I spy golden trumpets.

I spy golden trumpets.

My parents bought an old farm when I was in high school. The barn area had masses of daffodils fanning out like the sea from land-locked oaks and magnolias. Picking yellow ‘til I was blue in the face was a ritual. I miss that annual carpet of happiness.

Daffodils are hard to pin down. The late-16th-century word for what you see above went through several linguistic twists but is rooted in the Greek asphodelos, which in turn is of unknown origin.

Daffs are sort of stuck on themselves. In a fake, self-love-practicing kind of way. Their Latin name? Narcissus pseudonarcissus. (Why, thank you, Carl.) 50% ego; 50% not.

Daffodils are sneaky. So where did these yellow-crowned, graceful ballerinas spring from? Who gave them that tenacious d-? Sources say the Netherlands are to blame. Specifically, the Dutch language: its definite article, “de,” hooked up with the affable bulb, affodil. And there you have the story of stunning, sunny glory.

Hot. Cool. Meh.

Hot. Cool. Meh.

The evocative name of this building at the Sochi Olympics is one of the more unique. Icebergs command attention; they are powerful and beautiful to behold. They also suggest passing grandeur, so I hope the public still has access to it post-Games, unlike Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, which sits empty, even abandoned.

“Iceberg” means well. A tip of the berg for being short, fun to say and easy to remember, but it’s suggestively off. You see, this structure is shades of blue, and more so when lit up at night. Glaciers are blue due to the lack of air in their creeping shelves. In contrast, icebergs — full of tiny air bubbles — are mostly white, as the bubbles’ surfaces reflect light. The blue-ish streaks in an iceberg represent crevasse-filling meltwater that’s refrozen. Air-tight vs. air-light. Similarly, roughly 90% of an iceberg is under water, yet the home of the latest skategate appears largely above-surface. The venue would be better verbally-grounded if more of it had been recessed into the earth.

Which brings me to…if this is an iceberg, what type is it? The terminology of some of the sizes and shapes of these frozen masses are cool. I have seen smaller ones — growlers and bergy bits — in Chile. Shape-wise, the Skating Palace looks like a hybrid: “tabular” for its crew-cut and horizontal banding and “blocky” for the steep sides.

Here’s where the Russians missed. U-shaped bergs, with the bottom of the “U” reaching almost to or at water level and cradled or book-ended by sky-reaching spires, are referred to as “dry-docked.” Considering the lack of natural precipitation at seaside Sochi, officials there could have thrown down some serious naming with “The Drydock” for the half-pipe.

At least they didn’t resort to calling the palace the “Sea-Hill.” Such was the synonym for calved glaciers in the late 17th century. I’m not sure how long that term floated around, but the partially Anglicized Dutch loanword for “ice mountain” obviously got more points for style back then and thus is still in play.

Valentine Rituals, Part I

Valentine Rituals, Part I

It pays to root around aimlessly some times, as you never know what you will dig up. For curious types like myself, the chance to unearth possibilities, dust off the past or shape the future are must-haves in our lives. Here is a linguistic morsel paraphrased from Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk:

Choice words. Originated by Chaucer himself, piggesyne (literally, a darling little pig’s eye) was once a term of endearment for one’s sweetheart. The English poet is also credited with inspiring the tradition of sending love notes on Saint Valentine’s Day.

From name drawing to destiny calling. Pre-19th century bachelors drew maidens’ names from a box or hat as their valentine for the year. The Church tried to graft a religious holiday onto this long-standing tradition by substituting saints’ names for those of the opposite sex, but this attempt proved unpopular and was abandoned by the 16th century. The drawing of names was taken somewhat seriously according to Henry Bournes in his 1725 Antiquities of the Common People: “It is a ceremony, never omitted among the vulgare, to draw…a name, which is called their Valentine, and is also look’d upon as a good omen of their being man and wife afterwards.”

Tree HUgGAs, unite!

Tree HUgGAs, unite!

I drove by this tree transplanter for several days before I got to see the contraption at work. A South Carolina-based team received a large-sized grant from the University of Georgia to plant trees throughout the campus over the course of a year. They’re at around 1,000 now…mostly oaks. Makes me wonder where.

UGA has traditionally kept immaculate grounds while maintaining storied shade. Nevertheless, since my college days here, lawns and grassy or vacant spots have disappeared. So much of the green space has been taken over by awkward-looking, chunky McBuildings. These monstrosities are far too big for their respective lots. What’s more, their boxy structures can only mean that the sites were clear cut.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

In this case, the land was for as long as I can remember a field, possibly a cotton one, as Athens was once a key brokerage center for the southern commodity. The row here stands in front of what will next year be the university’s new $105 million Veterinary Teaching Hospital. (“Equine Teaching Unit” once marked an entrance, but the sign is gone, and there’s no replacement.) Perhaps they haven’t figured out what to call it yet or are waiting to honor a major donor with naming rights. Some fortuitous timing in this Chinese year of the horse!

A dirt missile.

A dirt missile.

Big John lifts a 10,000-pound root ball. That’s mega dirt! The tines nudge closer and closer together, disappearing into the earth. In a matter of minutes, the four steel arms cradle the red clay in a tightly closed tulip form and raise the entire plug onto the lift bed. The guys then truck this off to a nearby tree farm where it is swapped out for a newbie. Hydraulics are amazing.

Knitmare!

Knitmare!

Most of the Olympic athletes and delegates tonight sported street-smart winter gear. A lot of it will be wearable after the games. Not so the tacky garb of Team USA. A good thing they were on the back-end of the parade of nations. It was no great feat to see how hideous those über-busy sweaters are. Hide, USA! Outside the secure area, they make for easy targets. Despite the fact that the cardigans are supposedly sold out, I can’t imagine them having any long-term aftermarket value. They won’t last, for one. The boots, on the other hand, look nice.

Is it an uncanny coincidence that this fashion faux pax is a metaphor for how fragmented this country has become? The cardy is a granny quilt of feuding red and blue states squares and poorly placed verbal messaging. Has anyone counted the stars, or are they just filler? Our uniform was a chance for us to shine for two weeks. Instead, the US Olympic Committee sacrificed our brand to another big ego.

Fair warning. Taking the gold for poor execution, and embarrassing us along the way, is the self-absorbed Mr. Lauren himself. If only certain decision-makers had done some due diligence, they would have come across an October 2000 Dale Boss story about the man and his empire. Quoting Ralph: “I’ve been a big hero in this industry, and I like being a big hero.”

Made in the United States. The USOC should have selected a new designer to outfit this Olympiad’s competitors. Ralph Lauren had his chance — two, in fact — in Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games and in Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics, He and his company blew both, showing everyone his lack of patriotism by choosing earnings over authenticity. Commerce over craft. Profit over pride of country. There was quite the public outcry when it was revealed that some (perhaps all?) of the official 2010 clothing was, in fact, manufactured in China.

New blood needed. As this global event so often launches athletes into stardom, the USOC could have gotten into the spirit and had the same effect by jumpstarting an aspiring artist’s career. The US has many young, yet sufficiently established designers who could have seamlessly delivered. Style, that is. Context-current, up-and-coming craftspeople who would not have taken the honor for granted. Alternatively, the The North Faces, Nikes and Patagonias could have produced something tasteful and desirable. If the USOC really wanted to get people excited about sports and attract new generations of participants and viewers, they would have signed on a Bruno Mars. Instead, what can only be aging members went with the obvious. It showed, and we deserve better.

Polo, formerly called America. As if the choice of designer weren’t bad enough, the design itself chokes. It looks committee-driven; no consensus could be reached, so a mash-up it is. The Polo word mark on the lapel is over and above the USA. In close-up shots of the athletes, that’s all you see, with part of “USA” tucked in the armpit. This placement says it all about what Mr. Lauren thinks of himself. On no other team’s outerwear did a clothing brand compete with the country name. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that Polo was a country. In 2010, things were better in that the Polo brand mark, the polo player, was blazer front and off-center (too far off). That alone should have been a red flag.

Off-fabric. Please…, cotton turtlenecks? I bet the bulky sweaters are also cotton. There are so many technical and new wool fabrics out there to keep you warm and looking good. Thin layering devices that perform!

Nice departures. Of note: some countries (France, Germany, Iran, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania and New Zealand) whose jackets and pants had nothing to do with their flag color. The Japanese carried small Russian and Japanese flags. And looks like the Russian women got to pick between red, white and blue parkas! Tonga’s coats-as-canvas combined the vertically placed flag along with an ocean and palm background. Well done!

Go USA!

This tagline's got legs!

This tagline’s got legs!

Emma Hope shoes are understated elegance. Investment pieces, not gaudy statement ones like those we’ve seen more and more over the last decade. Gorgeousness you can actually walk in and wear for hours. I love this tagline; it complements the fine workmanship, attention to detail and tactile heaven of handcrafted functionality. “Regalia for feet” even feels comfortable! I miss pretty shoes.

It is puzzling why high-end labels and cordwainers continue to ignore common sense at the expense of looking out-of-touch. Their own faddish egos are damaging their brand. A six-inch plus heel is not unique, stylish or innovative. It is fast fashion, stalled. Such lack of creativity catapults a domino effect: season after season, hyper-competitive, self-obsessed designers churn out more pairs that are increasingly sold at a discount and at steeper price cuts. This is neither good business nor brand strategy. The over-priced, ankle-twisting excess I’m referring to is nothing short of slutty, tasteless, quickly dated footwear. (Honey, call the podiatrist!)

I dare designers to come down off their stilettos! Make something to be proud of twenty years from now. Do it for us and for the archives. And ladies, while you wait, get a pair by Emma and you’ll agree: simple is usually the answer.

You say Autumn, I say Fall.

You say Autumn, I say Fall.

The yellows this season have been spectacular: Ginkgos, buckeyes, chrysanthemums, hickory trees, poplars and aspens, to boot.

The reds and purples cannot be bested: Dogwoods, Japanese maples, burning brush bushes, mountain apples and sorghum.

Orange is the new neutral: Jack o’ lanterns, fothergilla, oaks, mini pumpkin trees, Chinese lanterns, red kuris and butternuts.

Green is the hang-on color: Pines, green hubbards, magnolias, acorn squash, cha cha kabochas and jarrahdales.

Brown and black won’t be left out, either: Acorns masting and brittle leaves descending — those aerial concerts; bark and branches don’t get much respect.

And finally, white not? Casper and great white pumpkins and snowball mums stir us to what’s next.

Tie-dye foliage…none of which blues me. Now, just who will bottle this?

Giant Lemming / Pudlo, 1961.

Giant Lemming / Pudlo, 1961.

This looks a little bat-like, right? Well, to the Inuit artist, Pudlo, it’s an Arctic lemming’s head. It reminded me of the figures of human skeletons (calacas) or skulls (calaveras) that are ubiquitous on the Day of the Dead. Calacas are often decked out in colorful, ornate dresses or zoot suits and grouped together in celebration. Musicians playing, rowdy fans dancing… these treats for the eyes depict the soul’s happy afterlife.

Back to lemmings, those prairie dogs of the tundra. Tunnels protect them from predators, and their winter-white fur helps them escape the keen eyes of the snowy owl, whose coat also turns with the season. These critters do not hibernate; fortunately, strong front claws help them dig through the ice and snow for grasses foraged before Old Man Winter sets in.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Thunderbolt, Georgia

Bonaventure Cemetery
Thunderbolt, Georgia

In Mexico, the Day of the Angels (el día de los angelitos) or Day of the Innocents (el día de los inocentes) is one to honor the souls of those who died young. The tree stone to little Gracie’s right symbolizes a life cut short. To her left at her feet are fern fronds, which symbolize humility, solitude and sincerity. Note the buttoned boots. A gem of a memorial.

I’ve wanted to visit Oconee Hill Cemetery for a coon’s age. The last time I tried a few years ago, the sexton was ugly (bless his heart) and wouldn’t even let me in. Yes, they had vandalism issues in the past, but that was back in the seventies. I think word got out about his unfriendliness, as well as the rumor that the burial grounds were full. It seems they’ve come ‘round to customer service, probably due more than anything to the fact that there are lots left. Today looks to be as good as any to take an old-fashioned, Victorian stroll.

The Enchanted Owl, 1960.

The Enchanted Owl, 1960.

Here’s my tribute to the pioneering Inuit artist, Kenojuak Ashevak. She was world-renowned for bringing attention to her people’s culture and mythology through her illuminating interpretations of Far North and Arctic animals…particularly birds. We lost the legend herself earlier this year at the ripe old age of 85, but not before her signature style brought happiness to many an avid collector of her drawings and sketches. Membership into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and her art being chosen to grace three Canadian stamps and a 25¢ Canadian circulation coin were career highlights.

In her owls and loons, head and tail feathers dance and shimmer like rays of the sun, as she said, “driving away the darkness.” Ravens and wolves, often entwined with one another, form a web of scavenging, opportunistic bodies that are intensified by color-blocked splashes of plumage or all-over fur. Crowded on the paper — croaking, gurgling, cawing and howling — you can almost hear them they are so loud.

Animals and humans transformed, communing with the beyond. Shaman knows the way.

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