Tag Archives: Henry James

Pickle swaps. Remember those?

Apple crisp, hot from the oven.

By Laura Grimes

Shhhh! Be vewy vewy qwiet! Maybe I can sneak in here when Mr. Scatter isn’t looking. Won’t he be surprised?

Won’t you?

I thought I could sneak in when Mr. Scatter was on the road, but dang if he didn’t crack the wi-fi code at the secret hangout. Then I thought I could sneak in when he was busy scraping together a paying gig, but dang if he wasn’t a prolific typerboy on the side.

So now I’m interrupting Mr. Scatter’s regularly scheduled blog fodder (what I call “the thoughty bits”) to bring you the scatter part (I’ll refrain from calling it “the ditzy bits”).

Continue reading Pickle swaps. Remember those?

Pickles: The old gray market rides high

Carlos Kalmar conducts the Oregon Symphony. We do our own bit of conducting sometimes in the form of serious scientific experiments.

By Laura Grimes

Here at Art Scatter World Headquarters, we concoct more than hot chocolate and dirty-little-secret martinis. We participate in genuine science. For weeks we’ve been conducting The Great Pickles As Social Vehicle Experiment.

Mr. Scatter made a bold declaration recently in the mainstream media about our little family enterprise.

We deal chiefly in the concoction of highly improbable stories and the manufacture and trade of gray-market pickles.

Just how is that gray matter coming along? (Not brain cells.) The experiment is kicking along in fine form with Pickle Swaps (everyone step together now) 5, 6, 7, 8.

Continue reading Pickles: The old gray market rides high

Traveling a jumbled, rambly literary road

Oregon Coast near Devil's Churn and Cape Perpetua

By Laura Grimes

We’re traveling, we pack of five breathing each other’s air and bumping inside each other’s heads. We eat the same food. We stop from spot to spot, sightsee, and mere snippets intermingle, weave together something anew and haul us along.

Everywhere we go we pick up words and take them with us. They lift us. They quiet us. We break bread with them. We swirl wine with them. They hang in the air among us.

Our books go from suitcase to table to car to kindle to stereo to suitcase to car to lap to bed.

Each time, bits let loose. Literary crumbs pinch and mold into a new story, unique and unashamed. It becomes our own literary travel journal. Jumbled. Weird. Scattered. And somehow cohered.


The Islands of the Blessed by Nancy FarmerWhen The Large Smelly Boys bicker in the car, I hit play and they magically silence before the almighty audio book. Nancy Farmer, god bless her. Past summers we plowed through her The Sea of Trolls and The Land of the Silver Apples. Just to be safe, we have along her The Islands of the Blessed on iPod, CD and hard copy. Thank heavens, because we’ve used all of them. In less than a week, the hard copy was devoured by two members of the Scatter Family.

Continue reading Traveling a jumbled, rambly literary road

Spreading the love of pickles, one jar at a time

The raw materials: Cukes to the people. Photo: Laura Grimes

Move over, blogsters. Clear the counters. It’s pickle time!

I had planned to tear down a fence this week, in part to keep the Large Smelly Boys busy because it’s the one week all summer when THEY’RE BOTH HOME. But then I realized it was the only few days I’d be in town during pickle season.

So, please, don’t bother to call. We’re too busy with mustard seeds, canning salt and – oh yeah – cukes!

We make bread and butters, dills and sweets. Other times we make jam, apple chutney, pesto and mustard. So you might think we’re the Scatter Family, but really we’re the Condiment Family.

Why pickles? Well, we like to eat ’em, we like to make ’em, we like to give ’em away.

But there’s a deeper level, and it’s a sweet and sad little story. I first “published” it somewhere else on the internets, so forgive me if you’ve read it before. It’s slightly adapted for this audience. I originally wrote it as part of a series of stories about the author Henry James.

Why pickles make the perfect present
Changing the literary landscape, one jar of pickles at a time

As in many Henry James novels, often the smallest gesture has the biggest import, backed by layers of meaning, history, implication and nuance. It can be a short, shared experience between two people, seemingly commonplace, but it immediately accelerates to a potent moment when given just a little backstory. James knew all about backstory, the bigger picture, the stuff rich stories are made of.

1963 Heritage Press edition of "The Ambassadors" by Henry James. Photo: Laura GrimesMartha Ullman West, Art Scatter’s favorite dance correspondent, emailed me soon after my story about trying to read James appeared in the O! books section of The Oregonian on Jan. 4 of this year.

I had notified most people that I was including their comments in my story, but I didn’t say a thing to Martha. I left it all as a surprise.

She didn’t know that the fine edition of The Ambassadors that had belonged to her late husband, Frank West, would be featured so prominently.

She generously gave me that book after I told my woeful tale of my sad little copy from the library. I gave her a quart jar of my best dill pickles in return.

Soon after, Martha wrote: “Unbeknownst to you, I think the pickles were a completely appropriate gift, because Frank made pickles every summer until the last year of his life. Kosher dills were his specialty.”

My dad made pickles. Once.

It was just a few weeks after my mom had surgery to remove a large tumor from the middle of her brain when my aunt showed up at the house with a box full of pickling cukes.

Before my mom had surgery my family didn’t know how or if she would recover. We weren’t given any expectations. We didn’t know whether she’d be able to walk or talk. We were told the recovery process could take up to a year.

But only a few weeks after surgery my mom was up and about a bit. Oddly, the memory embedded most in my mind is my mom sitting on the front stoop of the house, a large bandage wrapped around her head, carefully trying to control her hand movements as she put smelly mothballs into pantyhose, tied them, and then buried them in the planters next to the stoop as a ruse to keep out the pesky squirrels that dug there all the time. It never worked. The squirrels just scratched aside the mothballs, one tied pantyhose after another, leaving the porch to smell like a nasty attic. My mom did all this while sitting rigidly straight and not bending over, because she risked her brain collapsing in and then the outside of it hemorrhaging. Which would have been bad. It could have killed her.

My dad, who was always antsy in the best of circumstances, carefully attended my mom and was determined to keep everything as normal as possible. He never stopped moving. He did all the things my mom had always done. He cooked. He cleaned. He couldn’t keep himself busy enough.

And then my aunt showed up with cucumbers. When my dad asked what he was supposed to do with them, my aunt replied that my mom always made pickles.

And so she had. Every summer. Along with canned peaches and pears.

First off the assemby line: bread and butters. Photo: Laura GrimesBread-and-butter pickles were her specialty. They’re the ones with sliced cucumbers and soft streamers of onions and a bunch of mustard seeds and peppercorns that look like confetti. Those pickles were always in our pantry and in the fridge. They were always in fancy dishes on holiday tables. I had never known them not to be there.

And I had never known my dad to command the mottled black enamel canner until that summer. He made batch after batch of bread-and-butter pickles. The jars started lining up on the counter and they started to pop as they sealed. My dad would say, “Did you hear that? They go ‘pop, pop, pop.'” I would laugh and say, “How was that again?” He would repeat it: “They go ‘pop, pop, pop!‘”

After a day or two he had stacks of jars, each labeled with his tidy uppercase printing.

After a few months he started to have headaches. When he finally went to the doctor, he was immediately given prescriptions and an appointment with a neurosurgeon. He had a brain tumor.

We could tell the rhythm was completely different this time from when my mom had surgery. With her, doctors weren’t hurried about setting dates, taking plenty of time to carefully map her brain to figure out the least invasive path. They knew her tumor was most likely benign and slow-growing. With my dad, appointments were scheduled right away.

His surgery, just days after his diagnosis, confirmed what we had suspected: The tumor was malignant. He had one of the most aggressive types of brain cancer. We were told he would probably have a year.

My dad, who had so attentively taken care of my mom, not just after her surgery but for all the months and years before it when her behavior was so goofy and we didn’t know why, now had to be taken care of. And my mom, just months out of surgery and still recovering herself, suddenly had to take care of my dad.

By the time pickling cukes were in their prime again my dad was wobbly and sleeping more. He never made pickles again.

So you see, Martha, pickles were a perfectly appropriate gift. Unbeknownst to you, my dad made pickles. Just once. Near the last year of his life. Bread-and-butters were his specialty.

Don't sweat it, just heat it. Photo: Bob Hicks

Scattered thoughts reading turning 61


“I am ruminating,” said Mr. Pickwick, “on the strange mutability of human affairs.”
– Charles Dickens

Death is secondary to the reality of absence engrained in me as a child, I’ve come to believe. To the child seeing out (yes, seeing, not looking), when you are gone (or not visible) you do not exist. Simple as that. After a certain age (at what age I can’t say, although if I’d tuned to this notion earlier, observing our first grandchild the past several months, I could have established it almost to the day) the child loves peek-a-boo only because absence and return are as quick and as certain as the game is over before the sharp intake of breath registers as deep fear or dread.

And what is absence but recognition of the Other in a different key? Other begins as differentiation from self – mother, family and friends, as the child’s remembered world expands. Eventually, Other is everything other than this: this moment, this place, this Other we call our own body (although, okay, mind/body is convention too). We stand outside all nature as Other, which becomes God, or, outside God (the concept of creator), the endless cosmos/universe, logical or chaotic or chaotically-logical, depending.

To think that reading a book titled The Other, conjoined with the turn to my 62d year, would release distillations running in all directions: personal, political, existential. (As I write this Time magazine’s headline is “The Decline and Fall of Christian America,” while that of Newsweek reads “Vanishing Act: How Climate Change is Causing a New Age of Extinction.” Our own little corner of this moment in infinity divided between judgmental gods and selection of a different sort.)

To sense that the space between the “this now and that then” of thought, is where love takes root, and where we find the related extensions of tolerance, acceptance, or ties to family, community, family of man. We love because the Other leaves; we are bound to others already in memory because they will have left. Permutations of this theme abound in Gabriel Josipovici’s intriguing novel Goldberg: Variations. In it an 18th century scholar parses John Donne’s poem “A Nocturnal Upon S. Lucy’s Day,” which is about love as the opposite of un-being and extinction. Love of Lucy called the poet into being and her death leaves him “re-begot / Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not.” In another passage in the novel the scholar describes marriage as a dance – not two become one, but two in accord, “well-being in reciprocity,” recognition of space between one and the other, “the mutual respect of the one for the other, and into the physical pleasure of each in its own being, which is that of the other.” Love is thus absence in place.

The scholar’s wife addresses him in her diary while he is distant on business: absent. “I have grown used to your presence in the house and it is hard to be alone.” Or, again: “I do not really grieve at your absence. I merely miss your presence.” And then she makes a remarkable observation about her private writing in the diary:

I had never thought of any of this till I sat down half and hour ago filled with the need to write about you. That is what writing is like. The sheet of paper before one and the pen in one’s hand seem to allow those things to emerge which one knew but didn’t know one knew. It may not be very interesting or very profound, but it brings relief. Like hugging you. But why is it not sufficient to sit in my chair and imagine myself hugging you? After all, when I write here in my notebook you are no more present than if I closed my eyes and thought of you. Indeed, less so perhaps, since if I close my eyes I can see you, whereas when I write I certainly do not. But then when I hug you I do not see you, I feel you. And that is what seems to happen with writing. But why should that be so? To feel you, you have to be present and close to me, and now you are neither. Yet I am sure this is the truth, that when I close my eyes I see you but when I write I feel you.”

“How can one touch that which is absent?” Her answer is writing; that is, the thing written: the book, is other than the Other, the Other in yet another key! But is it not also a bridge to the Other; a thread of something that in fact binds us to the Other?

Writing and reading, the book and the Other. And writing and reading is why we are here, at this moment, in this place, in the first place, isn’t it?
Continue reading Scattered thoughts reading turning 61

Portland onstage: of ghosts and vampires

The Turn of the Screw/Portland Opera“This score is my bible,” David Schiff, the Portland composer of the chamber opera Gimpel the Fool and a lot of other good music, said with a big smile.

It was Friday night, and I’d run into Schiff as I was leaving the opening performance of Benjamin Britten‘s The Turn of the Screw at Portland Opera. Schiff loves Britten for several reasons, but in this case he was thinking of Britten as a shining example of how to orchestrate an opera for only a dozen instruments and have it sound full and brilliant and just right. He didn’t use the word “busy” about Britten’s score, but he talked about its muscularity, the way Britten used his limited number of instruments to maximum effect, stretching their sound and matching the dramatic texture of Myfanwy Piper‘s libretto, which is based on Henry James‘s mystifyingly open-ended ghost novella.

I’d been thinking about the opera’s orchestration because the topic came up in the pre-performance talk by Bob Kingston,
who also writes the interesting blog dramma per musica. That got me to listening particularly closely to the orchestra, which was conducted with admirable precision by Christopher Larkin, and to noticing how well Britten combined tautness and lushness to bring out the strange, screw-tightening tensions of James’s tale.

Continue reading Portland onstage: of ghosts and vampires

From Lar to PAW: a Monday link and scatter

Lar Lubovich Dance Company. Photo: ROSEThings have been busy here at Scatter Central the last few days; so busy that we haven’t had a chance to post since we left poor Jean-Paul Belmondo in the clutches of all
those nasty French critics
Never mind, Jean-Paul. As far as we’re concerned here on our far side of the puddle, you’ll always throw a mean left hook.

So, time for a little update.

Lar Lubovitch, a genuine. living and working part of American dance history, shows up Wednesday night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland, and the White Bird dance series reports it still has good tickets available. The Lubovitch company hasn’t toured in 10 years, and it’s been a good deal longer than that since it’s been in Portland, so this is a good opportunity. The program looks intriguing, and all of the dances are relatively recent: last year’s Jangle, Four Hungarian Dances, set to Bela Bartok’s Rhapsodies #1 and #2 for Violin and Piano; 2000’s Men’s Stories, A Concerto in Ruins, with audio collage and original score by Scott Marshall; and 2007’s Dvorak Serenade, set to Antonin Dvorak’s Serenade in E Major. Plus, Lubovitch will be on hand for a question and answer session after the show.

White Bird has some deals on tickets, including 30-buck Level 3 seats, in addition to its usual student/senior rush tickets two hours before the 7:30 curtain. Details here.

mandy_greer_dare_alla_luce_05Over at his alternate-universe home, Portland Arts Watch (or PAW, as we like to call it), Scatter impresario Barry Johnson has been following the proposed merger between two Portland art stalwarts: the financially struggling Museum of Contemporary Craft and the recently vigorous Pacific Northwest College of Art. Good idea? Bad idea? Necessary idea? In his Monday column in The Oregonian and on Oregon Live, Barry comes down with a case of cautious optimism. Read it here.

And speaking of synchronicity (we were, weren’t we?) my review of the craft museum’s two newest exhibits, by installation artist Mandy Greer and textile artist Darrel Morris, will run on Friday, Jan. 30, in The Oregonian’s A&E section and on Oregon Live. Look for it then.

Did we say alternate-universe homes? We’re embarrassed to reveal that only recently have we discovered the second virtual home of one of our best online friends, the ubiquitous and perspicacious Mighty Toy Cannon of the invaluable Portland arts and culture site Culture Shock. Seems MTC also maintains a fascinating, if less regular, music site called, appropriately, Mighty Toy Cannon. From Nick Lowe and Richard Fontaine to Ruth Brown and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, MTC takes a welcome and refreshing curatorial approach to the wonders of the YouTube musical world. Give it a look, and a listen.

Henry James, by John Singer Sargent, 1913Meanwhile, who’d have guessed that the path to understanding Henry James runs through William Shakespeare’s most infamous stage direction? (That’s “exuent, pursued by a bear,” from The Winter’s Tale, by the way.) The grapevine that slithers through our mutual abode tells us that Part Five of Laura Grimes’ running riff on all things Jamesean, coming Sunday, Feb. 1, in The Oregonian’s books pages and on Oregon Live, is going to be a doozy, complete with Shakespearean bear. In yesterday’s Part Four, Grimes — Friend and Supporter of Art Scatter First Class — gets caught up in a neighborhood book group and unveils a Henry James contest, complete with a prize. Read it here.

Portland’s stages have been simply aburst with fresh new work, thanks to the citywide Fertile Ground festival of new plays. At The Oregonian, Scatter friend Marty Hughley kept up with some of the most recent action in Monday’s paper: Read it here.

Scatter’s been hitting the festival, too. We’ve already run our report on Apollo and Vitriol and Violets. And my review of Northwest Children’s Theater and School‘s new jazz version of Alice in Wonderland also ran in Monday’s Oregonian; read it here.

reGeneration: 50 photographers of Tomorrow
, a traveling exhibit that’s just landed in the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College, is a chilly but pretty darned fascinating look at 50 young photographers worldwide whose work, the shows’s curators believe, will still be vital and important in the year 2025. My review ran in brief in Monday’s Oregonian; for the much more complete version, see it on Oregon Live here.

Finally, we’ve been amused and bemused by the misadventures of operatic tenor Jon Villars,
who walked off the stage during a dress rehearsal of Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, reportedly because he didn’t like the conductor’s tempo. Here at Art Scatter, we confess to skipping out on a show early a time or two over the years, too. But not when we were part of the cast.

Scatter links: BodyVox, more fun with Hank, read U.S.A.!

Friend of Art Scatter D.K. Row, the reporting machine of Portland’s art scene, has a good behind-the-scenes cover story in the O! section of the Sunday Oregonian about dance company BodyVox‘s bold move (especially considering the state of the economy these days) into its own space in Northwest Portland. Row doesn’t just get into the economics, he also touches on the sometimes bruised feelings and occasional jealousies on the dance scene: As Row points out, BodyVox has access to some deep pockets that other contemporary dance organizations can’t touch. Read Row’s story here. And revisit Art Scatter’s own report from last fall, when BodyVox first showed off its new digs.

Meanwhile, nobody seems to want to have a beer with Henry James, although a few people suggest a cup of tea, or maybe a sherry. The Oregonian’s Laura Grimes follows up on her delightful piece from last Sunday about trying to read The Ambassadors (see below) with a second report on her adventures with Hank — this time with a lot of sterling literary responses from readers. The online version here includes a lot more responses than the print version in this Sunday’s Oregonian books pages. (For some reason or other we feel compelled to reveal that Ms. Grimes is married to one-third of Art Scatter. We leave it to the mathematicians among you to figure out exactly what that means.)

Finally, a shout-out to Liesl Schillinger for her review in this week’s New York Times Book Review
of Louise Erdrich’s new collection of short stories, The Red Convertible. Quite sensibly, Schilinger writes admiringly about Erdrich: That’s as it should be. But what caught our eye was her opening salvo, a vociferous defense of American lit in general against the cold Arctic glare of those sneering Swedes of the Nobel establishment (she takes her argument, of course, much further than this, in some interesting ways):

“Last fall, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, the group that hands out the Nobel Prize in Literature, disparaged American letters, saying our fiction was ‘too isolated, too insular’ and ‘too sensitive to trends’ in our own ‘mass culture’ (in short, too American) to matter much in the wider world. But it’s the very Americanness of our literature — the hybrid nature of our national makeup, our mania for self-invention and reinvention — that captured the international imagination at a time when most readers could never visit the country they dreamed about. It still does today.

“Americanness needs no apology; it’s the strength of our letters.

Thanks, Liesl. We needed that.
Young and crude and immature we may be, but we are also creative and energetic and — yes — idealistic, and we still believe that art can and should be a democratic expression. Your question near the end of your essay — “(I)s the capacity for the quiet use of leisure, something essential to reading, on the wane?” — is pertinent to the entire world, a place that interestingly includes Sweden and the United States alike.

We hereby appoint Ms. Schillinger an honorary Friend of Art Scatter. Sadly, this honor comes with no Nobel prize money attached.

Scatter links: A beer with Henry James, a bail-in for Detroit, why NOT sell off some art?

Cool things to read in other places:

— Laura Grimes, charter member of Friends of Art Scatter, has a delightful piece in the Sunday Oregonian’s books pages about reading Henry James‘s The Ambassadors (or trying to read it) on the bus, and whether James was quite the sort of fellow you could sit down and have a beer with. Read it here.

— Also in The Oregonian, on Monday’s op-ed page, is a bell-ringer by Tim Smith on how to “bail in” the reeling auto industry instead of bailing it out. Smith, a principal at SERA Architects in Portland and a Detroit native, suggests: “(L)et’s reorganize GM to replace it. Why not fund a conversion of General Motors from a purveyor of private transportation hardware to a planner, fabricator and supplier of a renewed, nationwide public transportation system?” An elegant, provacative piece, with some historical sting. Read it here.

— And, in case you missed it in the New York Times the day before Christmas, this intriguing piece via Art Journal about the brouhaha over deaccessioning art at museums to raise bucks, a move that’s recently put New York’s cash-strapped National Academy Museum in hot-to-boiling water. Is it an idea whose time has come? Maybe so, maybe no. Author Jori Finkel talks with, among others, former Portland Art Museum director Dan Monroe, now at the Peabody Essex Museum in Masachusetts. Read it here.

Opera’s chamber of horrors: ‘The Medium,’ well done

As the intrepid Mr. Mead has reminded me, a lot of cool-sounding stuff is pounding the boards of Portland’s performance spaces right now:

Bucky Fuller, Adam Bock, Dead Funny, Guys and Dolls, and despite the mixed reviews I’d like to see Artists Rep’s Speech and Debate — there has to be a reason it was such a can’t-score-a-ticket hit in New York.

But last night as I headed to The Someday Lounge, Halloween was on my mind. And not just because of the weekend trip to the pumpkin patch on Sauvie Island (corn maze, plump gourds, rowdy kids, horrific traffic) but because it was opening night of Opera Theater Oregon‘s The Medium, Gian Carlo Menotti‘s hour-plus 1946 psychological thriller of an operatic melodrama (the word, remember, means simply drama with music).

These days, when people think of Menotti they tend to think of his autocratic reputation in the legacy of the two Spoleto festivals, in Italy and South Carolina. Or they think of Amahl and the Night Visitors, his 1951 television opera, which has become a Christmas-season staple. But although Christmas is coming, the goose ain’t fat yet. This is the time of haunts and ghouls, and The Medium is in perfect pitch with the season.

Continue reading Opera’s chamber of horrors: ‘The Medium,’ well done