The Recital

Recite: repeat aloud or declaim (a poem or passage) from memory before an audience.

I have committed many things to memory over time—poems, prayers, proverbs and the like. Prayers were recited in church of a Sunday, proverbs to make me look clever and poetry —well, that’s another matter.

The poetry recital occurred just once, at an eisteddfod in front of a panel of bespectacled and aging adjudicators.  The stage was long, deep and bare.  The hall, cavernous.  The crowd, mostly parents whose children were far more talented than anyone else could hope to be, were hostile behind their plastered smiles and deceiving nods of encouragement.

Across the boards I trod to the place marked with a cross.  Centre stage in my pretty brown velvet skirt and apricot satin top. Hands held below the sternum, fingers clasped gently. I began.

Daffodowndilly

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

A.A Milne

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Puzzling over puzzles

It’s always the small pieces that make the big picture.

There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.  

Deepak Chopra

I love puzzles.  Crosswords, logic puzzles, find a words and Sudoku. At the moment I am in the midst of an intense affair with jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaws have long been a favourite holiday pastime. When we’ve gone away to the beach, the mountains or even stayed at home over the Christmas New Year period there has always been a large puzzle set up on a table for all to enjoy.

A few months ago I found a box of ten puzzles in a secondhand store. They were different sizes; 250, 300, 500, 750 and 1000 pieces. I took to completing the smaller puzzles over a weekend, often completing one in a few hours. The impulse became so strong I set up the 1000 piece puzzle and worked on it in the spare moments over a fortnight. The bug had bitten. I dug out previously purchased and untried puzzles. Once completed, I scoured the secondhand stores for more. My craving became so strong I realized I couldn’t budget for the demand so I began swapping puzzles with other avid solvers and it got me thinking about where jigsaw puzzles began.

I imagine John Spilsbury, a mapmaker in the mid 1700’s, was so enamored with the wonder the world offered and so insightful, to realise young children needed to develop the capacity to place themselves in the world, that he created a very clever educational tool. He pasted a map of the word onto thin wood and cut it into pieces to teach children about geography. Voila, the first jigsaw puzzle.

Very soon these early ‘dissected maps’ evolved as other entrepreneurs realized the scope of jigsaw puzzles and added historical scenes to be reassembled for educational purposes. Wooden puzzles are still a popular toy gifted to young children today to teach about shape, improve dexterity and aid in building vocabulary. My son had several as an infant and he too is a keen puzzler.

The humble jigsaw puzzle has evolved from an educational tool for children into a source of enjoyment for both adults and children. The early puzzles for adults were truly tricky though. There were no interlocking pieces as today, simply pieces cut along colour lines with no picture on the box to guide construction.

A decade ago there was a huge craze for Murder Mystery dinner parties. Well, I was delighted to discover this set-up began in the 1900’s with weekend puzzle parties held by wealthy puzzlers at their country homes.

During the Great Depression puzzles for adults were a great source of distraction and accomplishment with sales reaching an astounding 10 million a week in 1933. Clever unemployed craftsmen cut jigsaws at home and sold or rented them in local neighborhoods.

Soon after the cheaper, less expensive cardboard puzzles began to be mass-produced making puzzles more widely available. But the fun didn’t stop there. A quirky concept, I would love to participate in, saw the emergence of a weekly jigsaw puzzle. The 25-cent puzzle of the week was sold on news stands and, naturally, people rushed to buy them.

Manufacturing techniques were perfected in the 1950’s and standard puzzles haven’t changed much since except perhaps in picture quality. A jigsaw puzzle of a 1000 or more pieces with an engaging scene is my preference. Though I have recently completed a beautiful 3D puzzle of Neuschwanstein Castle (an absolute delight as I remembered walking its perimeter several years ago) and a couple of holographic puzzles (very hard on the eyes but good fun) as well as some Impossibles were a single image is repeated with little distinction. I recently discovered a new form of What if puzzle, where what you see on the box is not the puzzle you solve. I am keen to try one.

My curiosity about the history of the humble jigsaw has now been sated but not my appetite for puzzles themselves.

Anyone care to swap?

 

 

 

 

Redefining preconceptions about art

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~ Degas

In retrospect, it was public art. It had an energy to it. It brought life to the places around me. I thought I had an open mind when it came to art. It didn’t take long to realise my beliefs were outdated as I scrambled to adjust a decades old perception of public art.

The genre of public art for me had included sculpture, murals and I threw in street art, which I know is not strictly public art, but I was challenged to rethink my view-point recently when I hit the streets of Brisbane to follow a contemporary public art trail.

Armed with a downloaded PDF my partner in art and I headed off for a morning of joy and immersion in creativity. The very first piece we came across was not included on the list.  A week later I discovered it was the city’s newest piece of public art (below).  It was obviously art to me, as to the other pieces on the list, to be honest, we were stumped.  I had excepted the art to be easy to find and literally hit us in the face.  We stood on street corners searching.  We wandered up and down pavements looking.  Checking the ‘map’ and descriptions we soon discovered some of the art was what I might have mistaken for building decoration and architectural flourishes rather than commissioned work from the public purse.

Now I know all art does not appeal to all people – I get that. But I was perplexed by the painted ceilinged walkway, the coloured tiled wall and the barely perceptible swirls on the glass facade of a building.  Had I not been searching for these pieces they would have caught my eye and I would have admired the beauty, the departure from the norm in each of them.  On this occasion, I was expecting something different. Something more immediately recognisable. Something I could ‘label’ with an existing language to say – hey, that’s a piece of art.

I came away slightly disconcerted and just a little baffled but keen to redefine an obviously outdated and incorrect viewpoint.  What I have discovered, thanks to the Association of Public Art, is that “public art is not an art ‘form’.  Its size can be huge or small. It can tower fifty feet high or call attention to the paving beneath your feet. Its shape can be abstract or realistic (or both), and it may be cast, carved, built, assembled, or painted. It can be site-specific or stand in contrast to its surroundings. What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means. Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.”

According to this comprehensive definition and with a new understanding, each piece of art I discovered was appropriately classified as public art and I am keen to discover more. Have you had a similar experience where you have had to adjust your thinking to align with  a more widely held view?

 

 

Returning to Maycomb County


“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seethe.”  Isaiah 21:6

The release of Harper Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman was a hot topic of conversation a couple of years ago.  I missed it.  Somehow I was otherwise distracted and so didn’t read anything about it or engage in any conversations other than the passing acknowledgement that it was available.

I came across a hardcover copy last year in a second-hand book store for $5:00.  It sat neglected for months until this last fortnight, when I could not settle into a book after reading a riveting crime novel.  Within moments of realising I was spending time with Atticus and Scout, I was drawn in and satisfactorily engaged.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s blockbuster, has long held a spot high on my list of favourite books.  Having to teach it to reluctant teenagers did not tarnish its lustre.  While I had a significant adjustment to make to the older Scout in Go Set a Watchman I was compensated by recollections of her childhood which provided a good and detailed account of the passage of time in the lives of many of the main characters.

My beloved Atticus, gentle, wise and honourable, who reminds me of my grandfather, was not as forward facing as I’d have liked.  And I’ll admit I was at first a little disoriented and confused by his portrayal, though I was delighted by the large roles of the critical and complex Aunt Zandra and the charming and captivating Uncle John.  I missed Jem and Dill and Calpurnia, though Lee cleverly fed me enough information to propel me forward.  This is not a novel about Atticus, neither perhaps was To Kill a Mockingbird though I made it so.  Go Set a Watchman is a coming of age novel about one Miss Jean Louise Finch. She probably narrated her 1930’s childhood summer at the age she appears in this current novel.

Though the narrative was disturbing and meandering it held my interest. It’s a powerful and brutal bildungsroman.  It’s a brutal coming of age for Scout and a brutal read for devotees who find the idyllic Maycomb ravaged and transformed by historical events.  The ample dialogue caused me some consternation and rereading when I confused speakers. The novel ends satisfactorily with an invitation for Scout to return to Maycomb, to join forces with others, who, through strength of character, righteousness and will, could set the moral compass for Maycomb and be the watchmen of the town.

What was your experience, returning to Maycomb County?