Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lurching Toward Epiphany: Day Seven

On the seventh day of Christmas, Dolores gave to me

Day Seven

seven kegs a-brimming,
six queens sashaying,
five Highland Flings,
four letter words,
three clenched men,
two hurtled jugs,
and a party that lasted 'til three.

(Happy New Year, everybody, and thank you all for your support, encouragement and good cheer through a thrilling and often scary 2008. I hope 2009 will bring peace and abundance to all of us! Love, Franklin)

Lurching Toward Epiphany: Day Six

On the sixth day of Christmas, Dolores gave to me

Day Six

six queens sashaying,
five Highland Flings,
four letter words,
three clenched men,
two hurtled jugs,
and a party that lasted 'til three.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lurching Toward Epiphany: Day Two

On the second day of Christmas, Dolores gave to me

Second Day

two hurtled jugs,
and a party that lasted 'til three.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lurching Toward Epiphany: Day One

On the first day of Christmas, Dolores gave to me...

First Day

a party that lasted 'til three.

To be continued, I fear.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Out of the Sketchbook

Greetings of the Season, y'all.

A Child's Christmas Wish

Off the Wagon and Onto the Sleigh

Listen, I have something to tell you and I don't want any grief about it or I'm packing up my dollies and going home.

Remember when I wrote smugly that I wasn't doing any knitting for Christmas this year? The words were no sooner out there in the universe than I had a marvelous, irresistible idea of something to knit for Christmas. It happened in a flash as I stood in the midst of chaos, staring down a six-foot-long to-do list studded with imminent deadlines. So I cast on immediately.

But it's Christmas knitting and therefore secret, and therefore I can't tell you about it or show it to you even though it's turned out quite sweet. Oh, the agony.

I can't stand it. I want to give you a peek. You want a peek? Just a peek.

Here's a peek.

Christmas Knitting

I feel so much better now, don't you?

Shop Around

The folks who want us to host the Summer Olympics in 2016 would have you believe that Chicago is Shangri-La on Lake Michigan, but it ain't so. We've got the highest sales tax in the country, soaring poverty, lousy schools, a rotting transit system, daily drive-by shootings, a growing gang problem, city and county officials so corrupt and inept they make Caligula look like King Arthur, and a climate that combines the worst of the Amazon jungle and the Arctic tundra with the air quality of Beijing.

On the other hand, we have more than our share of quite good yarn shops–so many that I have yet to see all of them.

This week, I got to visit two for the first time. By happy chance both proved to be not only stuffed with good yarn and fun knitters, but interesting for their strong, individual visions of what shop can be.

On Thursday night, I hung out at Knit Night at Sister Arts Studio in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. It will tell you everything that I was scheduled to be there for two hours and wound up staying for three-and-a-half. There were knitters, crocheters, and I got my first up-close look at shuttle tatting from an engaging and articulate corsetière.

Donna, the owner, has built a business that encourages a many-branched approach to creativity. Her place is not just a yarn shop, though her selections of yarn, hooks and needles are excellent. She's got kits and supplies for many crafts, some fibery and some not, with an extremely generous selection of tools and resources that will appeal to kids. (This is a great shop for kids. They even offer camps and parties.) I came away feeling that here is a shop that doesn't just sell and teach, it promotes creativity across all age groups in a way that ultimately benefits the greater good.

Then, on Saturday, I ventured to what was for me the ends of the earth: the northwest suburbs. I'd never been to Prairie Arts and Fibers in Grayslake because I'd never been to Grayslake. I'd never heard of Grayslake. It's part of that scary hinterland beyond O'Hare Airport that, on my mental map, is mostly blank aside from a few sketches of dragons and a big question mark.

But the owner, Linda, kindly encouraged me to visit and put me into the capable hands of Denise, who arranges all the events. Denise assured me that the commuter rail to Fox Lake stopped mere steps from the shop's front door, and that if by some chance I missed the station the train and I would not, in fact, roll off the edge of the earth and into the void. Who knew?

So after a quite pleasant ride from Union Station, I got out at Prairie Crossing and found a shop that is large, bright, beautiful and–they did not lie–directly across from the station.

Like Sister Arts Studio, Prairie Arts and Fibers goes way beyond being a yarn shop; it's a yarn shop/gallery hybrid. Linda promotes the work of local artists, so among the skeins of this and that are photographs, prints, pottery, even furniture. What's more, the selection is excellently curated. No junk. And fair prices, too–fair to the artist, and fair to the buyer. On top of that, they've got a line of mustards, sauces and preserves from the Galena Canning Company. I came home with a jar of the pumpkin butter and it is to die for.

City folks, it's worth a trip and the trip is easy. Get the Fox Lake Metra schedule and go!

Even Further Afield

Now that I've braved the northwest suburbs I think I'm ready to trek onward. In fact, I'm going all the way to Montana. Billings, to be precise. This will be my first visit to Big Sky Country, and I can't wait.

Wild Purls (1343 Broadwater Avenue) has very sweetly asked me out for a book signing (on Friday, January 9 from 6–8 pm) and to teach a class on Elizabeth Zimmermann's Tomten Jacket (on Saturday, January 10). The signing is free, of course. I think the class is sold out, but if you're curious about anything you can contact the shop at wildpurls (at) bresnan (dot) net or call (406) 245-2224.

Ah, Billings in January. I hope it won't be too overrun with honeymoon couples and day trippers. And I should probably finish knitting my gloves.

Friday, December 12, 2008

These Things Are Pleasant in Winter

I fell asleep last night reading an old favorite, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. When I woke up, I lingered in bed and jotted this in my notebook. Because I'm pretentious like that.

These Things Are Pleasant in Winter
  • An unexpected lick of warm air from an open door, as one passes by on the frozen sidewalk.

  • The hollow of a man's neck hidden and revealed by the curves of a beautiful scarf.

  • A knife's blade of sunlight slicing the clouds.

  • Stepping from a strong wind into the shelter of one's own doorway.

  • Enough snow to erase the scars from the landscape, but not so much that a pleasant stroll is impossible.

  • The luxury of too many blankets, especially as one wakes beneath them in the morning.

  • The approach of a distant storm, contemplated from a favorite chair while wrapped in a shawl.

  • Streaks of blue water between sheets of white ice on the lake.

  • Rough weather that prevents one from attending a dull party, and gives the gift of many hours to knit without interruption.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

We Found Her

Ever since Dolores took to the road to console herself over the loss of the election, we've been wondering where she is. Well, Harry has been wondering. I've just been enjoying the smoke-free environment, no to mention going into the bathroom in the morning without fear of finding a bleary-eyed dancer from the Lucky Horseshoe lolling in the tub with my rubber duckie.

There was a postcard about a week ago from Texas, indicating she'd found work in "a ground-breaking stage production of a classic work," but that was it. I figured if there was any state in the union able to deal with Dolores, it would be Texas. Hell, in Texas she might not even stick out in a crowd.

Those little wrinkles in my forehead were just starting to smooth out when Harry called me over to read a news item he found during his habitual morning perusal of


Get Outta TownWaxahachie, TX. Visitors to last night’s performance of the annual Living Nativity Pageant sponsored by the Waxahachie Full Bible Baptist Church were horrified to see a beloved local tradition come to an unexpected and violent end.

Witnesses say that as the Herald Angel (played by Wanda Meeks, daughter of the Reverend Lou Meeks) was lowered into the scene to begin her speech to the shepherds, a sheep broke loose from her tether and threw what appeared to be a half-empty bottle of Four Roses Bourbon into the air, narrowly missing Meeks’ head and knocking one of her wings to the ground.

Meeks began screaming to be let down, but remained suspended helplessly above the scenery while stagehands attempted to corral and subdue the angry sheep, whom police have identified as Dolores Van Hoofen of Chicago, Illinois.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Betsy Cartright of Midlothian, who was cast in the role of Shepherdess #2. “She just came out of nowhere cussing a blue streak. I knew she was trouble from day one. We had to keep telling her to put out her cigarettes around all the hay.”

According to pageant director Louise-Lynn Butler, the sheep had been a constant source of disruption during rehearsals, making overtures of a sexual nature to two of the three wise men and offering suggestions for enlarging her own role. At one point, Butler and Van Hoofen came to blows after Van Hoofen insisted on taking over Wanda Meeks' role as the Herald Angel, and replacing the traditional “Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy” speech with a harmonica arrangement of the Frank Sinatra hit “Come Fly With Me.”

“I should’ve fired her, I guess,” says Butler. “But it was a big deal for Waxahachie to have a real sheep in the pageant this year instead of dressing up Lulu McWhirter’s lhasa apso the way we usually do.”

Before police and fire fighters could secure the scene, Van Hoofen bit or kicked at least three-quarters of her fellow cast members, and her cigarette sparked a blaze that within minutes had consumed most of the stable and severely damaged two papier-mache palm trees. A donkey and three chickens on loan to the production broke loose and were later apprehended in the parking lot of Pizza Hut.

Van Hoofen, who is presently in custody at the Waxahachie Jail, had no comment on the incident but says she still expects to receive the $35 she was promised in exchange for her performance in the Living Nativity. To which Louise-Lynn Butler responded, “Dream on, crazy Yankee bitch.”

As Texas state law has no precedent for filing criminal charges against livestock, the Waxahachie sheriff’s office has confirmed that tomorrow morning Van Hoofen will be escorted to the edge of town and put on a Greyhound bus heading north. A large crowd is expected to make sure she doesn’t try to turn around and come back.

On the Calendar

I'm pleased as punch to be signing the little book in two, two, two places this week. On Thursday, December 11, I'll be at Sister Arts Studio in Lincoln Park from 6:30–8:30 p.m. And on Saturday, December 13, I'll be at Prairie Arts and Fibers in Grayslake, Illinois from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

And, in a late-breaking addition to the travel calendar, I'll be at Purl Diva in Brunswick, Maine twice this month. On December 20, I'll be reading from It Itches at 3 p.m. and then signing copies until 6 p.m. Then, on December 27, I'll be teaching a class on photographing your fiber–with an emphasis on making the best of your available equipment, whatever it may be. For information about class fees and registration, check out the Purl Diva Web site.

Looking into the future, by the way, I've been asked to sail along with Sea Socks 2009. Amy Singer's coming, too. If you'd like to sail with us, click here for more information.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

And Quietly Gets Swallowed By a Wave

I mentioned knitting on the trip home, but I neglected to specify what I was knitting: Eunny Jang's Print o' the Wave stole.

I wanted something portable, complex enough to be diverting, simple enough to be worked in company, and long enough to fill up the whole voyage. Plus, the idea of knitting waves while surrounded by them appealed to my sense of poetry.

The stole answered on all counts. I cast on at O'Hare and worked about three repeats before landing at Heathrow. Then it sat untouched until we got on the bus to Southampton. By the time we disembarked in Brooklyn, I was up to the tenth repeat or so.

That's when I noticed that in the fifth repeat, I had neatly eliminated one of the three rows of faggot stitch in the "trellis" that separates the the leftmost motif from the others. It was a beautiful move, truly–practically invisible. You never saw the like. There were three rows in the trellis, and then–poof!–there were two. Magical.

I looked at it for quite some time in wonderment, before getting up and going to the window and yelling quite a selection of vile, hateful things about the shawl to people passing by on the street. I think I suggested that the shawl was descended in the maternal line from a lady dog. I distinctly recall accusing it of having done something unspeakable to its own mother.

Happily, as I live on the fifteenth floor and had the window shut, nobody heard any of this except possibly my next door neighbors, and they don't bother to call the police any more.

So I ripped back and re-knit. I'm not sure how I managed it, since I hadn't put in lifelines, but I did. Maybe the shawl cooperated because it was afraid I'd start yelling again. (I'm small and quiet, but when roused I can achieve ear-splitting decibel levels.)

I'm exactly halfway up the center now at 17 repeats. It looks good, but I'm encountering pattern fatigue. Some knitters, I know, embrace large stretches of Same. They find it relaxing. I wish I did, but I don't. Too much Same makes me think another hobby might suit me better. Something with more rapid changes of scene, like Bungee jumping.

Mind you, I'm not giving up. I know if I keep on going my mood will shift and I'll fall trulymadlydeeply for the project again. It's a sweet, clever piece I plan to use as an inspirational sample for my lace knitting classes. Still–right this precise moment...

Will it Never End?

Let's just say it's a good thing I can't find the Bungee Cords.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Slapped with My Own Glove

Yesterday I flipped the calendar to December and, after pausing to admire the engaging shot of a comely butterfly collector* wearing nothing but a pith helmet and a mounted specimen of Morpho eugenia, I smiled a self-satisfied smile.

Morpho eugenia

The first of December is usually the day upon which I well and truly freak out over my unfinished holiday knitting. But not this year. This year I am not freaking out over my unfinished holiday knitting, because I am not doing any holiday knitting.

Saint AnysiaIf that made you clutch your pearls with shock, cease thy clutching. I'm still knitting like mad, just not for Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or the Feast of Saint Anysia.** There just weren't any projects that matched up with any recipients. Instead, I've got a bunch of class samples on the needles and one or two things for myself.

When the weather got too cold to ignore I pulled the bin of accessories out of the hall closet and realized I hate all my gloves. Gloves are a problem for me. That part of my brain which is supposed to keep track of my belongings is entirely stuffed with the lyrics of songs I hate,*** so I have nine individual gloves but only two matching pairs. They're all store-bought, they're all ugly, and they don't fit me.

It's hard enough being a short man when I go shopping for pants and shirts. Short men are like fat women: the mainstream clothing industry prefers to pretend that we don't exist. But over the years, I've found my way to retail sources for pants and shirts. Not gloves, though. Never in my adult life have I pulled a pair of men's size small gloves off a rack in a store. "We don't bother to stock 'em," I was once told by a snotty salesman at Filene's in Boston. "Nobody's got hands that small." Nobody but those of us who, apparently, could trade mittens with Hummel figurines.

I have had salespeople direct me to displays of women's gloves, with fancy floral stitching on the back of the hand, or pretty scalloped trim at the wrist. I have been offered children's gloves, gorgeously emblazoned with the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers or Dora the Explorer. None of these harmonize with Chippewa motorcycle boots.

I have bought the one-size-fits-all stretchy numbers from Walgreen's, and discovered that they offer no warmth at temperatures below 72 degrees and disintegrate upon contact with snow or ice.

I have tried to tough it out with no gloves, and nearly lost my fingers to frostbite.

I have never thought, until this year, of knitting my own damn gloves. I'm slow like that. I'm so slow that often, when rounding corners, I find myself face-to-face with my own posterior.

This week I decided to knit a pair to go with my new hat, and the scarf that I made to go with the hat. And I got the most madcap idea. Are you ready? I'd knit one glove in each colorway from the two used in the scarf.

I know. You're thinking, "Franklin–deliberately mismatched gloves? You nutty thing! Who the hell do you think you are, the Lucy Neatby?"

Okay, maybe that's not what you're thinking, but that's what I was thinking. And I got fantastically excited and even pictured myself with my eyebrows dyed three shades of fuchsia.

So I jumped right in, using a partial ball of the brown colorway that was sitting on the work table, following Meg Swansen's eye-opening method in Handknitting with Meg Swansen. If you have steered away from gloves because you hesitate to knit skinny finger tubes on double-pointed needles, you must try Meg's method. I won't give it all away, but I'll say this: I-cord.

The glove worked up with lightning speed and when I tried it on after joining the thumb, it fit. Perfectly. Like it was made for me. Which of course it was. So I raced breathlessly down the hand, and hit the end of the partial ball just before the wrist.

Glove, Forever Unfinished

I ran to the cupboard to fetch the other ball of brown, since I'd originally got two for the scarf, and that's when it hit me: there was no second ball waiting. The "second" ball is already in the scarf. The partial balls, one in each colorway, are all that's left. There's not enough yarn here for a pair.

I indulged in a moment of rage, during which I may or may not have kicked a teddy bear across the room. Then came an hour of pondering and a white-hot clear epiphany: there's no way in hell I'm gonna leave the house wearing deliberately mismatched gloves.

Allowing myself to do so would unlock a chamber in my psyche that is bolted shut for a reason. I'm already too whimsical for my own good. Today, a wacky pair of gloves, tomorrow an Artistic Hat, and where will it all end? I can't say for certain, but I'm afraid there might be a cloak in the picture. For my own sake and that of those who love me, I am not going there.

But I love this pattern, and I need gloves, so there will be a sequel. I think I have some nice, navy blue worsted in the back of the stash.

*From the Studmuffins of Lepidoptery calendar. What, you think I only pay attention to knitters?

**December 30. Before she was martyred by a Roman soldier he ripped her veil, so I think she should be the patroness of lace knitters.

***And the Wichita liiiinemaaaan is still on the liiiiiiiiiiine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ship of Fool

London was a whistle stop compared to the portion of the trip spent sailing from Southampton to New York.

I find that I feel odd writing about the crossing. I have my notes, and I have my photos, but I still can't believe I did it.

Here's the thing: I am not from a family that often indulges in life's big luxuries. When I was a kid, five of us (parents, grandmother, and sister Sue) did make an epic journey of sorts; but it was from the Arizona to Ohio in a Plymouth Scamp that was pulling a U-Haul trailer. We stayed at Holiday Inns, we ate at McDonald's, and we liked it.

The last of my relations to travel from Europe by water was my great-grandmother, Anna, in 1910 or so. She came over in a leaky bathtub called the Re d'Italia and (to hear her tell it, and I often did) she spent the entire journey from Palermo to New York in the baggage hold eating her own hair because my great-great grandparents couldn't even afford steerage.

As with the London write-up, what's below is taken from my travel notebook mostly unedited, so hang on tight.

London to Southampton

The romance of travel is dead. How many old, British novels have I read in which Lady Cordelia Tosspot pulls on her gloves and says crisply, "I must dash, or I shall miss the boat train." Then she pops into a cab, and arrives at a soaring train station amid puffs of steam, and is handed into a brass-bound coach and served a drink while a flotilla of eager porters heaves her trunks and hat boxes into the luggage car.

The boat train is no longer how you get there. You now take the boat bus. It is not a luxury experience, though it has a luxury price tag. First, you sit at Victoria Coach Station in a plastic chair, inhaling fumes from the adjacent Burger King and watching the pigeons crap on the cell phone vendor's pushcart. Then you drag your own suitcases out to the baggage van, and pile into an overcrowded coach. You drive for two hours down the motorway listening to the obnoxious Italian next to you (who doesn't think you can possibly understand him, since you're American) rag on American clothes, deportment and culture while noisily devouring a Coca-Cola and eating a ham-and-cheese sandwich from Subway. His elbow frequently digs into your ribs, and you retaliate with a surreptitious lace needle to the arm.

Arriving at Southampton, you stand in line for forty minutes at the Cunard terminal, which is a large, tin shed heated to about 22 degrees Farenheit.

Then, having posed for the obligatory "Welcome Aboard" photograph of yourself looking like a neglected rag doll, you step into the Grand Lobby.


The string quartet is playing. The fresh flowers smell heavenly. The light makes you look ten years younger. Every surface is polished and glowing. And your steward, Charles, welcomes you warmly. This assemblage is waiting on the table in your stateroom along with a tray of hors d'oeuvres.

Welcome Aboard

Suddenly, you feel a whole lot better.

This, by the way, is Southampton as it looked from the balcony of Stateroom 11.136.

Southampton from the Balcony

And this is what happens when you're taking panorama shots but your traveling companion has already popped the cork on the champagne.


A Day at Sea
  • 7:30 am. Room service arrives with coffee (Tom), cocoa (me). Room service is free and they will bring you anything, anytime. Regret now that I did not test this by ordering a chocolate milkshake and a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off at 3:27 am. Maybe next time.

  • 8:30ish. Shower, dress, breakfast in the Britannia Room.

  • 9:30ish. Nab good seat in Sir Samuel's (wine bar on Deck 3 which in early morning provides unlimited access to pain au chocolat). Knit.

    Knitting Spot

  • Alternately, nab choice seat in library looking out over prow.

    My Seat in the Library

  • Or, sit at library desk and work on big project am not supposed to talk much about right now but please stay tuned.

  • Noonish. Lunch in Britannia Room.

  • Nap.

  • Or, go to ship's planetarium and nap there. You're not supposed to, of course, but the chairs are very comfortable and it's dark and the gentle rocking of the waves makes it impossible to stay awake and listen to Tom Hanks talk about mapping the universe.

  • Or, walk on deck. Photograph Transatlantic Hat at work, and admire the ship's funnel, which is the sexiest piece of industrial design I've ever seen. The horns are from the original Queen Mary and can be heard for ten miles.



  • Or, get a massage in the ship's spa. (No photo available.)

  • 3 pm. Needleworkers Group in champagne bar on Deck 3. Meet, over the course of six days, endlessly fun, fascinating and talented parade of knitters, quilters, embroiderers and lace-makers. Learn much. Laugh much. Knit not so much.

    Needleworkers Aboard

  • 4 pm. Friends of Dorothy meeting in Commodore Club. This is, believe or not, an "official" shipboard activity listed in the Daily Programme. We are given our own section of the club complete with fresh flowers and a little sign. Enjoy hearing, at least once a day, loud inquiry from clueless passenger to waitress: "Who is Dorothy? And why are all these men friends of hers?"

  • 5 pm. Dress for dinner. Three formal nights (dinner jacket), one semi-formal (dark suit), two elegant casual (jacket and tie). Would like to point out, please, that I tied my own bow tie.

    The Bow Tie is Real

  • 5:45 pm. Cocktails in the Chart Room. Since I don't drink I only had several very unglamorous glasses of water, but the chairs were extremely comfortable.

  • 6–8 pm. Dinner, Britannia Room. We are extremely lucky with our tablemates. Three entertaining couples, two from the United States and one from Canada. We are usually one of the first tables to fill and almost always the last to empty–the company is that good.

    One of the guys is an independent movie producer and gave us an advance copy of his latest, a Western romp in the good ol' style called Palo Pinto Gold. If you have fond memories of Roy Clark from "Hee Haw" (and I do, thank you very much) or you voted for Kinky Friedman when he ran for governor of Texas, you have to see this movie.

  • 8 pm. Retire to stateroom. Charles has turned down the bed and left chocolates (check flavor, hoping for Dark or Orange) and the Daily Programme for tomorrow. Tom reads aloud highlights from schedule while I knit.


  • 8:30ish. Check out the dancing in the Queen's Room, which you might expect from the name to have been full of Friends of Dorothy but which emphatically was not. Was full of very white people dancing very whitely. Slowest damned waltzes I've ever heard. The rising generation needs to reclaim the waltz as the breathless, invigorating thing that it ought to be.

    This is a shot of the the Officers' Gavotte in full flight.

    Officers' Gavotte

    As you can see, I experimented with a slow shutter to make it appear as though the dancers had actually been in motion.

  • Or, take off tux and put on swimsuit and robe and go sit in hot tub on Deck 12. Perfection, as very relaxing before bed and entire pool area is empty. One memorable night, we took the wrong elevator (there are four elevator banks, it's easy to get confused) and wound up on the open deck instead of at the pool. So we ran, giggling, across the moonlit planks through the Atlantic wind in our robes and slippers. I felt like Zelda Fitzgerald.

  • 9:30ish fall asleep reading fantastic book on Louis XIV from library.


[Written on day two] When housekeeping shows up at my cabin they just knock on the door. But today I noticed there are some Fancy People on this deck, traveling in what Cunard calls "Grill Class." They have suites, butlers, and their own dining room and pool. They also have doorbells. Little shiny brass doorbells.

I am sorely tempted to take the cloth laundry bag out of our closet, ring somebody's doorbell and scream, "Trick or treat!" when they open the door.

The Pet Lamp

The stateroom was faultless except for one of the two sconce lamps over the writing desk, which had come loose and jiggled frenetically up and down, like Paris Hilton on date night. At first we meant to ask Charles to have it looked at, but we kept forgetting. And then we became fond of it. You'd open the door, and it would jiggle happily at you like a puppy wagging its tail.

By the second day it had become our "pet lamp" and I photographed it.

Our Pet Lamp

Being out of sight of land for more than two days can make you act very, very weird.

Don't Get Too Cozy

On the navigational chart that's posted so you can see where the ship is, has been, and will be, the captain helpfully marks the spot where the Titanic sank and lets you know when you'll be passing over it.

New York

It is far too easy to get used to life on a Cunard ship and extremely heartbreaking to give it up. So the night before arrival, everybody gets a little crabby–except the people who are staying on another couple weeks to sail to Miami and the Caribbean. (Those people, if they know what's good for them, don't say much and keep to their rooms until the rest of us disembark.)

When the Queen Mary sails into New York, she doesn't go to Manhattan. She's too big. They had to build a new terminal for her, in Brooklyn. To get to the terminal, the ship sails under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The top of the funnel clears the bottom of the bridge by about six feet. Here's a picture.

Under the Bridge

That shot was taken at 4:15 am. The temperature on deck was about 18 degrees Farenheit. I am glad I got up to see it once, but will happily to sleep through it next time.

This was New York in the morning.



New York

Arriving in the United States by ship was oddly disorienting. It was very much as though we'd gone to sleep in a British hotel, woken up and found that everything outside had gone American.

I have no photographs of the plane from La Guardia to Chicago. We left New York early, and it only took two hours to reach O'Hare, but the flight seemed to last a whole lot longer than six days on the ship. No dance floor, no elbow room, and when you tell an American Airlines stewardess you'd like a chocolate milkshake and a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off you're not likely to get the answer for which you were hoping.

Getting used to life on shore has been so dreadfully trying, my dears. Dreadfully.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Memory Album

Home, as dear Mr. Stevenson wrote, is the sailor. Home, in fact, from the sea. Here is a picture of said sea from my balcony on the Queen Mary 2, for which I will now forever pine the same way a dispossessed Estonian countess laments her lost ancestral dacha on the Baltic.

Halfway Across on the QM2

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before the voyage back there was the trip over, and three unforgettable days in London. Rather than try to craft a polished and interminable narrative, however, I'm simply going to throw a bunch of raw extracts from my travel notes onto the page and hope they will form, in your eyes, at least a moderately interesting pattern.

Here we go, and hang on because my verb tenses are all over the place.

Query. Why is it that although one may begin preparing one's friends and business contacts months in advance for one's absence, begging them to please be in touch to tie up this loose end or that before one leaves home, they all wait to call until one is going through airport security?

The agony of attempting to sleep while sitting up for seven hours in a roaring airplane, then braving surly British customs agents who make anti-American remarks before stamping one's passport, then struggling to get four big suitcases and a mammoth camera gear bag onto the Heathrow Express and then into a cab at Paddington Station is absolutely worth it, when at the end you throw open the curtains of your hotel room in Trafalgar Square and find that this is your view for the next three days.

View from the Hotel

(Query re: Trafalgar Square. Where the hell did all the pigeons go?)

File under: Good Ideas. On your first morning in London if the weather is fine, do walk down Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace and then walk back through St. James's Park. Your pictures, like mine, may be only tourist-grade snapshots, but your memories will be gilt-edged.


Lamp and Unicorn

Palace Guard


The Boy

This little cottage-looking-thing is in St. James's Park. Would be perfect for me, as has wing at back with pond views ideal for drawing-table and desk. Must remember to make inquiries about summer rental upon return to Chicago.

Cottage in the Park

Wednesday night, a friendly and familiar face in the hotel bar: Jane, who I last saw in my living room in Chicago when she came to be photographed for 1,000 Knitters during a trip to the United States. Even though we are both beginning to droop, we perk up at the sight of her. She kindly offers to shepherd us to and from the book signing tomorrow night, and we are grateful.

And then to bed, which feels awfully good after almost 24 hours awake. We sleep for something like 12 hours.

File under: Good Ideas. Get up very early and get to the Tower of London smack on the dot of opening and go straight to the Jewel House and you can have the crown jewels all to yourself for twenty minutes before Japanese bus tours show up and all hell breaks loose. This will give you time not only to ponder quietly the Big Stuff, like the Koh-i-Noor, but also the small stuff, like Queen Victoria's coronation ring–which was accidentally jammed onto the wrong finger during her coronation. She, being made of Stern Stuff, simply bore the pain until after all was over.

Tower ravens: love them. The sort of bird I would be if I had to be a bird–scary and severe. Also love admirably prim and concise wording on almost all British public signage.

Out of Bounds

Most photographs from this trip disappointing, nice for souvenir purposes but artistically bankrupt. Quite taken, however, with this accidental shot from the Piccadilly Line of the Underground. Clicked the shutter button when I thought I had the camera turned off.

Kid on the Tube

On second day, realized long-time fantasy of afternoon tea at London Ritz, chosen by the delightful Kerrie Allman of
Yarn Forward magazine as location for interview. Remembered reading, at age nine or so, of Madame Ritz insisting to her husband that the Palm Court must be perfectly lit, so the lunching ladies feel would feel pretty. Cesar Ritz therefore ordered delicated, pink-shaded lamps. I was thrilled to find the pink-shaded lamps still in place.

The Yarn Forward ladies surprised and delighted us with a birthday cake (chocolate mousse, thank you very much) for Tom. It was phenomenally good and had a cookie as the bottom crust.

Happy Birthday, Tom!

After interview, took photographs on main staircase while various Ritz employees sneered openly at our
gaucherie. Realize with great relief that finally, at age 37, no longer give a flying fig whether people who work at fancy hotels approve of me.

Signing at I Knit. Jane arrives at the hotel as promised and announces we will travel by bus. I have no problems with the Underground but haven't braved a bus yet and am very excited to try it. The ride through night-time London from Trafalgar to Waterloo is dizzying and thrilling. Less thrilling is watching Tom be nearly thrown down the stairs from the upper level when we are descending and the driver screeches to a halt. Happily, no harm done, and Jane assures us that we have now had a very authentic London transport experience.

At the shop, first an interview downstairs with Elizabeth, extremely sweet writer from
Simply Knitting. Then, upstairs to find shop is packed with knitters. Absolutely not an extra square inch of room. People are backed up against the doors and perched on tables. Am, frankly, overwhelmed and only just able to stop self from fainting and/or weeping. Naturally, forget to take pictures–but Tom remembers, bless him.

At the Reading

Such a crowd. Came from all over England–and at least one came all the way from France. Full of good wishes, kind words, and caring inquiries about our stay. Listened and laughed while I read from two essays from the book, and then queued up for signed copies–which sold out.

At last met in person so many knitters I've admired from afar, including long-time correspondent Judith, and Yvonne Davies of
And All That Stash. (Ages ago, wrote fan letter to Yvonne after hearing her on Marie Irshad's late, lamented Knit Cast. In person she is even more fun, if you can believe it.)


Note the glass of wine. I Knit has a fully-licensed pub
in it.

Presented owners Craig and Gerard, on whom I developed an instant double crush, with drawing of Dolores dressed as Britannia. Wish I'd had more time to talk to them - perhaps during the next visit? Thanks, guys, for giving me such a splendid welcome–and my door is always open if you come to Chicago. (You just might want to wait until spring.)

Craig and Gerard

Afterwards, Jane led us back across Waterloo Bridge–on foot, this time–to Covent Garden and we had a celebratory dinner at Joe Allen. Then a quick photograph, and so to bed, not quite believing all that had happened in the space of a day.

With Jane at Joe Allen

Last full day, beautiful sunny walk from Trafalgar Square to Kensington Palace via Green Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens. Horse Guards were out exercising in the ring.

Horse Guards

In the afternoon another walk, this time down Whitehall. Gorgeous piles of architecture everywhere, to which this souvenir stand was (I thought) a fun contrast.

Souvenirs, Whitehall

Paused at Cenotaph, which was covered in poppies and crosses.

At the Cenotaph

Am always taken aback by British respect for the wreaths and tributes on public memorials, which can be laid in place without fear. In Chicago, even flowers tied with wire to private graves aren't safe from thieves and vandals.

Then to Parliament, for a very special visit. Liz of Knitting on the Green has offered to conduct us through the Palace of Westminster. On previous visit to London, only saw the clock tower from a distance. This time, am able to spend a while poring over the peerless neo-Gothic details. Am unfortunately too dazzled to get any really good shots, but do enjoy myself nonetheless.

Richard I

Windows, New Palace Yard

Fence, Palace of Westminster

Inside, pictures mostly forbidden but am allowed to catch the magnificent hammerbeams in Westminster Hall, the only surviving part of the mediaeval palace.

And Tom got a good shot of Liz and I on the stairs up to St Stephen's Hall.

With Liz in Westminster Hall

Inside, rendered speechless. I am, please understand, such a passionate disciple of the Victorian Gothic Revival that I named one of my teddy bears Augustus Pugin. And these buildings are the epicenter, the ground zero, the
ne plus ultra of Gothic Revival architecture, furniture, art and decoration.

And that's not even considering the
history–both actual and fictional. After years of reading Trollope's parliamentary novels about the Pallisers, I find myself in the Commons debating chamber where Phineas Finn made his maiden speech. I stand on the very spot from which the Prime Ministers field questions.

In the Members' Lobby I hunt down Disraeli's statue and am (frankly) distressed to find that it–a sugary sweet bit of white marble–is overshadowed by a hideous, gargantuan bronze of Margaret Thatcher.

I probably have no business, as an American, thinking that this is shockingly wrong, but nonetheless I do think it. There is some comfort in noting that Mrs Thatcher in effigy looks like a badly-aged Valkyrie with indigestion. Which upon reflection I feel is wholly appropriate.

Liz, it was an afternoon I will remember until my dying day. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Last morning. Tom waved goodbye from our room (you can see him, faintly) as I photographed from below.

Tom at the Window

Too soon! Though I admit the prospect of six days on a Cunard liner softens the blow a little bit.

About which, more to come.