous tension increases, until one night a storm brings about a crisis. As Allan tries to calm him by reading him a story, Roderick rocks in his chair with an enigmatic smile on his face. Meanwhile, in the crypt, the coffin falls to the ground, and then we see the figure swathed in white gauze emerging and approaching the house. Roderick continues to rock more wildly, and the huge fireplace, blazing with fire, fills the hall with billowing clouds of smoke. Throughout the house, the relentless wind sets the curtains undulating and surging as books and furnishings start to fall. The house itself is literally sliding downwards when Roderick reveals the appalling secret: that Madeline had been buried alive.

At this moment, she appears at the door, and the room begins to catch fire as she falls into Roderick’s arms. In a departure from the original story, the 3 main characters manage to escape as the house collapses and the movie comes to an end.

Charles Lamy, playing Allan, seems miscast for this role. He appears far too old to be the boyhood friend of Roderick Usher, and looks more like a crusty old lawyer coming to read a will than a devoted friend responding to a plea for help. The impression of age is reinforced as Allan needs a magnifying glass to read and uses an ear trumpet, though the props seem intended to furnish an explanation to the character himself of why he cannot hear the sounds that the hypersensitive Roderick perceives.

If Charles Lamy was an odd choice to play Allan, Jean Debucourt is cast to perfection as Roderick. His pale, sensitive face, with its large, liquid eyes and soft hair is far closer to Poe’s description than Vincent Price’s more sensual features in Roger Corman’s 1960 version of the story. Marguerite Gance, the wife of director Abel Gance, plays Madeline with a somewhat monotonous air of long-necked pathos. She does little more than look pained and long-suffering until her death scene, which is only made memorable by the imaginative camera work.

The house itself is a character in this story. The first view of the exterior is interesting, as the film makes no attempt to present it realistically. An obvious model of some sort of castle-like structure is dimly seen across a misty, desolate landscape. This should not be dismissed as reflecting the limitations of the filmmaking of the time; Epstein could easily have shown us a genuine mansion, or even a model of a real house if he’d wanted to. This is an artistic decision, to underline that once Allan crosses a boundary to approach the house – like Jonathon Harker crossing the bridge in ‘Nosferatu’ – he leaves the world of the mundane and enters an uncanny realm.

As the Ushers sink deeper into mania, the house itself begins to crumble. The long gallery with its moving drapes might have been the inspiration for the similar scene in the enchanted castle of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 ‘La Belle et la bete’. (A curious detail is a portrait in this gallery, entitled ‘Ligeia, Lady Usher 1717’ – an allusion to another Poe story of lost and resurrected love.)

The final scene of the house sinking into ruin is pure surrealism. A torrent of stars seems to pour down from heaven onto the collapsing house as the survivors stagger through the flames and smoke into the woods beyond the blasted environs.

There are several versions of “La Chute de la maison Usher” available on YouTube, with different accompanying scores. I prefer the score by Roland de Candé, which has themes reminiscent of early music, played on guitar and lute. This version also takes the unusual step of omitting English subtitles on the French intertitles, and instead has the English translation read aloud by the actor Jean-Pierre Aumont.

Friday, June 23, 2017

How Good Is Your Taste?

I found this little quiz in a 1969 Reader's Digest booklet of puzzles. It purports to tell you if you have good taste in decorating. I figured it would be a breeze, but to my shock, I discovered that I have borderline BAD TASTE! ME!!!

Then I started thinking, well, maybe I DO have bad taste. I always thought I didn't, but it just may be that I can recognize a good piece of furniture, but don't have the gift for putting things together harmoniously.

To test this idea, I sent the quiz to my sister and asked her to take it. I figured if she passed, then I'd grudgingly admit that yes, I do have bad taste. But if she failed too, then the quiz was obviously junk, because we couldn't BOTH have bad taste! Especially as our mother had exquisite taste in decorating and clothes!

She just emailed me to say that she also failed the test! But her gay neighbour took it and he got 100%! So either this is a plot by decorators, or it really is true that gay men have the best taste in decorating and the rest of us should just give up.

Anyway, I'm posting it here for other people to take, so we can all test our decorating abilities. The test consists of several pairs of abstract designs, and you have to select the "best" one. The correct, tasteful answers are in the last picture; do the test first then check your results. I think it's best to take this test when you're feeling relaxed and calm; hurrying through it might give a poor result. Good luck!

Scroll down for the answers:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Comey's notes - the real story

Kakistocracy had this excellent take on Comey's after-the-fact note-taking of his meetings with Trump.

So I had a meeting recently with my boss. He doesn’t care for me much at all; which is quite a bit warmer than my feelings for him. Given this mutual antipathy, I decided to take meticulous notes on our meeting. I did this because I am a servant of the truth, and it is critical that a record of absolute integrity be maintained.

Anyway, the meeting went about as poorly as I expected. Fortunately though, I came off looking quite well as I glance through my notes. The same definitely can’t be said of my boss, who has certainly scuttled his social life and political aspirations, in addition to placing himself in myriad legal jeopardies. Thank God I was there to document it all.

Here’s what I wrote he said:
Boss mentioned that he’s a serial pederast while discussing my allegedly unsatisfactory work performance.

Claims to have participated in the lynching of Emmett Till in his youth. Asked QUOTE Do you know what you say to a black man in a suit? A: Will the defendant please rise! UNQUOTE

Pressured me to be the bag-man for an industrial espionage racket. I refused citing ethics rules verbatim.

He responded by saying he expected loyalty from his employees and asked if I was loyal or not. I took this to mean he wanted me to falsify climate data in order to form a pretext for abandoning key international treaties.

I defiantly told him I was loyal only to honor, justice, and the constitution.
And that’s why he fired me. Anything else you may hear is a damn lie, which my notes above easily prove.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Mal de merde

Doing the jobs Americans won't do.

Denver Colorado is about to smell worse than piss-soaked shit-stained San Francisco. The city voted to essentially decriminalize public urination and defecation and the reason is as liberal as it gets. The city is now becoming a giant toilet to help protect illegal aliens from deportation. Denver is not only a sanctuary city for criminal immigrant scumbags but also now a sanctuary for human waste.
9 News reports that the Denver City Council voted to lessen the penalties for certain crimes including pissing, shitting, and whoring in public. Under the old law, these offenses were punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1000 fine. Under the new law, these disgusting acts will carry no fine whatsoever.
Here’s a fun list of things Denver will no longer consider to be a serious crime:
Sitting or lying in the public right-of-way
Unauthorized camping on public or private property prohibited
Urinating or defecating in public
Curfews and closures
Storage and loading

(Hat tip:  Vox Popoli)

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Deserves to go viral

If I had a Twitter account, I'd post this comment I just read on, from user Michimaticion47:
[Obama's] entire presidency now looks about as useful as an eight-track tape player: quickly replaced by a superior technology but kept around for years because we´d paid a lot of money for it.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Just good, clean fun

Well, Donald Trump has apologized for his locker-room comments from a decade ago.

This kind of male humour isn't my cup of tea, but it's too common for me to be able to join in the forehead-clutching and sal volatile-sniffing currently on display in the press and among the mandarins of the Dead Old Party.

Instead, I prefer to think of this zesty little number that treats the matter with the levity it deserves:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Venus Project - Part 3

The faceplate. On every sewing machine, this is removable, but though I hunted everywhere, I could not find a screw holding it on. There was a tiny metal bump in the middle, but it wasn't a screw. I finally took a leap into the unknown, and guessed that perhaps it just snapped on. The dirt and rust on the surface and edges was so baked on, I had to take a boxcutter and cut through it, but I finally managed to slip the blade between two metal surfaces and they separated. The other corners did the same, and we had success - the front DID just clip into place. The tiny bump secured a flexible metal tongue that seems to rest against the needle bar. No idea what that does, I'll have to wait until I put it back together again to find out.

Underneath - ugh! Extremely dirty! And I'd already removed the bug nest that had been lodged in there. I've cleaned it up a bit, but still have a lot to do.

Meanwhile, the face plate is clean of rust, but just dull grey now. I wonder if there's some way of polishing this?

Also, I managed to get the balance wheel off. I tried to remove the big bolt that held it on, but couldn't quite figure out how. The head is round, so a wrench can't easily grip it. I sprayed in PB Blaster, but was having no luck, so as the wheel could turn but do nothing else, I thought I'd see how free I could get its motion. I squirted lots of oil on it and was enjoying myself getting to actually *spin* a bit, when to my delight, the big gear wheel behind it began to turn too! Then I realized that where the bolt ran through the wheels I could see shiny steel! A few more turns, and the whole thing detached: bolt, balance wheel and gear wheel! I'm not sure just how it happened, but it seems to have unscrewed simply by spinning the wheel backwards. The bolt is still attached to the balance wheel, but I'll see if I can remove it later. If I can't, this still seems to work.

The gear wheel cleaned up nicely in EvapoRust. I noticed something interesting - the lip of the wheel is ground down or chipped off. It still seems usable, but maybe this resulted in the gears not meshing and was why the machine was abandoned.

I've done a first cleaning of the balance wheel. I'll work on it some more, but I have doubts that any of the gold filigree decoration is left.


Monday, July 18, 2016

The Venus Project - Part 2

As Google had failed me, I turned to the collected wisdom of The Quilting Board forum, for help in identifying this mystery machine. My first idea, that it was a Jones Serpentine, was shot down. But one poster said that he guessed that it was a Canadian machine, and that would make perfect sense, considering where I'd found it.

Try as I might, I could not budge the one screw that held on the throat plate, so I started trying to remove some of the rust from the surface, in the hope that perhaps I could at least pry open the bottom half of the plate. I knew steel wool wouldn't hurt stainless steel, and anyway, so I gently rubbed it down with oil. I was pleased when an engraved number was uncovered: 418. Maybe a part number? And above it, very very faint, I thought I could see lightly engraved lettering! With my magnifying light I thought I could make out the name 'PERTH'.

Now that was interesting, because Perth is a town about 50 miles from Ottawa, but it's only 5 miles from where I found the machine! It had been a railway hub back in the late 1800s, so I went online to see if I could find some reference to a sewing machine factory there.

Unbelievably, I found what I was looking for in a scholarly essay from 1980. The Perth Sewing Machine Company, formerly known as J.M. Miller & Co., operated between 1872 and 1875. They produced one machine, the Venus.

And there was the picture of my machine as it had once looked. I couldn't believe my luck! It looks like my machine had been bought locally and never moved away from the area in which it had been built. Considering the short time the factory had been in existence, I believe that the number 418 on the throat plate was not a part number, but a serial number.

Well, this reinforced my determination to somehow rescue this sad, neglected machine.

Unable to make any more progress on the throat plate, I decided to turn my attention to the underside. To my surprise, I found that the screws down there were actually capable of being turned, despite their rusty appearance. The PB Blaster is an excellent product for loosening rusty screws and gears. I was hoping that if I could remove some of the works from the underside of the machine, maybe I could get access to the throat plate from behind, and have more success getting it off.

You can see how much rust there is. I managed to detach a small metal piece, but couldn't extract it because of the other gears. Removing two screws from the top of the bed enabled me to move the entire machinery on the underside, but it's still held on by some hidden screw at the far end where the balance wheel is. I'll find it some day. However, it moved enough that the rusty metal piece that had been rattling around loose fell out. And I could now see a second, smaller piece that had also been part of it, and I fished it out. Imagine my surprise when I saw that what I was holding was the original shuttle, with the tiny bobbin still inside!

This shows the result of an overnight soak in EvapoRust. It definitely removes the rust, but the steel has lost its shine. I've read that rusting brings the iron in the metal to the surface, so even when the rust is removed, this blackness is left behind. Still, a great improvement over its former condition!


Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Venus Project - Part 1

My sewing machine obsession has struck again! But this time, I'm in deep. I'm going to try to rescue a truly antique machine; her name is Venus.

I first spotted her online, in an ad on for an auction scheduled in Balderson, ON for the Victoria Day weekend in May. The picture caught my eye because of its rather gothic Victorian ornamentation. Look at the detail on the big wheel, and the pointy doodads around the base.

I looked at it for a long time, then suddenly realized that the thing at the front was a presser foot - it was a sewing machine! This picture was taken from the back, which led me to believe that the auctioneer didn't recognize what it was any more than I initially had. I searched online for a picture of a similar one but could find nothing. Out of curiosity, I went to the auction, on a VERY hot day, and sat through hours of sales of Amish-style furniture until this item came up. I couldn't find it at first, but finally located it, tossed in a box among some rusty old axe heads! I carefully pointed out the box to one of the auctioneer's workmen, to be absolutely sure it wouldn't be overlooked and dismissed as a pile of metal junk.

Long story short, I got the box! (And I was right, they *didn't* know it was a sewing machine! They only mentioned the axes.) I brought it home in triumph, and then started taking a close look at the machine.

Frankly, it was a mess. I'd never seen something so dirty and rusty. There was an ancient spider nest in the head of the machine, and bits of dead insects falling out of the innards. The balance wheel at the end could turn, but it moved nothing - the cog wheels weren't engaged, and anyway, they were all rusted and immobile. A few flecks of gold paint could still be seen on the serpentine arm at the top, but scarcely anything else. I'd cleaned up the old Singer, but this was a different order of decrepitude. Not hoping for much, I poured some sewing machine oil on the base and gently wiped away the dirt.

To my delight, a gold floral decal emerged, practically intact!

The black japanning was dull and chipped around the throat plate, but this actually looked pretty! I decided to take a chance and try to revive the machine. The decoration might be beyond saving where the rust was heaviest, but maybe... just maybe... I could get this machine to actually move again!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Brexit, a Fraxit, A green and yellow baxit!

That's my lyrical contribution to the lunacy that's overtaken the world since Friday morning. It's not as original as the first 9/11 limerick, which I had the honour to compose, but I still think it's worth preserving.

For all the spin about the "very narrow" margin of victory, 52% to 48% is a decent win. Narrow would be .01% either way, a matter of a few thousand votes. This was over a million, and can't be hand-waved away.

Today the stock market is going up, so it looks like the financial temper tantrum is over the worst. But the political temper tantrum is just getting started, with open discussions on how to cancel the results of this referendum.

This is the sort of reckless lawlessness that leads to domestic terrorism and revolution. Mark Steyn has written many times about how essential it is to have freedom of speech, if for no other reason that to allow people to safely vent frustrations:
Nick Lowles defined the ‘No Platform’ philosophy as ‘the position where we refuse to allow fascists an opportunity to act like normal political parties’. But free speech is essential to a free society because, when you deny people ‘an opportunity to act like normal political parties’, there’s nothing left for them to do but punch your lights out. Free speech, wrote the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson last week, ‘buttresses the political system’s legitimacy. It helps losers, in the struggle for public opinion and electoral success, to accept their fates. It helps keep them loyal to the system, even though it has disappointed them. They will accept the outcomes, because they believe they’ve had a fair opportunity to express and advance their views. There’s always the next election. Free speech underpins our larger concept of freedom.’

Just so. A fortnight ago I was in Quebec for a provincial election in which the ruling separatist party went down to its worst defeat in almost half a century. This was a democratic contest fought between parties that don’t even agree on what country they’re in. In Ottawa for most of the 1990s the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was a chap who barely acknowledged either the head of state or the state she’s head of. Which is as it should be. Because, if a Quebec separatist or an Australian republican can’t challenge the constitutional order through public advocacy, the only alternative is to put on a black ski-mask and skulk around after dark blowing stuff up.
"Cancelling" the results of this referendum tells people the truth: that all the talk about Holy Democracy is a lie. That their doom is to lose forever and watch their enemies smirking in triumph. And you're telling it, not to a fringe group of basement-dwelling misfits, but to 52% of the population, and that percentage the mature, invested segment that a society depends upon to keep things going. If you want to guarantee civil unrest, that's about the best way of doing it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wretchard has his usual brilliant post up at the Belmont Club, on the Orlando massacre.
If the Second Amendment didn't exist, it might have to be invented to meet the current situation.

The more incompetent the Obama administration becomes, the less convincing its demand for public disarmament will be. Conversely, the more competence the administration demonstrates, the more likely the public is to entrust its safety to it.

Historically, state failure drives civilian armament, not the other way around. Perhaps the clearest example of this trend is Lebanon, where the inability of the central government to protect the sectarian communities has led each to protect itself. While America is not Lebanon, the same principles hold true: competence inspires confidence, and there is precious little competence in the administration.
How many times has this happened now? Over and over, no sooner do we learn the name of the terrorist killer than we hear that authorities were "monitoring" him. Monitored him right up to the door of the abbatoir, it seems.

I don't know, maybe they think this is reassuring in some way. As if we feel better knowing that Watchful Government was hovering nearby, holding the hands of the maimed and dying in their last agony. I agree with Wretchard, that people will increasingly write off the police and rely on their own efforts to protect themselves. And eventually they'll get extremely angry when they find that the government is only efficient and effective when it's pushing THEM around, while terrorists inexplicably manage to do what they want without interference.

"Jump, I'll catch you" is credible only when the fireman's net is not surrounded by mashed bodies.