Hand-woven Tapestry from Peru

Tapestry allA fantastical Peruvian tapestry.
I’m going to say it’s in the style of “San Pedro de Cajas.” It is definitely padded and woven as tapestries from there are described, but the style looks different than those I found on the web.

As this is Mother’s day, the post is in memory of my fabulous mother, with a shout-out to my mother-in-law who is also fabulous-she raised my lovely husband.

My sisters and I bought the tapestry as a present for Mother’s 60th birthday. My Norwegian sister, Merete, had visited us (with her entire family) in Los Angeles and one day we all went to Olvera Street, which is full of Mexican stores/restaurants/color, where Mother admired one of these tapestries. Her birthday was coming up and Merete said that in Norway that particular milestone is celebrated with a special gift. So we four daughters bought this for Mother.

Mother wasn’t able to hang it right away. She stored it rolled and unfortunately, because it’s made of wool, there was a bit of moth damage. Still, it is beautiful. When Mother died, my husband and I took it and now it hangs in our house evoking terrific memories. Today I’m particularly thinking of Mother with rolled up pant legs strolling along the sand as Merete’s daughters frolic in the California ocean. A bit warmer than that of North sea. I’m also remembering another Norwegian cousin who arrived at our house for a visit, the color of the sun in the tapestry. Too much enjoyment on the beach! I always swore I’d learn Norwegian, but I got side-tracked. Maybe with so many family members there, I should try.
Now take a closer look at some of the details:

A bit about how this was made. It’s an unusual style of weaving, known as padding, in which dyed but unspun wool is stuffed into the warp of the loom, each colored piece arranged one by one, much like brush strokes in an oil painting. Whoever this artist was, he/she had an active imagination and a terrific eye.

Glass Christmas Garland

A garland of glass beads for the Christmas tree given to us by my Grand- mother.

It being the season, I want to write about Christmases past. I suspect the story is going to sound a little like Ozzie and Harriet – all light and happiness. Well, yes, that’s the way I remember it…I was a child lucky in my family. I suspect my sisters will remember it much the same way.

Christmas really began when my grandparents arrived from Kansas. Inside their suitcases were wrapped packages for us (yippee) and boxes of cookies. She baked date rolls (tedious to make – I make them now), sugar cookies with sprinkles and flavored with anise, round powder-sugar balls, something called “rocks”. Some years there was fudge or meringue candy. My grandfather usually took us downtown to look at the windows in the department stores. There would be moving figures and trains – a fantasy to look at. Then he’d take us to the dime store, shopping. We saved his present till last; because it has to be surprise, he’d go to the counter for coffee and we’d pick out something for him. (At that time, no one worried about kids being stolen. How times change.)

For many years we had a real tree. One year the best tree, the only full one on the lot, was crooked. We bought it anyway and after many failed attempts to make it look straight in its holder, Daddy had to hang it from the ceiling. It was also was his job to put on the lights, which took forever because the red, green, yellow, blue colors had to be well separated. Finally it was our turn to hang on the other decorations. Traditionally we played excerpts from Handel’s Messiah when we decorated and I still can sing many of the lyrics. There were the usual glass balls and garlands, but also some unusual decorations from during the war. I particularly loved the one made of maraborou feathers and tinsel.

We had a plaster creche that was many times arranged around a little cardboard stable with an angel hung on the rafter. I particularly loved the donkey and the sheep. Just last week my sister dug it up – it’s missing some noses, having been well loved – but she’s going to take it to the doll hospital to be fixed. Then she’ll pass it onto the next generation.

Christmas Eve had its own evolving ritual. We started with a meal of homemade chili, but later that became pizza (easier on the cooks.) Then, church. One year I had both chicken pox and measles at the same time and couldn’t go. I made my mother promise to bring home one of the little candy sacks that were handed out to the children. When I was older, I once ran out of gas driving home from church by myself and had to walk home through the snow. Oh yes, we often had snow. (Not as often as we had it on Halloween, but that’s another story…)

On Christmas Eve, we opened our presents. I always thought it was because we were of German extraction; however, we were told that one of my cousins was too sleepy in the morning to enjoy her gifts. Hmmm, I always found that hard to believe. After gifts, we went to church again, the midnight candle service, carrying our new dolls or, when we were older, wearing new finery. I loved the cold church, the sleepy feeling, the carols. There was a wonderful soprano in one of our churches and when she sang O Holy Night, the real meaning of the celebration came through to me.

Sometime on Christmas eve, we’d find time to visit our next-door-neighbors, my parents’ best friends. Their house was always as packed with people as ours. Mrs. B. made the tree skirt for my mother and I inherited it.

Christmas morning was spent at home, opening the little gifts in our stockings from Santa. Then everyone gathered again for a traditional meal. My mother and her sister took turns; one hosted Christmas eve, the other Christmas day. The next year it alternated. The crowd was always big; grandparents, cousins, whoever was in town. And noisy. One year my husband took videos of our celebrations — the pictures are wonderful, but there is so much talking chaos, you can’t hear a word.

About the glass garland. So light and fragile. My grandmother produced many strands of it from her suitcase one year. She’s dead now, as is my mother. Many of the beads have been broken, but I cherish the strand that I have. Symbol of happy times. I still have those happy times, but, of course, they are different.

I think I’ll close with a quote from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

Fleur de Lys – Ancient Symbol of France

Fleur de Lys charm in silver. France is next in a series of charms from a bracelet I collected on my first trip to Europe with my family. I’ve covered Scotland, England, The Netherlands and Belgium.

In our new VW van, we drove into France and promptly needed gas. This was before the Euro, but no matter, we had Belgian Franks. “If we need to, we can always exchange them.” Daddy, the optimist.

In the gas station the owner made it clear that Belgium money was not acceptable. Out came Daddy’s dictionary. Ou…est..la banque? A deluge of French answered. I, who after all had studied French in school, was summoned from the car. A nightmare scenario ensued: angry shouting, me straining to resurrect mon vocabulaire, Daddy thrusting the dictionary between us to point to a word. Eventually I understood that the banks closed for lunch for 2 hours. Daddy gave the man a an overabundance of Belgian money, we filled up and drove on to Paris.

I have since been to Paris quite a few times and in my palimpsest of memories, little survives from this first trip except that we picked up my Norwegian AFS sister at the airpoint. Another time I was there alone on Bastille Day – the French 4th of July – and heard that the opera was giving a free performance. After standing in line for several hours, I saw La Cendrillion, Cinderella, from the 6th row in the orchestra in the most ornate theatre I had ever seen. I was also there when the war in Iraq began. A man in a bar where we were eating lunch advised me to say I was Canadian and a taxi drive refused our fare.

From Paris, we drove into a little town called Beaune. The man who helped Daddy plan our trip insisted that the meal in Beaune be paid before we left. “Mr. Lewis, you will think it too expensive but you must eat there.” So we had a five course feast of which I remember the wine. A different bottle with each course. I’ve already written about my first drinking adventure at the start of this trip; as we traveled my parents allowed me to have wine with dinner. That night I got slightly tipsy. Turns out I am a lightweight when it comes to drinking, but I got it honestly. By the end of the meal, Mother was giggling and silly and Daddy said, “I don’t know what you kids are going to do but I’m going to take your mother for a walk.”

Bone Dish from Antietam – Guest Post

Simple white bone dish, designed to sit next to a plate and hold bones once the meat was eaten. No marking on the bottom.

This dish comes from Don and his daughter, Denise. Don begins the story:

My mother had a great-uncle who had been a child during the Civil War. He told stories of sitting up on a hill, watching the battle of Antietam. [ed: Fought on September 17, 1862, it was the first major battle on Union soil and the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with casualties totalling about 23,000.] Obviously this made a big impression on him because when he grew up, he made a living scouring the battle site for souvenirs and selling them in a little shop.

We went to visit him when I was young and he gave this dish to Mother. He said that it had been left behind on the battlefield. Not much use for a bone dish in battle, so the family speculates that it was used in blood-letting, still a medical practice at that time. Or held under the chin for shaving.

Now the story takes a slight detour. Evidently this uncle had a near brush with death by lightning. A ball of fire came in through an open window and rushed through a room where he was standing. Denise remembers her grandmother always insisted that the windows be closed if there was a storm, allegedly because of this uncle’s experience.

The dish came to Denise as a memento when her grandmother died. It now has a place of honor in her master bath. Its curve fits right along the sink where it makes a fine soap dish.

Bullet Casing Jewelry

Necklace and ring made of shells and bullet casing. These were my mother’s. A gift from my father, made for her when he was in the South Pacific, at war.

I don’t ever remember Mother actually wearing these, but I loved to look at them. My father designed our house and among other touches just for Mother (the kitchen was a wonder), he built a jewelry case into their master bedroom. The case was made of teak, modern and unadorned, set into the countertop. Lift the lid and there were the treasures, nestled in little compartments. I think that reveal, from the plain wood to the opals and myriad earrings, made magic.

I’m going to digress for a moment. We lived in a subdivision called “Paramont Heights, Homes with a View.” Daddy, architect that he was, cared deeply about how the house looked from the outside as well as inside. I often heard him comment on ugly houses with windows stuck here and there, no thought to outside appearance, just to inside expediency. For us, he designed a long low rancher framed in steel (at the time heating was cheap.) The steel was unusual; when it started to go up, the neighbors thought it was going to be a filling station. In any case, architectural beauty demanded two floor to ceiling windows in the front, connected by a long wall painted a lovely green. One window looked into the entry and livingroom, as might be expected. The other peered into the master bedroom. Houses with a view, indeed!

Back to the jewelry. Mother simply told us that Daddy made them when he was stationed on a ship in the Navy. After she died, I was going through the piles of cards and pictures (she kept everything) and I came across a thank you letter she had sent him. The necklace was a first year anniversary present. You can imagine how I treasure them.

Red Italian Blouse

Italian blouse bought in Tuscany. Missed my Wednesday post because of a power outage. Huge tree down. We went out for a rare mid-week margharita.

Now, about the blouse. It was bought in Italy under duress. Mother and I were touring, 7 days in Tuscany, then 3 in Rome. We arrived. Our luggage didn’t. In this instance the stereotype I carry of the Italian domani (tomorrow) played out perfectly. Our luggage came from Rome the day we returned.

Meanwhile, we had just what was in our carry-ons. Neither of us a clothes-horse, but as the days passed, we needed a change. We were in a small town, not a lot of English spoken, and my Italian is limited to what I’ve heard in opera. O Mio babino caro doesn’t cut it when you want clothes. Eventually I found a nice shop where the prices weren’t too high and they were adept at pantomime. There I found the blouse which I have loved and not just because the airline paid for it.

After the third day of washing out at night, it rained and we needed clean underwear. My dictionary wasn’t much help. Bus – autobus. Rain – pioggia. Underwear? Um, no. At the shop I pulled a bit of fabric from under my jeans belt and asked “Dove?” (Learned from a kooky choreographer who made us say “Dove sta amore, where lies love” while we danced.) After the laughter died, I was sent to a shop to buy the most expensive undies I’ve ever owned. Penney’s it was not.

I also needed a pair of shoes. Now, my feet are wide, high-arched – perfect for ballet and impossible to fit. Mother used to say, “Just sell her the box.” I found an empty shop – important when you think you are going to embarrass yourself – where a nice salesman brought out the ugliest sandals I’ve ever seen. Sadly, they fit like a dream. I hesitated, frowned, shuffled. All the while he was extolling how good the leather, how comfortable the shoe. Even with my limited Italian, I got it. Finally I burst out “Ma non e bella.” which I think meant “but they aren’t pretty.” He laughed, extolled some more and I bought them, wore them everywhere, and they were great. In fact, I still have them.

I’d like to point out that other folks write about charming men and love in Tuscany. My story is about lost luggage and ugly sandals. Seems apt…