Monday, February 27, 2012

hot fun in winter

The City of Samba from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

This morning I opened the balcony door to check for myself just how cold 20ºF  with 20mph winds would feel. It won't surprise you to learn it felt cold. Just as I was about to go back inside, one of Crow's passenger pigeon friends arrived (no, they're not extinct, just moved to the next dimension over from this one) with a video shot from a bird's eye perspective of Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval.

The first part shows what Rio looks like during the day from the overview he gets  from his hot air balloon lounge seat. If you watch carefully you'll notice a helicopter rescue of some swimmers who went a little too far into the surf. After that comes the real reason for the film and that's the Carnaval Parade that happens in Samba City every year on Fat Tuesday.

Crow asked me to tell you the movie was shot by a genius he met called Jarbas Agnelli, using a tilt shift camera. It's amazing.

I'm fine. Crow's fine. Tudo bem?

Friday, February 24, 2012

city gardens

Like many other places in North America, winter as we usually experience it never quite arrived in Halifax this year. Yes, it's often been very cold but there was little snow and none of it lasted on the ground longer than a few days. Now that I know spring is lurking out there somewhere I've been doing my usual pining for a garden to plant things in. Living in an apartment isn't generally conducive to the cultivation of outdoor plants as an experience I had while living in Portland will testify. The dining area of that particular flat had some very large windows with enough hardware left by previous tenants that allowed me to hang up some extra shelves. Instead of filling those windows with the usual indoorsy plants, that year I brought home several boxes of young geraniums and marigolds that I planted in pots. Within a few weeks I had a fabulous display of flowers but hadn't reckoned on just how smelly those outdoor blooms would make our home.. especially when you have more than twenty of them. They had to go long before their intended time.

Anyway, that winter we got lucky - if you can call it being lucky when a new landlord decides to renovate the building, including your apartment, while you're still living there. The luck was in having a very fine townhouse nearby come unexpectedly available, which gave me (for the first time) a balcony not too high above the ground facing east. I spent the rest of the winter planning a garden. Winters in the Pacific NW don't last all that long so we were soon visiting one of the big nurseries where I swooned over the pictures of the flowers fastened on the bare root rose bushes and tried to figure out just how a large a bamboo would fit the space along with a small tree and several pots of pampas grass. I got a bit carried away that year - the roses were gorgeous at first but eventually blighted,  the bamboo died, and the pampas grass went into attack mode whenever we passed it.

Then came the day we saw a hummingbird and for the following six summers that garden was dedicated to our delight in seeing them. They seemed to enjoy examining us as well but it wasn't until late autumn one year that I caught the perfect picture. Several months later an eviction notice was delivered by new owners planning a condominium conversion and that was that for the garden.

I still think of gardening and all the people like me who simply have no access to seeing a little piece of Nature's magic unfold day by day. Just a few days ago I came across an article about the Beacon Food Forest project that has received the go ahead to plant Seattle's first permaculture garden in a city park. This spring a  seven acre plot of land will be planted with hundreds of different kinds of edibles: walnut and chestnut trees; blueberry and raspberry bushes; fruit trees; herbs; and more. It will be perennial and self-sustaining. Best of all, anyone who walks through will be free to take anything they want.

I'm guessing there may well be some happy hummingbirds living there too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

slow cargo Crow

Hello everyone, Crow here. There's nothing more delightful than flying with a friend over the turquoise waters of the Caribbean in February. The islands are beautiful but on our way south I was disturbed to see several very large container vessels and three or four even larger bulk carriers. Having spent some time in Halifax with susan I've had the leisure to see a lot of cargo ships (they're not at all pretty) as well as study the issue of international haulage. Interestingly enough, serious container shipping only got started in the 1960s

When you see a container ship for the first time the sheer size can be very surprising. The largest of them range up to 400 meters long (437 yards) and 59 meters (64 yards) wide, comparable to 4 football fields in length. Even now, one of the biggest concerns about building large container ships is how they will make it around the world. One fun fact I came across was that Maersk, an important  Danish company,  introduced a ship so large that they were unable to fill it to capacity due to the weight and the water displacement in the sea near the ports. Had they filled it to capacity, the ship would have hit the sea floor.

Until recently reducing CO2 and sulphur dioxide emissions from the world's fleet of almost 90,000 large ships hasn't been much of a priority for governments or ship owners. Part of the problem is that the industry has grown so rapidly, now carrying more than 90% of the world's trade by volume, and has tripled its tonnage since 1970. The shift of so much production from the US and Europe to China and south Asia has meant cargoes have to travel a lot further.

They do this by burning the world's cheapest, most polluting 'bunker' fuel. Marine heavy fuel oil, which is burned by all large ships, is the residue produced by oil refineries and is so thick that when cold it can be walked on. Just 15 of biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all of the world's cars combined. Unsurprisingly, the stuff is very cheap so demand for it has been soaring as more of these huge ships are built every year. So far most shipping companies have refused to do anything to alleviate the problem because it would cut into their profits and shipping has slipped under the radar of regulators (I know, regulators..)

Then there's the fact the damn things sink a whole lot more often than any news stories ever tell anyone. (How many times does a ship sink? Once. - sorry) According to wiki answers one hundred large ships sink each year, and out of that number ten of them are container vessels or super tankers more than 200 meters in length. Right now, as you read this there are five or six million shipping containers on enormous cargo ships sailing across the world's oceans and about every hour, on average one of them is falling overboard. It's estimated that ten thousand large containers are lost at sea every year. If you've ever wondered why your favorite brand of cereal isn't on your supermarket shelf this might be an answer. It's strange to imagine that corn grown in the midwest could be shipped in bulk to China where it's turned into cornflakes, boxed, and sent back by container ship just in time for your breakfast.

Anyway, I'm sure you get the idea and there's more to learn if you just want to do a simple search. There are some interesting developments aimed at creating wind-powered cargo vessels. A British company called B9 Shipping is planning to build a fleet of ships that use wind and renewable energy. It could become a movement.

All in all, my favorite story involves a small group of people who set off from Plymouth today on a 19th century sailing ketch called Irene on what may turn into an historic and worthwhile venture. Their project, called New Dawn Traders, will sail for five months carrying organic beer from Devon to France, olive oil from Spain to Brazil and then (all being well) will bring cocoa, coffee, Amazonian super-foods, and rum from South America and the Caribbean back to England. Another drawback about container ships is that many ports can't accommodate them so lots of small places have lost all chance of trade.

Lucy Gilliam, a member of Irene's crew said before they set sail, "People aren't really aware of the damage these huge cargo ships are doing to the planet," she said. "There needs to be a great story to get a popular movement going. People are inspired by tall ships. There's something magical in seeing a tall ship in a harbour or at sea."

I think so too. My friend and I will be keeping a lookout for them. Meanwhile, another friend, Horace the homing pigeon, has agreed to carry this letter back to susan. If the trade winds prevent me answering your comments myself I'm sure she will help. After all, I have promised to bring back something very special from my journey to the South Seas - some warm sand.

Salutations to all ♡

Friday, February 10, 2012

a pirate's dream

A friend and fellow blogger has been wondering for a while what my version of a pirate mermaid would look like. That's a tough one since the last thing mermaids needed was ships and pirate women usually dressed as men. Oh yes, there really were more of them than we might have imagined and a tough bunch of ladies they were too. However, I've drawn a picture as I preferred to envision such a fantastical being. Whether or not she finds her way into a painting only time will tell.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, February 6, 2012

an old adventure

In 2008, not many months after I'd begun blogging and was already running out of things to talk about, it occurred to me it might be fun to try writing down a few remembered stories. To make it extra appealing as a project I decided that drawing some quick illustrative pictures would be a good thing. Months later when there were half a dozen of them I opened the 'Adventure's Ink' blog where the stories continued regularly for a while. That blog has been pretty quiet for the last year or so mostly because I ran into some stories not easily told or honestly left out. None of us are always the heroes of our lives and I've been the goat of mine often enough.

I still think about writing and drawing more of them but while I do I thought some of you might be interested in reading the one that began it all. My pen and ink illustrations did improve over time but this is still one of my favorite Adventures and nobody has seen it for a while - out of the five people who read and commented the first time only two are still blogging. It's called:

True Housekeeping

When you work as a housekeeper the second worst thing you can find when you open the door for the first time is a clean house; the worst thing is to find a clean house that's also creepy. I ran into one of those unsettling homes many years ago in Providence, RI, one of the oldest cities in the US. The agency had called me that morning to say they had a new client who wanted a regular housekeeper for their place on the city's east side. When I stopped by to pick up the key it was noticeably different from the usual ones most of us carry - this was a heavy and very old fashioned skeleton key.

I had a map, since I wasn't all that familiar with the city yet, and found the place where the streets are mostly steep, narrow, and cobblestoned. The houses left there are big but often built deep into the properties with narrow fronts facing the street. Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design are both in the neighbourhood as is the amazingly enormous Swan Point Cemetary. Providence had also long been famous as the junk jewelry capital of the country but many of the little factories that specialized in associated metal work were closing back then as even cheaper stuff came in from other countries. The house I'd been hired to clean was in a wasteland of boarded up buildings.

After climbing the outside stairs and opening the creaky front door I found myself in a dim foyer just able to make out the living room further along a narrow hall. Inside, everything appeared to be clean but the atmosphere was musty and dark since the inside doors were all closed and what few windows there were faced the buildings on either side. The floors were dark oak, the lower walls covered in over varnished wainscot above which was faded wallpaper of disturbing design. The furniture was old and heavy and a black marble fireplace under a distorted glass mirror dominated the room. If you get the feeling I was already uncomfortable you'd be right.

The main floor also had a long, narrow dining room filled with cumbersome Victorian stuff - table, sideboard, curio cabinets and chairs. It was hard to imagine more than one person fitting the space. Further along the hall was a library that looked similar to the rest. It was a big house.

There was a stairway to the upper floors off the foyer so up I went only to find another dark corridor with closed doors on either side. One door was locked so I passed on that but found four bedrooms and two old fashioned bathrooms - clawfoot tubs and ten gallon toilets. I'd been turning lights on where I could find them but the place wasn't bright and neither did it look inhabited. There was no dust, the fireplace was clean, the bathrooms were unsoaped, unstained, and unsullied. The beds appeared to be made up but there were no sheets or blankets under the spreads. The next flight up led to what had been servants quarters - tiny rooms and almost no light at all. As my habit was to clean from top to bottom I decided to go back down and look for supplies so I could begin.

Back on the main floor I found another set of narrow and enclosed stairs  leading down from the dining room to where it seemed logical I'd find a kitchen. That was clean too but while I looked for the vacuum cleaner and other stuff I also found a wine cellar, another fireplace with a couch and a couple of chairs, a completely walled-in courtyard beyond some new glass doors, and best of all, a radio which I turned on.

Have I mentioned I'd been reading H.P. Lovecraft? He lived on the East Side of Providence all his life and is buried at Swan Point. Every year on Hallowe'en an unknown group has celebrated a black mass at his sepulchre.. or at least signs of that have been found the next day. Lovecraft is easily laughed off if you read one or two of his books at the beach but my experience was reading him while living in Providence and he was very knowledgeable about the old city and its foundations and architectural history. So when he wrote about tunnels and underground chambers inhabited by pale, slimey, slithery, sucking beasts it started to gain a subconscious hold.

So there I was in the kitchen with the lamps lit and the radio playing. The house felt heavy and portentous above me but there was a job to be done so, ready or not, I picked up the vacuum cleaner and carried it up the stairs. The lights had gone out so I turned them back on as I went all the way to the top.

I worked up there doing the usual things even though nothing looked cleaner as I worked but I needed glass cleaner so went back down to the kitchen to find some. All the lights were out on the main floor again and once again I turned the switches back on. As I went down the back stairs to the kitchen the lights went out behind me. When I got to the foot of the staircase the lights down there went dark and the radio clicked off. I stood stock still and looked all around but could see nothing different and nobody was there. I would almost have been happier if someone was there but there wasn't. I'd had enough.

One minute later I was up the stairs, down the hall and out the front door. I decided to cut through the river park on my way back to the agency to return the key. It was only later I realized a duster was still hanging out of my back pocket. I've often wondered whose house that was..

ps: The original story has been edited a little for clarity. (I'm a better writer now too)

Friday, February 3, 2012

the offering

This is the last picture I painted last year. I've been trying to think of something to write about so the painting isn't the only thing I post this evening. It's getting late now and I've only thought of one thing:

Art tells gorgeous lies that come true.

To be honest, I have more fun these days painting pictures of Crow.