Saturday, April 30, 2011
I'm a little under the weather this week - cramps are roiling my gut, gurgling embarrassingly, with occasional spasms of pain. I don't know whether it's food poisoning, hormonal mischief, or just the large amount of jelly beans and Peeps I ate last weekend.
But I'm staying home with a hot pad on my tummy, lying in bed sipping tea and reading escapist novels.
Oleander is a common shrub here in Southern California, and you see it everywhere. There are white varieties, a pale peachy variety, and bright cherry-red like this shrub in my neighbor's yard.
I first learned about oleanders as a young teen, from a novel by Anya Seton. Back then, I read everything Ms. Seton wrote - thick romances set in Britain and America, with real historic figures interacting with her heroes and heroines.
I'm not sure it was good for me at twelve or thirteen to read these racy tales, with their torid sex scenes; but my teenaged self thrilled to read of the naked white limbs of the adulterous queen glimpsed fleetingly in darkness, the trembling lips of the lusty Puritan maiden, the passionate seduction of Katharine Swynford by the debonair John of Lancaster.
Seton's romances weren't as sexually explicit as modern romance novels, but what they lacked in specifics they made up for in drama, sweep, and sensational intrigue.
One of her early novels was set in the Hudson River valley, and the plot is, to us today, predictable. A young innocent girl leaves home to join the household of a rich family as a companion to their daughter. But all is not well at Dragonwyck. The Patroon despises his greedy and selfish wife, and lusts for Our Heroine. The wife gorges herself on desserts, sprinkling the sweet whipped cream with bay leaf ground in a little spice mill. One night, the unfortunate woman becomes violently ill and dies, freeing the Patroon to marry Our Heroine.
As their marriage founders, Our Heroine begins to suspect her predecessor's death was more than an accident. It is revealed that the Patroon replaced the bay leaves in his wife's spice mill with the deadly leaves of oleander.
Oleander is one of the most toxic plants in cultivation. Almost every part of the shrub is toxic. The bark, the leaves and even the flowers' nectar cause extreme gastrointestinal distress, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and excess salivation. It can also damage the heart and the central nervous system.
Living in northern cities like New York and Seattle, I'd never seen an oleander until we moved to Southern California. Some 25 years after reading "Dragonwyck" with its description of the violent symptoms of oleander poisoning, I was surprised and a bit uneasy to recognize the shrubs in my yard as oleanders.
Oleanders are widely grown here, because they're pretty, drought tolerant, and resistant to brush fires.
Still, it's curious that authorities recommend growing it in high-fire-risk areas. In Florida, on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the state has posted signs among the oleander shrubs growing there, warning fishermen not to use the limbs for campfires to grill fish - so toxic is even the smoke.
In the novel "White Oleander" by Janet Fitch, a woman's conviction for poisoning her lover with oleander lands her daughter in the horrors of the state's foster-child programs. The white oleander appears again and again evoking the unease of Southern California's brush fires, It also appears as a sinister symbol of the mother's sociopathy.
Oleanders grow in many tropical climates, including Sri Lanka and India. There, the Yellow Oleander plant is linked with up to 2000 poisonings a year - mostly deliberate, intended suicide.
As with most chemically complex plants, the oleander's ability to make the human gut purge its contents has beneficial uses, too. It has been used in traditional folk medicine in the Mediterranean region, and recent researchers have used extracts of the plant in anti-cancer drugs.
Still, when I walk the dog on our street we pass dozens of large, lush oleanders, in full bloom for the spring. Their pretty pink and white blossoms are sweetly fragrant, and unless you know what they are, they don't appear the least bit sinister.
Well, now!! Not very cheerful for Pink Saturday, is it? But it got my mind off my gurgling tummy!
What books are your guilty pleasures when you're under the weather?
UPDATE: Well, my tummy-ache has turned into a bigger adventure than I thought. Stay tuned.
Friday, April 29, 2011
F**k a Duck! My tummy-ache has turned out to be a bigger adventure than I thought. Blogging will be relatively light, but I'll keep you up to date.
Meanwhile, share your week's nasty surprises and how you feel about them here.
Note to Early Pink Saturday visitors - FAD Fridays are a tradition allowing folks to let their end-of-week gripe flags fly - all language is allowed. It honors a dear old lady whose favorite phrase, used while playing Scrabble, was "Fuck a duck!" Please don't take offense!
And I WILL have a Pink Saturday post, so tune in tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
This is an English Rose, bred by David Austin. I think this one is called "St. Swithun."
Bearded iris - this one is fragrant enough to perfume a room.
This showier specimen is a real knock-out.
UPDATE: Oh, funny that after writing about Jack getting a tummy ache, I get one. There's no connection, though.
Monday, April 25, 2011
It's not clear whether the chemistry of the grass itself causes dogs to throw up, or whether it's the texture of the leaves tickling the back of their throats that sets off the gag reflex.
Or maybe they just like it.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
At the end of my street, on the downhill slope of an undeveloped property, a wicker chair sits in the middle of a grassy field.
It used to sit beneath the branches of an oak tree on the property, but after workers did the spring brush clearance, they moved it out into the open field.
Here it is. Have a seat. Enjoy the sunshine. Watch the birds.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
"The Awakening of Adonis" - John William Waterhouse, 1900. Click to "embiggen"
As Ovid told it, Aphrodite, grieving for her mortally wounded love:
Then on the blood sweet nectar she bestows,
The scented blood in little bubbles rose:
Little as rainy drops, which flutt'ring fly,
Born by the winds, along a low'ring sky.
Short time ensu'd, 'till where the blood was shed,
A flow'r began to rear its purple head...
Still here the Fate of lovely forms we see,
So sudden fades the sweet Anemonie.
The feeble stems, to stormy blasts a prey,
Their sickly beauties droop, and pine away.
The winds forbid the flow'rs to flourish long,
Which owe to winds their names in Grecian song.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book X
The Adonis myth is a complicated one, gathering threads and bits and pieces from Greek, Roman, Semite and Babylonian lore, and even evokes the theme of resurrection from death that Christians celebrate at Easter. The name of Adonis comes from the Semitic word "Adonai" meaning "Lord."In Christian symbolism, the anemone of Adonis is associated with the Crucifixion. In folklore, the anemone grows at the foot of the cross, and its blossoms are stained with the blood of Christ.
To settle the argument between Aphrodite and Persephone, Zeus decreed that Adonis would spend one third of the year with each lady, and choose with whom he'd spend the remaining third. So Adonis spends two-thirds of the year with the goddess of love, dies and spends his time in the Underworld, then arises in spring and rejoins Aphrodite.
In spring, the women of Ancient Greece mourned the death of Adonis and celebrated his resurrection by sowing the seeds of quick-growing grasses, wheat, fennel or lettuce in pots or baskets of earth they carried to the rooftops - the place where this women-only ritual took place.
Up on the rooftops, women would weep and beat their breasts and rend their garments, but as the shoots of green sprouted from the pots of soil, they rejoiced at his rebirth.
The Adonis myth is mirrored in the Semitic myth of Tammuz, the vegetation god, who sprouts in spring and dies in the drought of summer, only to rise again after the winter rains.
For the women of Ancient Greece, the shallow roots of their "Adonis gardens" and the heat of the spring sun on the rooftops cause the fragile plants to wither and die - making this fertility ritual a peculiar one, very different from other, more optimistic celebrations of harvest and abundance.
It celebrates life as vivid yet fleeting, that all too quickly succcumbs to harsh death.
Just as the fragile petals of the anemone are soon torn away by the wind - "Windflower" being another common name of the anemone.
We await its return.
Friday, April 22, 2011
One of the best newspaper headlines ever written appeared in the sports section of the Seattle Times in 1990:
when the University of Washington women's basketball team beat the University of Oregon.
Okay, gals. Let's persevere offensively and survive defensively! Take it down the court and sink a three-pointer, despite the personal fouls.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Spring is the season for English peas - they're so popular this farmer has posted a sign warding off foragers. "I know you are hungry but this is no buffet table. Feel free to try one, but that's it. After one we will charge per pound and have to put you on the scale."
In spring, you can get green garlic. These are the young shoots of garlic that are thinned out of the crop in the spring. Used like scallions but with a more pronounced flavor, they are prized by chefs - many of whom shop at the Santa Monica Wednesday market.
If you're gathering all this bounty for your Easter table, don't forget the best of all - spring flowers.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
At the end of our road, a private driveway leads up the hill. At the base of the driveway, there's chunk of tree.
It's dried and seasoned. The bark has been removed, and the aged wood beneath is silvery grey.
When I came close, I thought for a moment that it had been carved by some kind of mechanical tool, like a router or Dremel tool, in an intricate yet mysterious graphic pattern, curled and curving into figures, maps, scrolls, lines.....
But no, no human hand was behind these arts. These figures were created by some kind of insect - colonies of insects, probably - I don't know what - burrowing and tunneling in the wood for years and years back when it was alive.
And you can see the holes made by woodpeckers that preyed on those insects, too.
This corner has seen some other interesting ornaments. You'll see more.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
I was driving west on Washington Boulevard in Culver City, heading towards Venice. Washington here is a broad, four-laned boulevard with parking on each side, and on this Saturday afternoon, traffic wasn't heavy but it was moving fast.
Just past Centinela, on my left, I saw a small white dog dart out into the street from between the parked cars and begin to run west, with the traffic.
At first I thought someone would retrieve him, but no. He was on his own, and making a break for it on a busy street. As he ran - improbably as it may seem - I saw him turn his little head as though to look over his shoulder for oncoming traffic.
I gasped and braked, and then he shot on past me. There was a small black car at the curb with the door open. I felt sure the driver would scoop him up and all would be well.
But no. He ran past the parked cars. A red or pink collar jingled. I braked again, and slowed, and in the lane next to me, so did a white Acura.
Time seemed to slow. I imagined him running out in front of me, or into the next lane. I imagined him hit. I imagined me scooping him up in my arms and taking him into my car. I passed him, and then ahead of me I saw the curb open up before the corner, and I pulled over, threw the shift into Park, and got out of the car.
He ran toward me. I stood almost in traffic and beckoned. "Hey, puppy, puppy, puppy, come here, puppy!"
He veered away from me out into the traffic lane. I was horrified that I had put him in further danger. I stood like an idiot. What could I do? Run out in traffic? Chase the dog further into traffic?
I watched as he dodged back toward the curb.
The white Acura pulled over the curb ahead of me. The puppy skitter-stepped around it, then came back toward the curb and continued on westward. As the Acura slowed and stopped, the puppy made a fast right turn at the corner, and a young Asian guy in a blue T shirt jumped out and started chasing him.
I closed my car door and started to the corner, but then I realized my car was still running. I went back, turned it off, took the key and locked it, and then walked toward the corner. I stood watching, holding my keys, but by this time, the dog was out of sight and the young man was slowly walking back.
"Did you see him? Where did he go?" I asked.
"He just kept running," he said. "I couldn't keep up with him."
We looked at each other. His friends beckoned from the car. "Well," I said. "At least he's off the boulevard."
I walked back toward my car.
We had both tried to rescue a dog that didn't want rescuing.
I hope the little guy was running toward home, not away.
Train, leash, and secure your dog, people.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Do the defenders of Olive Garden really like the food? Or do they feel compelled to defend it for other reasons?
California wildflowers are blooming this weekend in our hills and in local gardens. While the best-known California wildflower is our brilliant orange poppy, there are some PINK spring wildflowers. Here's a sampling, from the gardens I visited during the Theodore Payne Foundation's annual Native Plant Garden Tour.
Above and at the top of this post, the Western Redbud, or Cercis ocidentalis. Its cousin in the Eastern United States is Cercis canadensis.
Lavatera assurgentiflora ssp. assurgentiflora is the Island Tree Mallow, a fast-growing shrub with large lavender-pink striped flowers.
These pretty Coral Bells are members of the Heuchera genus, and several species are native to North America and California.
Their delicate pink sprays of flowers and un-fussy ways make them a mainstay of the shady garden. You can find named varieties like "Canyon Chimes" and "Dainty Bells" in colors ranging from deep coral to purest white.
Other heuchera varieties are prized for their attractive leaves; bronzed, silvered or mottled and patterned, they add a touch of drama and color to a shady green garden. The one above is a silvered pink - perfect for Pink Saturday!
There are many penstemon species native to California, but one of my favorites is Penstemon spectabilis - and spectacular it is, this pretty blue flower with a pink throat.
Sages are great for California gardens, and this is a variety of Salvia greggii selected for its showy magenta flowers.
Most California native flowers are drought tolerant. This pretty daisy is Erigeron glaucus "Bountiful."
Here is it with a pink selected variety of our native monkeyflower, Mimulus species.
I love our native irises, and the beautiful varieties bred from them are called Pacific Coast Hybrid Iris. You've seen photos of the ones in my garden, but I don't have a pink one like this beauty - not yet, but just wait! If you're in Southern California, you can find these plants at the Theodore Payne Foundation's nursery, located in Sunland.
Friday, April 15, 2011
10 x 11 x 13 meters
Inflatable, pontoon and generator
Sometimes having a safe place to vent your frustrations is a REALLY BIG DEAL!
It's Fuck-a-Duck Friday! Named in honor of Mrs. G's departed Aunt, whose favorite phrase was "Fuck a duck!"
What's got you all blown out of proportion this week?
Thursday, April 14, 2011
This is the view from the window of a downtown Los Angeles residential loft, looking westward at the skyline of the financial district. Isn't it stunning?
It's the Little Tokyo Lofts, a former Westinghouse factory located on San Pedro Street. The view is magnificent.
The neighborhood, alas, is not. It's a little too close to Skid Row, and with the economic downturn, property values are dropping.
It's funny, in a way. The whole concept of urban residential lofts rests on the notion that living in undervalued, abandoned factory buildings in dangerous neighborhoods is an edgy and cool lifestyle.
I lived in just such a place myself, on the corner of Greene Street and Broome Street in lower Manhattan in 1977. I rented a room from a painter on the third floor of a building with a metal-working factory on the ground floor. Coming home at night, we used to walk down the middle of the deserted street, because it was safer than walking close to the darkened doorways of the buildings.
Back then, you couldn't buy this kind of atmosphere. It was priceless.
Whaddya say - want to take a gamble? I hear they're going for good prices.
True confession - even now, at my age, I'd love to be able to live in a building like this. The only obstacle is traffic - living in downtown LA would triple my commute time. When will they complete the Expo Line?
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
On Saturday, the last garden we visited was in an exclusive neighborhood, up in the hills above Beverly Hills. The home sported magnificent city views from its back garden. But what stood out was the owner's devotion to native wildlife - especially birds.
There were many hummingbird feeders on stands around the patio, and while the visitors mingled, we were dive-bombed by dozens and dozens of hummingbirds.
They were extraordinary! We get hummingbirds in our Topanga garden sipping nectar from the flowers, and the males jealously guard their territory, aggressively driving out other hummingbirds competing for the feed.
But here - perhaps because the food was so abundant - the birds called a truce, allowing others to perch alongside them as they greedily supped and sipped.
Hummingbirds are unique, in that certain feathers - particularly those around the throat, or "gorget" - have prism-like cells on the surface, so that when sunlight hits them, they refract the light and appear as a blaze of color. It's not pigment - it's the refractive quality that makes the throats of hummingbirds appear brilliant orange, or magenta, or even deep violet.
The adult male bird is more brilliantly colored than the female and juvenile birds.
There are three hummingbird species common to the Southern California coastal region. These are Calypte anna, called the Anna's hummingbird; Selasphorus sasin, or Allen's hummingbird; and Selasphorus rufus, or the Rufous hummingbird.
I am not great at identifying birds, but to me, the birds with the brownish sides, green cap, and tawny throats look like Allen's hummingbirds, with their greenish backs and rumps.
The birds with the red crown and greyish chest is probably Anna's hummingbird.
Although all of the hummingbirds emit sounds from the buzzing of their wings, Anna's hummingbird is notable because the shape of their tail feathers stiffened against the wind make a squeaking sound male birds use to warn off competitors during the mating season.
They are simply an amazing, ridiculous, beautiful bird.