Ancient Stories, Art, and Food

After these weeks of stress-producing yearly medical-everythings, Cliff and I decided it was time for a date. Our Kansas City world-class museum offered an exhibit, Luxury Treasures of the Roman Empire, in conjunction with the Getty Museum. Since Cliff has a background in Latin and Rome, he wanted to go. Me, I’m not so crazy about the Roman Empire, preferring instead the Greeks and their wonderful panoply of myth, but the treasures part sounded promising: “Luxury Treasures of the Roman Empire showcases some of the extraordinary artistic achievements of Roman craftsmen and offers valuable insight into the complex social relations of the Empire.”

It was extraordinary. Even with the appropriated Greek heroes for decoration.

Treasurers of RomeIn the platter displayed above, you will see the story of Hercules and Bacchus in a drinking bout to see who is stronger while Pan accompanies on his flute. Wine, as we all know, wins over physical strength.

cliffJanetThere was also the most clever device for taking a photo and inserting it inside a hair style of the Roman times. Cliff looks very much like the philosophy professor he is while I look weighted down with the massive hairdo. While I’m rarely weighted down by my hair, I am particular about how it looks. That’s well known to those who know me.

The first room had jewelry, coins, and some tableware, but the second room was amazing, artifacts discovered by a farmer, digging up his field, and finding third century Roman objects.

 The Getty Museum has a wonderful slide show of the work. Here’s what they say:

“Accidentally discovered by a French farmer in 1830, the spectacular hoard of gilt-silver statuettes and vessels known as the Berthouville Treasure was originally dedicated to the Gallo-Roman god Mercury. Following four years of meticulous conservation and research at the Getty Villa, this exhibition allows viewers to appreciate their full splendor and offers new insights about ancient art, technology, religion, and cultural interaction.”

All the site’s vessels and cups carried the inscription, “……(so and so’s name) fulfilled his (or her) vow willingly as merited.”

Well. That was too good not to look up on my trusty phone.

From Wikipedia, “In ancient Roman religion, a votum is a vow or promise made to a deity…a votum is also that which fulfills a vow, the thing promised, such as offerings, a statue, or even a temple building…”

And now, we have “votive candles.” But it was “as merited” that really stuck with me. I wondered how one was “merited” or what a boon from the gods might look like. Maybe the same as for us: money or love or a vehicle (horse, in that case), a home, health.

Slide #3 from the above linked Getty site, captured me. The video shows how the silver was shaped and reminded me of my BFA years at Kansas State, pounding on metal. I’d wanted an art degree because I thought I’d return to Germany and work in a Recreational Services Craft Shop as I did before I left; however, life or fate or weariness at pounding on metal seduced me in my last semester to return to an early love, theatre, where I was cast as Nora in A Doll’s House and while I graduated with a BFA in Art, my major professor in metals was not impressed and gave me a D to show I wasn’t graduate school material. That’s what he said although mostly, it was revenge. I was not, obviously, merited. And it was clear to me that I’d never be more than a mediocre visual artist although, later, I did earn two graduate degrees. But not in art.

Here’s a couple of pieces I’ve carried with me the past thirty-eight years and ten moves and both need repair and cleaning; perhaps someday I will. One is cast silver with a moonstone in the bottom center piece, and the bottom is hammered copper with cast silver inserts.


They both need the generous and precise hands of the masters at The Getty.

I have one other very fragile and much loved art piece from a hand-built pottery class, made from low fire clay and twisted into a king, his lady and companion dragon, and the magic tree which has lost all its top spirally pieces but has mostly survived. Which is no small feat, moving and packing away stuff so many times as I’ve done. These are the surviving pieces of the Magical Forest, sitting on my office bookshelf.

Magic forest3 (2)All of this to say, I so appreciated seeing the craftsmanship in the show. I know how hard repoussé metalwork is to say nothing of the incising on the outside to shape hair tendrils. You will see that in the video of #3.

I was also fascinated by the cameo work. Thanks to Wikipedia, here’s an explanation of what the Romans did:

“During the Roman period the cameo technique was used on glass blanks, in imitation of objects being produced in agate or sardonyx. Cameo glass objects were produced in two periods; between around 25 BC and 50/60 AD, and in the later Empire around the mid-third and mid-fourth century.[5] Roman glass cameos are rare objects, with only around two hundred fragments and sixteen complete pieces known,[5] only one of which dates from the later period.[6] During the early period they usually consisted of a blue glass base with a white overlying layer,[7] but those made during the later period usually have a colourless background covered with a translucent coloured layer.[6] Blanks could be produced by fusing two separately cast sheets of glass, or by dipping the base glass into a crucible of molten overlay glass during blowing.[7]

You can see an example of this in slide #8 in the above Getty link.

Here’s two more treasures we brought home with us. Roman recipes. Cliff’s birthday dinner is coming up, and I’m planning on making these two as appetizers with cocktails. However, as Roman dining seemed to demand leaning on the table with one’s left arm while eating with the right, I’m not likely to enforce that. I’m left handed. I could make a real mess.

But I love cooking. That, along with writing, has been my constant art form. And eating. That, too, even when my left-handed self is messy.

Bon Appétit! Although I don’t think that’s what the Romans said.

BreadMeatballs 1Meatballs

Fall Changes

willow in winterA weekly photo challenge from Terri Webster Schrandt announced Fall Changes. She has lovely reds and oranges and shining light. She lives in California..

Here’s today’s Fall Change at our house, a rather abrupt change.A cold front from the west met a very wet front from another hurricane off the lower Pacific coast, and we have water droplets coated firm enough they don’t fall.

Not really frozen hard, just stopped from moving.

This is the willow I often write about as I sit at my upstairs window, that window on the upper left, and look out on the day. I pretty much do that winter, summer…. well, all year.

Nothing is quite as colorless as it appears in the shot, but the starkness seemed to fit the topic.

iced branchesHere’s what the backyard looks like with color, which as you can tell isn’t much. Those are rose bushes against the fence. The roses lasted until a couple of weeks ago.

table (2)Right before Thanksgiving, we had roses and pumpkins on the table at the same time. But now, they, too, are gone.

I really really hate being cold in the winter. At the moment, with the outdoor temperature just at freezing, I already have wool socks over silk liners on my feet. My fingernails have quit growing and begun to crack. The humidifier is going.

There are compensations.

Cliff’s building a fire. We’re putting up Christmas decorations. The table you can’t see on the right side of the above photo will move into the dining room by the window you also can’t see on the left so the tree can go in front of the window. The sculpture piece with the strange little doors has a red bulb in the right hand … well, whatever that is. Holder. All winter, we turn it on for dinner.

It’s time to hunker in for a season of light and promise and home.



Photo Challenge: Depth

BanyonOn a recent trip to Hawaii Island, Niece Lia took her Aunties on a hike through the rainforest in Waipio Valley. So much of the walk felt like a misty Hobbit-Land. We rested here under the Banyan’s umbrella. My sister Judy and I both took this shot but mine included people and Judy’s elegantly shows the path and depth. We share. So here’s to Judith Sunderland-Yorkey and a winning shot!



Photo Story: Again With The Running Away

My history of running away has nearly as many photos as stories. One photo is missing: the first running away. At least the first one I know about. That was on my tricycle in Arkansas on a dirt road. But there are other photos–and other stories. Whenever a place, city, home, people became claustrophobic, for whatever reason, I packed up and ran to some other place with a view.

Then I bought a house. Well, we bought a house and we married. It’s exponentially harder to pack up and leave your own home and a happy marriage. So I get in the car and drive.

Last week, I felt trapped by city. As many of you know, most of my growing up was on a farm in Kansas. But even before, in Arkansas, in the small Kansas prairie town where we moved before the farm, my eyes ranged through miles of space.

prairie night 2 (1280x638)That’s what a horizon looks like. Ergo, one week ago, the urge to run-away-to-space strong, I got in the car and drove south. I got close to Belton, Missouri, south by some fifteen miles (by the way I was going on back roads) before I got to country.

Here is the transition point. I’d passed a large tree farm and into open land when I came to railroad tracks. And there I was, between an open field with dried grasses and city graffiti.

2rrcars (1)The car and I ducked under a railroad bridge and kept driving south.

trees pondI stopped here, on the side of the road, and watched the wind–it doesn’t take much to make a willow dance. The weather warm and sunny and the humidity pulled from the pond fuzzed everything like an Impressionist painting. I could live here. There’s even a little dock and a boat for Cliff to go sit in the middle of the pond and fish. That would probably change the painting from a Monet to a Renoir. My shoulders softened and my breathing deepened. This is what I’d come to see although I couldn’t have told you that when I left my driveway.

On down the road, I reached the real destination: someone who talked farm stories.

siloI stopped because it was such a great shot: tree etchings across the sky and old rust etchings on machinery and everything softened in the warm afternoon air. I’d parked at the edge of the driveway leading up to this scene and taken my shots when I heard a tractor behind me. The driver slowed alongside and pulled around my car to get into the driveway. I couldn’t resist. Following him up the driveway, I put the car into park while he got off his tractor.

After we introduced ourselves, our talk rambled through farm and family stories and books. Because he’d grown up in a storytelling family, he read books; because I’d grown up in a storytelling family, I wrote stories and poems. He pulled out a little brown notebook and wrote down the name of my book. He’d have to get it, he said. So that was nice, but what was even better was talking story and history. People who live on the land talk about land. Oh, yes, and weather. We talked about weather.



Photo Story: A Genteel Meal

I lived in New Orleans once, back in the halcyon days when I was young enough to bar tend until four in the morning and ride my Vespa scooter through the silent night to home – or to another bar for a last drink and something to eat at places that stayed open until dawn. I knew where to go for the best oysters – down the street at Bonaparte’s where the shucker sat at one of those New Orleans windows that opens all the way to the floor and offered fresh oysters from a huge iced barrel all day long–and all night; the best gumbo – down on winding Tchoupitoulas Street where the smoky bar served those of us who were workers of the night, and yes, some were hookers. I wasn’t. Just a lowly bartender. And coffee? You could get great chicory coffee anywhere, usually with fresh, hot beignets at just about any hour. I knew about Commander’s Palace. It was a landmark, but most of the clientele were old and genteel. Neither of which I was.Then there was a hurricane; and then New Orleans rebuilt; and then, well, then I finally got old enough to eat at Commander’s Palace and my husband wanted to see New Orleans.

Here’s the story of a Commander’s Palace visit – at least the food. You can look up the history on the web. It was built, as a restaurant, in 1880, so it has a colorful past.

Commander's Palace5 It also has a colorful present. I don’t know if it’s always been blue like this, but it was blue when I lived a few blocks away in the 1980s.

Commander's Palace3We were taken up the wide staircase to an upstairs room. Taking a photo of the chandelier above our heads was impractical – we were seated in an intimate room of nine tables with windows onto the front street, but it had the same look as the room beyond and all the waiters were formally dressed.

Commander's Palace1Commander’s Palace is justly famous for its 25 cent lunch-time martinis. We had cosmopolitans. It seemed appropriate. But you can only have two. They used to be unlimited, but some years back, a more-than-two (or even four) martini gentleman upchucked at the table. Not what one does at Commander’s Palace. Ergo: New Rule.

Commander's Palace2I’d ordered gumbo along the road to New Orleans but none were right. The Creole Gumbo at the Palace was perfect. Absolutely perfect. The yellow puffy things are soft cornbread dumplings – the perfect (again perfect) counterpoint to creole spices. And the crawfish were…perfect. The crawfish are the little pieces of tails; the big one on top a gulf shrimp.

Commander's Palace4Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé with warm whiskey cream. Oh. My. Goodness. Each order is made from scratch so it can’t be a last minute decision. It has to be a plan. Twenty minutes to prepare. And that’s if it’s not busy. If you go, you must have it. You might not be crazy about creole seasonings or even cosmopolitans, but you must have the bread pudding. It comes to the table all puffed up and hot, and the waiter takes a silver spoon, breaks open the top, and pours in the whiskey sauce.

Welcome to New Orleans…ya’ll come down. (But not during Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day or Jazz Festival or New Years Eve…waaaaaay too many people acting like the two-too-many martini guy a few years back at Commander’s Palace.)

Trust me; I bar tended through them all.