Sunday, October 31, 2010

Did You Know? Some Fun Halloween Facts

~John Keats was born on Halloween in 1795.

~The ancient Celts thought that spirits and ghosts roamed the countryside on Halloween night. They began wearing masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human.

~The electric chair was invented by a dentist.

~If a candle flame turns blue, there is a ghost in the house, according to legend anyway.

~Bobbing for apples is thought to have originated from the roman harvest festival that honors Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees.

~Dracula, in Romanian, means 'the son of the devil'.

~The Native Americans believed that the owl escorted the dead to the spirit world.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trick-or-Treating at the Amherst Museum

Friday night, we had the privilege of attending the Halloween event at the Amherst Museum in Amherst, New York.  The Amherst Museum is a museum complex set up like a 19th century village of 12 historic buildings, moved from their original site. These include homes, one-room schoolhouses, a barbershop, and a church.  Each building had its own stop on the trick-or-treat trail, and they really decked them out in all the Halloween finery!  One of the schoolhouses was set up for "Eternal Detention", filled with the skeletons of students who had been there for "ages".  Also, there was Zombie Detection school for training in defeating zombies, and the "Undecorated" Show house, filled to the brim with deconstruction advice.  The hanging skeleton barnyard was a place to store any unused skeletons and their parts.  There were zombies in the barber chairs, as well as a place to buy your ghoulish goods, such as eyeballs and lizard tongues.  It was great fun.  Now, on to the real deal, tomorrow night!

Friday, October 29, 2010

November Schedule

Week 1:
Since I will not be attending the 2010 General Meeting of The Jane Austen Society of North America (I am so bummed!), this next week will be dedicated to Jane herself.  I will be wrapping up my Everything Austen II challenge with some posts on my challenges, sharing what I have seen on other blogs of what the Portland meeting holds in store, and anything else that strikes my fancy as the week progresses.

Already, the blog The Little White Attic has a post on Day One of the meeting. Click here to read about it.
She even gives us a glimpse of her own dress for the ball (Oh I wish I were going!)

Week 2:

I will be working on my application to grad school this week, so I might not post very much.  Bear with me.  I will soon return.

Brueghel's  The Harvesters from 1565
Week 3:

From the beginning of Week 3 until Thanksgiving, I will be posting about Thanksgiving and the harvest, in literature, film, and the home.

Happy, happy Halloween weekend, and I'll see you on Monday!

The Man Who Watched Me Sleep

This morning, I discovered this article from

Finally, a logical cause of my nighttime hallucinations: sleep paralysis. I'm not insane! I've been dealing with these things for years. Men at the side of my bed, toddlers trying to climb up on the mattress, and, for those who read my "Continental" article, sometimes the devil have been in my room (doesn't matter where I live) for for as long as I can remember. Just recently, I had a remote control car, all lit up, driving around the ceiling with sounds and everything! I usually wake up my husband, completely terrified, to check with him whether someone, or something, is really there. He is pretty used to it by now, and it is actually pretty funny in the morning, but never, ever, while it is happening.

A couple years ago, I told my mother about the man that was always in my room at night. She was convinced he was a ghost and told me to tell him to leave me alone and go into the light. Surprisingly, that man really didn't come back again, but others have. Although I was skeptical, I kind of believed that he was a ghost, and that our house was most likely haunted. But I really didn't think much about it, since I had stopped seeing that particular scary presence.  Thank goodness.

Just thought I'd share my own, very real, spooky experience.  

Enjoy all the Halloween festivities this weekend.  Just make sure no one is watching...:0  And, if you happen to encounter any ghosts or ghouls along the way, hope you too find some kind of logical explanation for them.

As for me, I will just play "Dawn" from the movie Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightley (#2 on my playlist), and pretend it is already morning.

Painting above:  The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (1781)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Will You Be For Halloween?

This painting is called "Sirin Bird on a Grape Tree" from 1710

Suggested musical pairing:
"Prospero's Speech"
"Penelope's Song"
"Marrakesh Night Market"
"All Souls Night"
"The Old Ways" (#35 on my playlist)
all by Loreena McKennitt
scroll to bottom of play list for the rest of the songs

I myself have been researching my own costume for the past couple weeks. I have a pair of black wings and some birdlike make-up stencils, so I wanted to transform myself into a combination of woman and bird, somehow. If I had to choose an animal to become, it would be a bird because there would be nothing better than having the ability to fly. So, of course, I had to start googling to find out if there was such a creature.
When I put in a search for half bird, half woman, I came up with "sirin" which is the Russian form of the traditional Greek siren. And, this is what Wikipedia had to say about sirins: Sirin is a mythological creature of Russian legend with the head and chest of a beautiful woman and the body of a bird (usually an owl). According to myth, the Sirins lived "in Indian lands" near Eden or around the Euphrates River.

These half-women half-birds are directly based on the Greek myths and later folklore about sirens.They were usually portrayed wearing a crown or with a nimbus. Sirins sang beautiful songs to the saints, foretelling future joys. For mortals, however, the birds were dangerous. Men who heard them would forget everything on earth, follow them, and ultimately die. People would attempt to save themselves from Sirins by shooting cannons, ringing bells and making other loud noises to scare the bird off. Later (17-18th century), the image of Sirins changed and they started to symbolize world harmony (as they live near paradise). People in those times believed only really happy people could hear a Sirin, while only very few could see one because she is as fast and difficult to catch as human happiness. She symbolizes eternal joy and heavenly happiness.

The legend of Sirin might have been introduced to Kievan Rus by Persian merchants in the 8th-9th century. In the cities of Chersonesos and Kiev they are often found on pottery, golden pendants, even on the borders of Gospel books of tenth-twelfth centuries. Pomors often depicted Sirins on the illustrations in the Book of Genesis as birds sitting in paradise trees.

Sometimes Sirins are seen as a metaphor for God's word going into the soul of a man. Sometimes they are seen as a metaphor of heretics tempting the weak. Sometimes Sirins were considered equivalent to the Polish Wila. In Russian folklore, Sirin was mixed with the revered religious writer Saint Ephrem the Syrian. Thus, peasant lyrists such as Nikolay Klyuev often used Sirins as a synonym for poet.

How appropriate! "Sirin" as a synonym for "poet". I am definitely onto something here...

I guess I'll have to also research the Polish "Wila":

This is taken from Monsterpedia:

In Polish mythology, the Wila (VEE-lah) are reputed in Poland to be female fairy-like spirits who live in the wilderness and sometimes clouds. They were believed to be the spirits of women who had been frivolous in their lifetimes and now floated between here and the afterlife. They sometimes appear as the swans, snakes, horses, falcons, or wolves that they can shapeshift into but usually appear as beautiful maidens, naked or dressed in white with long flowing hair.

It is said that if even one of these hairs is plucked, the Wila will die, or be forced to change back to her true shape. A human may gain the control of a Wila by stealing feathers from her wings. Once she gets them back, however, she will disappear.

The voices of the Wila are as beautiful as they are, and one who hears them loses all thoughts of food, drink or sleep, sometimes for days. Despite their feminine charms, however, the Wila are fierce warriors. The earth is said to shake when they do battle. They have healing and prophetic powers and are sometimes willing to help mankind. Other times they lure young men to dance with them, which according to their mood can be a very good or very bad thing for the lad. They ride on horses or deer when they hunt with their bows and arrows and will kill any man who defies them or breaks his word. Fairy rings of deep thick grass are left where they have danced which should never be trod upon (bad luck).

Offerings for Wila consist of round cakes, ribbons, fresh fruits and vegetables or flowers left at sacred trees and wells and at fairy caves.

Well, I don't plan on being naked this Halloween (don't want to scare the kids too much), or wearing white (I will probably be in mostly black to match my wings), but offer me round cakes, ribbons, and flowers, and I may change my mind.;)

Happy Halloween Everyone! May your evening be as mystical as mine...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Despair by H.P Lovecraft

Now, is this a perfect Halloween poem, or what?
Suggested musical pairing: Spem in Allium by Thomas Tallis
Help, I'm Alive by Metric, Haunted When the Minutes Drag by Love and Rockets

Despair by H.P. Lovecraft

Despair O’er the midnight moorlands crying,
Thro’ the cypress forests sighing,
In the night-wind madly flying,
Hellish forms with streaming hair;
In the barren branches creaking,
By the stagnant swamp-pools speaking,
Past the shore-cliffs ever shrieking;
Damn’d daemons of despair.

Once, I think I half remember,
Ere the grey skies of November
Quench’d my youth’s aspiring ember,
Liv’d there such a thing as bliss;
Skies that now are dark were beaming,
Gold and azure, splendid seeming
Till I learn’d it all was dreaming —
Deadly drowsiness of Dis.

But the stream of Time, swift flowing,
Brings the torment of half-knowing —
Dimly rushing, blindly going
Past the never-trodden lea;
And the voyager, repining,
Sees the wicked death-fires shining,
Hears the wicked petrel’s whining
As he helpless drifts to sea.

Evil wings in ether beating;
Vultures at the spirit eating;
Things unseen forever fleeting
Black against the leering sky.
Ghastly shades of bygone gladness,
Clawing fiends of future sadness,
Mingle in a cloud of madness
Ever on the soul to lie.

Thus the living, lone and sobbing,
In the throes of anguish throbbing,
With the loathsome Furies robbing
Night and noon of peace and rest.
But beyond the groans and grating
Of abhorrent Life, is waiting
Sweet Oblivion, culminating
All the years of fruitless quest.

Look What $16 Can Buy!

Just thought I'd share a story of my good fortune this weekend. I attended the Kenmore Village Library book sale on Friday, and look what I found! My son Tristan and I have already delved into reading some of these! (btw, 50 cents for paperbacks, $1.00 for hard covers, can't beat that!)

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle
Summer by Edith Wharton
The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Jane Fowler
Travelling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (never had a paperback)
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
The Portrait by Iain Pears
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
Middlemarch, Silas Marner, Amos Barton by George Eliot
The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck
The Tale of Tom Kitten
The Tale of Benjamin Bunny
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
by Beatrix Potter
(one can never have too many of these!)
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel
Trick or Treat Faces by Judith Moffatt (glow in the dark)
Abridged The Phantom of the Opera-retold from Gaston
Leroux (Tristan has been held entranced by this book every night since I bought it!)
Are there any of your favorites here, or any to recommend? I'd love to know...

The True Halloween Experience: The Continental

photo courtesy of The Continental Facebook page-the existence of which tells all!

For the following, my suggested musical pairing would be "Every day is Halloween" by Ministry, "Dig It" by Skinny Puppy and "Lucretia, My Reflection" by Sisters of Mercy. Just scroll down to my play list at the bottom of my blog, and then scroll down to the last songs.

The Continental nightclub in downtown Buffalo, New York was a place where you could live Halloween, any weekend night of the year. The nightclub had a first floor, where the indie bands of the time played, a second floor, where the cool people danced, and an outdoor courtyard in back, where there was a lot of marijuana aromatherapy, bat watching, and, if you were lucky, good old fashioned making out. You were never really quite sure what was going on out back.

For those of you from good ol' Buffalo, and old enough to remember, the Continental was quite the unique place. As we used to say, one is either a tourist merely there to watch the unique goings-on of the crowd, or a regular part of the crowd, which was the cool, and only, way to be. Needless to say, the regulars despised the tourists. Nowadays, we would call it a goth bar, but back in the 80's, I'm not even sure if that phrase was coined yet. It was a ritual getting ready to go out on those Friday and Saturday nights. I think we must have owned stock in black eyeliner and white make-up. And, lest we forget, we never wore anything but black.

The Continental night club is now defunct. It closed a few years ago after changing a few hands and the popularity died out, or as I like to say, the patrons grew up and moved on. But, in it's heyday, it was THE place to be, if you were interested in breaking into the alternative music scene, or, in the early days, punk scene. I remember we were friendly with a couple of guys who seemed to play every weekend in their band. They were known to us as Johnny and Robby (my friend Kim had an ongoing flirtation with Johnny). Nowadays, everyone knows them as Johnny Rzeznik and Robby Takac and their world famous band, The Goo Goo Dolls. We just knew them as that blond good looking guy, and his short friend.

I pretty much did my "growing up" at The Continental. I starting going there around 1986 or so, around the time I entered college and got my first car, a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale, medium blue with a white vinyl top. And, boy, was I proud of that car! My best friend at the time, Kim, and I would arrive early, just after dark. We would park in the parking ramp across the street, so we could spy the door to check when our favorite bouncer would arrive (I don't remember his name, but he was quite large, African American, and completely bald). When he did, we made our move. Copies of our birth certificates in hand, the date changed to protect the innocent, we made a run for it before he left the door and someone else took his place. Although I really don't think we were ever thrown out, and I look back now and laugh at how we would get so nervous about it. I mean, come on, we were 18 years old and quite pretty, and the Continental was a DIVE. Why wouldn't they let us in?!

We never really got into too much trouble back then. I only remember a handful of nights when we drank too much, usually Kim more than me because I was driving. I do recall a night in the bathroom, Kim just a pile of skirts and combat boots lying on the grime-encrusted bathroom floor. I believe that was also the night I dropped her off on the front lawn of her house, literally on the front lawn passed out. It was a "Sixteen Candles" moment. Kim was the one with the midnight curfew, too! I don't think things even got started at the Continental until midnight. That's when all the freaks come out, after all.

I wrote a little story, a sort of memoir, a few years back, in September 2007. It is about a night that will remain ingrained in my memory, and it is perfect for this Halloween time of year. And, here it is:

The Continental

I moved up to the bar, self-aware and hesitant, to order our usual first drinks of the night. This decision was usually made after 15-20 minutes of commiseration about who was at the bar, which bartender was there, and how much tip did we really need to leave. I remember those drinks, Blue Hawaiians, and how they actually glowed in the dim, reddish light of the Continental. I also remember the smell of the place before the evening got under way, the smell of sticky drinks, old cigarettes, Kim's perfume (Lauren by Ralph Lauren) and lots of leather in various states of decay.

The Continental was our haven, our shelter. Our elders expected something totally different of what a teenager should do and be. Kim's parents believed that at 19, she was still a child and should be locked away like Fiona in her dragon-guarded castle. My parents expected perfection, but never gave me any rules or guidelines in which to plan my life, leaving me floating around aimlessly, which I did for years. But, I was always the responsible one. Go figure.

So, every Friday and Saturday, like clockwork, we would enter our dreamlike state through a combination of alcohol (buy one get one), dim lighting, and very shady characters at our place of choice. Little did we know, it would form our future, our personalities, and our social life for years to come. (Well, at least mine. I lost touch with Kim after college. Last I heard, she had married quite young and has twin boys.). For me, the Continental formed my imagination, heightened my creativity, even to this day.

One night in particular, I swear to God, I'm sure, I met the devil. He was one of those few standing at the bar, earlier in the night, as the first band was playing. It was one of those nights that we did our commiserating at "the mushroom" (a spool-shaped bar table), but that particular night, it was so smoky, I almost couldn't breathe. When I decided to finally walk up to the bar, I walked up beside him. He turned to me and shook my hand. Somehow, with this handshake, he left red marks on my palm from his long, black fingernails. And, his hair, how can I possibly describe it? It was a wild mass of dreadlocks, but different. They were more like long strips of black tattered rags. It was almost as if he shaved his scalp between the rags. He seemed to appear like a demon from an angst-ridden teenager's wild imaginary drawings. His voice was a scathing whisper that still resonates with me still to this day, more than 20 years later.

I saw him in my bedroom later on. I'm not sure if it was days or months later. I just know that I saw him, and he seemed real, yet wasn't. I saw him twice in one of the hallucinatory nighttime visions I have been having all my life. He sat in the corner of my bedroom at my parent's house, quietly, but unmistakeably him. Clear as a bell, him.

I sometimes look back at this time in my life in disbelief. The girl from a mostly Polish-Catholic Cheektowaga, New York who thought she wanted to be a forensic scientist, but somehow, through life experience, realized it wasn't science that grabbed her soul. It was the unknown, that which we will never know, the spirits that still lurk within the walls of that place on Franklin Street, the spirits that lurk within our minds just dying to come out into the great world. The Continental was the essence of emotional inspiration, proof of the slippery slope of humanity.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"In a Bind", My Feeble Attempt at Flash Fiction, Freshly Rewritten

Since I seemed to have been writing with an unconscious emphasis on Halloween this week, I decided to pick up this old story and rewrite it using my recent inspiration as a guide.

For an extra bit of atmosphere while reading my recent posts, may I suggest that you scroll down to my play list and find "Lullaby" by The Cure? Enjoy!:

The key rests lightly on the tartan scarf I had worn yesterday evening. They both seemed to have been placed gently, patiently, there by someone who cared whether they stayed on the hall table, or tumbled down onto the slick, marble floor below.

This key alone knows the truth, the whole truth. It knows that someone had tried to kill me last night in my bed, but to no avail. The key knows the time, the place, and the M.O., and it, alone, knows the man himself, intimately.

Apparently and interestingly, he arrived late for dinner, just after 7:30 and left at 2:30 am, but not in a rush. All clues lead us to this determination.

I lay breathless, in a limp heap on my bed, but still full of life a short time after 2:30. I then rose, walked into the kitchen, and poured myself a glass of water to quench my parched thirst. I saw then, out of the corner of my eye, the key and the scarf on the hall table, both lifeless, but present. The scarf is the same that I had purposely draped around my neck earlier in the evening, and the same used as a reluctant accessory to attempted murder.

My first impulse was, after presumably slipping on gloves, to place them both in a plastic bag as evidence, but I let them be, their presence as proof of the crime. Suddenly, the phone rings, startling me, and I jump, my heart pounding. A lone raven caws in the yard. I let the machine pick up the call as I quickly close the rear window in the bedroom, fearing invasion by another intruder.

"Hi. You've reached Rachel. I am unable to come to the phone right now, but if you please leave a message, I'll return your call as soon as I can." Beep...."Hi, uhh, Rachel, are you there? Just wanted to call to say thanks for the pleasant evening [pause]... by the way, you didn't happen to find a skeleton key there by chance? It's the key to my coat closet. Don't mean to put you in a bind, so I'll just stop by later this afternoon. Also,(he chuckles) will you wear that scarf on our next date? I had a fantastic time..." Beep....

Perhaps this tape will only confuse investigators. I press "ERASE" quickly, before the machine stops, and get back to my water.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On Awareness: A Plea

Scarecrow Most Eerie
(photo taken at the organic farm of a friend)

On Awareness: A Plea

Does tomorrow melt in your mouth,

Not in your hands,

Like Desire pulling you along by a taut, silken harness,

Only to nestle and caress you within the jaws of the famished world?

Do you tell your Prince to wake you later,

As you languishly linger within the folds

Of a sleep, unblemished by potion?

But, sooner than later, you will need those eyes open wide,

That breath strong and able,

Expanding and contracting for life.

Do you gaze across an open, fertile landscape,

Only to while away in longing,

For that noble Youth,

When all bitter Beauty has is these petals in her void?

All the while, the leaves rustle amongst us, calling out for Winter,

Awaiting to hear his step on the porch boards.

Do your dreams recall a listless longing,

Lying limp and open on the forest floor,

White flood rising from your cool gown,

A sad stream echoing your delirious sleep?

A cold wind blows, suddenly,

harsh and heavy upon your parched skin.

Shivering with eyes aflutter,

You think,

Perhaps, there is another way,

To conceive of this future,

Without falling through the cracks and chasms,

Of a life lived by another.

As you grasp the reins,

You navigate your way,

Slowly, ever so slowly,


Tell Me by Susan Harris-Gamard

Tell me that I can stay,

A little longer.

A life formed out of bits of thread and spilled blood

Is just a moment, a flash.

My creative clutter the only proof that I breathe.

Flesh plundered, compromised, sight unseen,

By one bad seed waiting,

For that slim circumstance

To strike and grow in a moment,

Interrupting a long-awaited dream.

We never know until we know,

We are not a given, even if we are forgiven.

I’d love to speak to that cell,

Lone invader of my own universe,

Travel the rivers and canyons of this divide,

Confront him and my swept-up fear.

To understand what he’s after,

Stealing my breath in order to live,

And perish with me.

I'd love to debrief that cell,

Make him squirm,

Will he have one noble reason?

Will I even comprehend why,

He means to use my body as his own,

Home Sweet Home,

For a little while?

I’d love to speak to that cell,

To tell him that I will stay,

A little longer.

It’s not up to him.

Writer's Block Officially Over!!

And I am ecstatic! With the writing of two poems last week, my "fallow" period seems to have come to an end. Although I have been keeping my blog going with book reviews and such, my creative writing seemed to have been stifled over the last few months. I wasn't sure whether this was my usual drifting away out of disinterest or a true writer's block, but last week I had quite the flow of creativity. I am still doing a very grueling rewriting of one of the poems, but the other I will post separately today.

What seemed to compel me to start writing again was my goal of reading more, especially the blogs that I follow on my dashboard. These blogs have been exposing me to the current zeitgeist, both in fiction and literary non-fiction. My interest has been sparked in a few areas, especially food and travel writing and combining literature and the home in a holistic way.

So, look for more from me. I may be posting less, but what I post will be much more extensive and well-thought out.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Patty Berglund, Just Another Bored Housewife?: A Review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom

"Is it raining, my love?" "Yes, my love. And I am bored to death with it. Bored to death with this place, bored to death with my life, bored to death with my self." "What was that, my love?"."Nothing...of consequence. Nothing."

These words were spoken by Lady Dedlock and Sir Leceister in the 2005 BBC film series of Bleak House. Lady Dedlock is married to Sir Leceister, a very conservative baronet, much older than herself. She lives in the lap of luxury with everything taken care of for her, but seemingly her life is far from perfect.

"Lady Dedlock is always the same exhausted deity, surrounded by worshippers, and terribly liable to be bored to death, even while presiding at her own shrine." Bleak House, pg. 170.

We learn to find out, as the novel progresses that there is a reason for this boredom. It is not boredom per se, but more like an inert anxiety over a secret kept from everyone, something that happened before her marriage, something that could destroy "her shrine" and cause everything to fall apart around her. I don't wish to reveal the secret for those who have not read Bleak House (and it really is not relevant to this review), but suffice it to say that boredom is only a symptom, not the heart of the problem. If you have experienced this feeling of "inert anxiety", you know what I am speaking of: a feeling of being frozen, unable to move or take action, almost like one is tied up in a tight knot.

We see another example of "the bored housewife" in the novel Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, but we see a different sort of woman, a kind of villainous victim, or victimized villain, however you wish to see it
"But she was full of hungers, rage, and hate. That gown with its straight folds concealed a heart in turmoil, and those reticent lips did not tell of its torments. She was in love with Leon, and she desired solitude in order to be able more conveniently to delight in her image of him...The exasperating thing to her was that Charles had not the air of suspecting her anguish. His conviction that he was making her happy seemed a witless insult; and his sense of security a further ingratitude. For whose sake was she being virtuous? Wasn't it for him, the obstacle of all felicity, the cause of all misery, and in a way, the sharp-pronged buckle of the strap that was lashed about her?" pg. 94-95, Madame Bovary.

Emma Bovary is part of a long tradition in literature of woman who have been taken away at a young age in order to be married to someone of whom only her family approves. These men are usually too old, too boring, too abusive, lacking affection and/or a sense of equality, or too neglectful to live up to the fantasies of love in a young girl's heart. As Emma ponders, "And Emma wondered just what it meant, in real life, by the words felicity, passion, and intoxication, which had seemed to her so beautiful in books." (pg. 30) As we usually see in this case, Emma jumps out of the frying pan into the fire. Leon is just another man who is only willing to categorize her, only this time as the married mistress to be kept in private, out of the public eye. She starts to buy many pretty things in order to impress him and win him over so that he takes her away from her unhappy marriage. Sadly, she merely realizes that she cannot escape her gender, and becomes a lesser sort of person by trying. Emma steals from and is unfaithful to her hard-working husband. Her whole life becomes a lie, and she is split into two in order to keep the lie going.

My theory is that Jonathan Franzen is giving us a modern day Emma Bovary in the guise of Patty Berglund, in his new novel Freedom. Seemingly, in our very modern, contemporary society, you would think that a woman could never be compared to Emma Bovary. Our American marriages are no longer arranged, except for some first generation immigrants who are still keeping up traditions. Woman are free now, both sexually and financially, and are considered equal in society. As Frantzen begins his own commentary on what it means to have freedom in America today, he bases his story on a central character named Patty who lives a life just as entangled and just as self-destructive as Emma Bovary herself. Patty has the ability to make her own choices, marry, or not marry, whom she chooses. We see the other characters as satellites circling around Patty having a kind of gravitational pull on her choices and her actions. And choices she makes, as we will soon see.

The story begins with an outsider's view of the Berglunds. "There had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds" seems to be the mantra of the beginning chapters of the novel. The Berglunds were the young pioneers of Ramsey Hill, a neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. when they first moved there after marriage, it was run down and unsafe, but they stayed the course, raising two children, Joey and Jessica, and fixing up their dilapidated Victorian, bought for a song. The biggest complaint from the neighbors was that Walter was too nice and that Patty was too smug and needed a full time job to keep her occupied. She never spoke bad of anyone. If anyone tried to gossip about the "not quite right" goings on of her neighbor Carol Monaghan, her response always was that is was just "weird". Patty doted too much on her son, and not enough on her daughter. She placed too much emphasis on her house and the small world of her little family. Her extended family was never mentioned. There was never a visit from out of town guests (her husband's family is from Minnesota), so little was known of Patty's past.

The reader does learn of it when reading Patty's Autobiography "Mistakes were Made", however. We get an up close and personal glimpse into Patty's past. Her mother was a very liberal career politician, and her father a successful attorney who spends many nights working on pro bono cases. Her parents like to keep up appearances, which is quite ironic given their liberal views. Her father admits that within the pro bono cases, everyone involved is pretty much a liar. So, her family is all about looking good in the public eye with no thought to what goes on in private. The reader learns she also has a dirty old man for a grandpa (see gives us a visual of him bouncing Patty on his thigh for pleasure). He is a very wealthy man with an ancestral mansion who sees it as a right to be eccentric as long as he looks good in the public eye. He is also notoriously tight-fisted, and while Patty's siblings loved to rebel against this by making impossible demands, Patty decides to just ignore it all by just caring only for sports, something in which her family have absolutely no interest and completely ignore Patty from then on. Well, until of course she was raped by Ethan Post, son of the high society "Posts" who were very influential for Patty's parents. So, of course, they swept the rape completely under the rug, even though Patty seemed completely devastated to anyone who got close enough to look, which her parents completely didn't. Between her dirty old man grandfather, the rape that was completely ignored, her ineffective father, is it any wonder she would choose athletic prowess over something more traditionally feminine? Sports were her escape from being the powerless woman. And it worked for awhile, until she hurt her leg. Then along comes Walter to save her from herself, and thus begins her 20+ year journey to discover a place where she can be free.

It's interesting to note that the two men in her life, Walter and Richard, are like soul mates. It's actually alluded to in the novel. Put them together and you would get a perfect man, or Joey, Patty's son (I will discuss this a little further along). Walter is one side of the spectrum: a lifelong tee-totaler, he always sees women as "victims" of society, the forever defender of those unfortunate beings among us. Richard is the other side. While he respects Patty as a woman and as a sexual, powerful being, he still is drawn into throwing her aside after a period of time. Richard has the inability to keep women for any period of time. The only person he keeps around is Walter, whom he is forever in competition against. Richard is the true artist, the creator, the reactionist against the status quo, but as Richard says so himself, being an artist, he is only advancing the progress of consumerism along. Walter blindly does the same while trying to save a species of bird. The difference being Richard realizes what his work has done, Walter merely does whatever he has to do to get to the desired result.

At the "very young in our day" age of twenty-three, Patty marries Walter. She leaves her family in New York to join Walter and his family in Minnesota. Her main goal in life at this point was to have babies, which is one thing Patty was good at. Patty seems to choose Walter because he is at the "nice" end of the male spectrum. He will never abuse her and always be respectful, and he understands the things she has been through. Patty needs an escape from what she knows: her past, her family, her life before Walter. Like a pioneer discovering a new country, she creates her own world in the old Victorian in St. Paul. Her house was her domain in which she can play out her own utopia: raise a son who was different from all the other stereotypical men out there, raise a daughter who will be a woman no matter what she does, so don't put much effort into it. Her utopia was a perfect little bird cage keeping her family safe and away from the apathetic public eye, until, of course, the little bird cage started to fall apart. Joey moves out to live with Connie, the quiet, unassuming girl next door. His sexual drive leads him to leave, in Patty's eyes. She felt she failed him by not separating him from the inevitability of male sexual desire and the defiling of women.

Patty moves up to Nameless Lake, and lets the Ramsey Hill house remain empty, the garden go to seed. She tries to create another place of refuge, but this time with Richard. Walter had disappointed her over the years, always seeing her as "the victim" and working long hours for the Nature Conservancy, never spending a minute with Patty as equals. Patty starts drinking, they move to a townhouse in Washington D.C., she is unfaithful to Walter with Richard (although Walter was just about to be unfaithful to Patty with his new first generation Indian assistant Lalitha). The townhouse is no longer Patty's world: it is Lalitha and Walter's (Lalitha lives upstairs). Nameless Lake is no longer the perfect utopia because Richard called off the affair due to his feeling disloyal to Walter. Walter finds out about the affair through Richard giving him Patty's autobiography. Walter breaks it off with Patty and is unforgiving. In fact, how could he ever forgive "poor Patty" who suddenly becomes this powerful "adulteress Patty"? Such a betrayal! He then continues where he left off and begins his own affair with Lalitha, who ironically is Indian, and in her own culture would probably be married off in the "traditional way", unlike Patty.

Through all this breaking off and chaos, Patty in the mean time is finally beginning to find herself. She gets a job as a receptionist at the local gym, starts to buy new clothes, cuts her hair, and looks like the beautiful Patty that she used to be. Patty does not do this to impress any man, though. Unlike Emma Bovary, she improves herself for herself, more for a message to Walter that she is strong. When Walter throws her out, she lives with Richard but only for as long as he'll have her. Walter in the mean time moves to Nameless Lake and becomes an eccentric psycho. His girlfriend Lalitha is dead. He worries about the birds being killed by neighborhood cats, resulting in his sending one cat to the animal shelter.

While Patty has become strong, and Walter has become psycho, they both realize that they love each other after all. Through all the chaos, destruction, betrayal, departures, they come back together again. Walter renames Nameless Lake after Lalitha and turns it into a bird sanctuary. This is where the birdcage references come in for me. Patty doesn't need her birdcage anymore. She is ready to live in the world. Walter and Patty leave Nameless Lake to the birds and the spirit of Lalitha, two symbols: the first, unspoiled America and its real natives and the second, the possibilities and idealism of the America dream.

Walter's grandfather originally came from Sweden to America. I cannot find the quotations right now, but Frantzen writes that it was more a defect in genetics that originally led Europeans to travel to America. A whole country was founded on a genetic defect: the gene responsible for getting along with others. People that came here could not get along with the people of their own country, so they came here to create a place where they could get along. It seems as though this is exactly the same thing that Patty tried to do. She couldn't seem to get along in this world as a woman due to her upbringing and neglect by her parents, so she had to create a new world inside the home to house a place where she could feel free. Eventually, the real world encroached on Patty's world. Her son Joey let the world in. He was the only male character in the novel who could play the game of capitalism while keeping his own sense of self in check. What Patty did not realize is that she created a near-perfect son, so it was O.K. to let him out into the world. He would survive because she equipped him with what he needed.

I found it interesting that, in the end, Patty finds work as a teacher's aide. To me, working with children is symbolic of a role in the building of the future. Patty is taking a role in change by molding children. People say the Frantzen is a misogynist in writing this novel. I disagree. He is a realist and an optimist. He gives us the reality of the problem of women and men in society, but ends the novel with a sense of hope.

No, Patty Berglund wasn't bored. She was her own version of pioneer, in our crazy, fast-paced, modern world. Patty foresaw a need for change and exerted her own power in her own way to try to achieve this change, if only for herself. To me, Patty is the Emma Bovary that should have been.

5+ stars

Friday, October 15, 2010

Catch Up Day

Fridays always seem to be catch up day for me, and for this, I am the ultimate multi-tasker. I am presently watching the 1995 film version of Pride and Prejudice (one of the last things I have yet to complete for the Jane Austen challenge). While I watch this film, I am writing this post, while waiting for my "ghosts" to dry. I am attempting to make some papier mache ghost halloween decorations (see photo) from a project in Country Living magazine. I am also waiting for a hay wreath to dry. I have painted it black and sparkly in preparation for a really cool Halloween wreath I am making, at least I hope it turns out! In the midst of all this, I have taken a bike ride in the beautiful sunshine we are having (although pretty chilly) and am contemplating a longer post that I hope to get out sometime in the next few days.

I am only about 15 minutes in to the film, and since I don't want to watch it again, I need to end my post so that I can actually watch it with my eyes, not just my ears.

I have a big day planned for tomorrow. I am attending my first Rochester, NY chapter monthly meeting of the Jane Austen Society. The talk will be on the article "Money" by Edward Copeland. So, I guess we need to bring some passages related to Money in Austen's novels. Since I have been researching aspects of social and gender history in Austen, this meeting sounds like it will be great and beneficial. I am armed and ready with some great passages from Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, and I am really looking forward to tomorrow.

After the meeting, I am heading to the Anthropologie store. I just found out there is one in Rochester, only an hour away from us! Hopefully, I can find a nice autumn outfit, or at the very least some cool ruffled riding boots. What an exciting Saturday awaits!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bleak House Read-along

I just stopped by A Literary Odyssey blog and noticed that there has been a Bleak House Read-along going on since August, but ending October 27th. Well, coincidentally, I've been reading Bleak House, but not so far along (around page 140 out of 800+pages!). Hopefully, they'll let me join in. I can read REALLY fast! click here for more info.

Some Long Longed-for Birthday Gifts

thank you, hubby dearest!

These are the most beautiful books I have ever come across. Now, do they have Persuasion?

(in case you are not familiar with these books,they are the new Penguin Classics series)

A Reassessment

With the passing of my birthday this weekend, I am presently focusing my thoughts this week on a reassessing of my goals and work, especially pertaining to the future of my blogs. As some of you may know, I just recently opened two new blogs, Forage and From the Hand. In the beginning, I was very excited and motivated about starting these, but as time has passed and I have settled comfortably into autumn and the cooler weather, my interest has waned and I am finding them, in particular From the Hand, rather tedious. Those who know me well understand that I am more of an idea person, so anything pertaining to details and following through on an idea is something that will not "float my boat", so to speak. So, that said, I am contemplating closing From the Hand and keeping Forage as a sort of design laboratory, kind of a way of organizing my raw material.

This blog, The Wing Chair Traveller, will be undergoing a metamorphosis. It has evolved over its slightly over a year long existence to be a literary, travel, and writing blog. This will still remain so, but I will be placing its emphasis on a more holistic way of looking at things. One of my goals has been to read my blog dashboard at least once per day. A result of this has been a good amount of inspiration. There are some incredible blogs out there with many having an astonishing number of followers. One thing I have found about blogs in general is that in order to be received and followed, they need to have a unique take on things and be very inspiring to their readers. When I first started this blog, it was more personal for me. I really just wanted a place to write and try to figure out what to write about and what really holds my interest. I never thought that people would really want to read what I write. With every follower, I have become more inspired, and I am grateful for all of you. As this blog continues to evolve, I hope I still am able to hold your interest and will try to give you something to come back for. So,please hang in there while I grow and change. And please ,join my followers if you are not one already. I welcome you with open arms.

Coming Soon

A complete review of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom. Just waiting for my last friend to finish before I expose spoilers. I've read both The Corrections and Freedom since August and cannot wait to review them both. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


October/November |

I just discovered this new online magazine (fairly new-it's been around for a year now). This post probably belongs on my Forage blog, but I thought it was relevant to this blog because it is not just design focused. There are travel-related and travel-themed design articles in here, including a great one on Zurich, Switzerland in the most recent issue. Plus, these photos look absolutely gorgeous placed within my blog, if I may say so myself!

I really think it is important to highlight great publishing in our world of ever-shrinking paper printing. The online world is an excellent venue for publishing, if only for the ability to carry it with you on your portable laptop/i-pad/i-touch etc. I have a big problem accumulating magazines and keeping them organized enough to access articles on an as-needed basis. Sadly, there is no method to my madness. In my case, sometimes, the digital world can be a great thing!

Hope you enjoy Lonny as much as I am.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Imagine There's No Heaven...

I know, I know...I need to cool it with the John Lennon references. I just couldn't resist with this one. If there really is no heaven, then Lake Como is paradise itself. Just one look at these pictures and you'll agree.

On our summer trip to Venice, Hungary, Austria, and the Italian lakes, we, just my husband and I, set aside one day to spend on Lake Como. I had always dreamed of coming here and did not want to miss it. We started our journey in Bellagio, shown here in this first picture. We then took a boat tour around the lake, stopping at Villa Balbianello, which was heart-stoppingly breathtaking and the highlight of the journey. The pictures will speak for themselves. And, in answer to your next question, no, we did not see George Clooney....
our boat...

Photos of the Villa Balbianello

You Say It's My Birthday? (well, yesterday...)

Two Beatles songs in a row without even trying. How appropriate! Saturday would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, and yesterday was my...well, I'll keep that to myself.

Anyway, I've been on a little birthday hiatus for the last few days. We spent Saturday in Niagara-on-the-Lake taking a wine tour and drinking some fabulous ice wine. Surprisingly, this was my first time tasting it and well worth the wait! We also had Afternoon Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, which was incredibly good, and incredibly bad for the health, as you can see in the pic.

Finally, we had a fun-filled evening in Niagara Falls, Ontario, enjoying the attractions on Clifton Hill. We had the choice between House of Frankenstein, Dracula's Lair, the Fun House, Ripley's Believe-It-or-Not, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, or the Crystal Maze. My son (and I!) was too scared to go in Frankenstein and Dracula, so we chose the Crystal Maze, which was complete highway robbery considering that it is just a room full of mirrors and black lights, and we were out of it within 10 minutes! But, my son loved it, which is all that matters.

As soon as the party hats are cleaned up, I'll be back with yet another post on our summer trip. See you soon!