31 December 2012

How to have a Happy New Year...

It's just past midnight.  You have ritually welcomed the New Year with the standard bonhomie yet, perhaps, you're beginning to sense a twinge of disappointment.  The champagne, the carousing, the familiar bleating of "Auld Lang Syne" are somehow leaving you feeling let down and apprehensive.  Let Bijibou advance a suggestion - dismiss all concerns and prolong the joie de vivre with the customary Scottish tradition known as "first-footing", whereby you linger excited near the front door on the lookout for the first guest of 2013. Ideally someone dark, tall and handsome - I regret, no one name rushes to mind as an example - your first visitor directly after twelve a.m., the one who delightedly puts a "first foot" across your threshold, is the one most certain to bring you good luck for the coming year. 

Here, the effusive Mr. Punch and his jolly dog, Toby, bound toward the open door, eager to spare you from an unhappy New Year!

First Footing is a tradition familiarly associated with Scotland, although it's practiced also in Northern England and Wales, and it is a custom sustained by a fundamental belief in the potentially tenuous nature of beginnings.  As you welcome your guest, you "let in" the New Year.  Why not increase your chances for a thrilling future by hobnobbing with good luck?    The  rules are quite specific:  your visitor must be dark haired and, almost invariably, male.  In some areas, it is important for him to be married, in others, a bachelor.  Those with blond hair, however charming, talented and well-placed, might only stir dark memories of 8th century Viking invasions so be on the qui vive.  

Typically, a first-footer came laden with symbolic gifts for members of the household.  Bread and coal were standard, whiskey and something "green", i.e., alive, were also common.  In turn, he was rewarded with food, drink and money, making the job of professional guest quite profitable.  In order for the hosts to enjoy the full benefit of his visit, he was ushered into the house through the front and bade farewell through a rear door. 

Your gentle, albeit blond author is very grateful for the attention you have shown Bijibou during the past year.  As a modest acknowledgement of your kindness, and in the spirit of the first-footer, as a talisman for a New Year of lightness and wit, please enjoy these few Art Notes from the January, 1897 issue of Punch from which the above illustration was borrowed.  Bliadhna mhath ur! - Happy New Year, to you all. 

WE are glad to say the indisposition of Miss ANGELINA SNOOKS is less serious than it was at first reported to be. This talented young lady, whose representations of windmills are so justly popular, attempted, in a moment of aberration, to eat a cake of gamboge*. Fortunately her nurse was able to interrupt the meal, and it is hoped that in a few days' time she will be completely restored to health.

IT is said, on good authority, that Master WILLIAM JENKINS is likely to be appointed to the Slade Professorship, at present vacant. Some of the critics, while admitting his claims on other grounds, are inclined to demur to his election on the score of his advanced age. It is true that Master JENKINS has passed his fourteenth birthday, and that therefore his best work must necessarily lie behind him. Still, his brilliant course of lectures on The Art of Caricature," and his portraits of schoolmasters (executed in chalk, on wooden palings) seem to point him out as one eminently qualified for the post, and it is said that Messrs. WATTS and BURNS-JONES are extremely anxious to take lessons from him. 

BRITISH sculpture is decidedly looking up. We have rarely seen finer specimens of the art than the mud-pies recently designed by Master PHIDIAS BROWN. Should the season permit, it is understood that this clever sculptor will produce a colossal figure in snow during his Christmas holidays. 

THE Philistinism of parents is almost beyond belief. It is said 
that while Master HENRY RAPHAEL was engaged the other day 
in decorating his father's drawing-room wall-paper with cartoons 
painted in vermilion, that ignorant gentleman not only inter- 
rupted the artist's work, but even put him to severe physical 
pain as a reward for his industry. It is to be hoped that the 
Council of the Academy will prosecute this barbarous parent, and 
that he will thus reap the punishment which he so richly deserves. 

*A cake of vibrant yellow paint produced from a gum resin derived from any of several South Asian trees.  The resin is sometimes used as a purgative.  While Bijibou acknowledges the timeliness of this information, she cannot endorse this as a remedy for any imminent overindulgence.

05 December 2012

tongue, teeth, horns, hooves, chains, claws, Fun!

Today heralds the seasonal appearance of Krampus, sidekick to St. Nicholas and the bearer of rough justice for children who have distinguished themselves in some unfortunate and entirely regrettable way during the year.  While St. Nicholas dispenses gifts to good children, Krampus roots out the bad, beating them with switches and rusty chains before stuffing them into his basket where they may brood and sulk over their misfortune, marking the hours until they become a tasty snack.

Krampus is that endearing yule-thug whose origin is rooted in Germanic pre-Christian folklore.  His name is derived from the Old High German word for claw, Krampen, and with his large horns, cloven hooves and lolling red carpet of a tongue, he is indeed a terrifying sight.

On December 5th, he and St. Nicholas head out in search of children who are generously rewarded for their goodness or mercilessly punished for their appalling criminality.  Today, the tradition lives on in  Germany, Austria and throughout Eastern Europe as young men don their Krampus togs and rattle chains, menacing hapless victims.

So popular was this touching custom that an entire segment of the German holiday card market was once devoted to honoring Krampus.  Known as Krampuskarten, these cards typically feature an amiable holiday hello - Gruss vom Krampus! - Greetings from Krampus! - as well as some graphic depiction of the sort of vile torment he inflicts on youthful malefactors.

Perhaps out of concerns over being typecast as a child-hater, or perhaps because he's just irredeemably bad and awful, Krampus occasionally interferes with young lovers.  Frohliche Krampusnacht!

22 November 2012

Holiday greetings...

Bijibou's flag is planted firmly in the turkey's camp.

Norman Rockwell, 1917

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving...
 Enjoy your vegetables!

08 November 2012


Prizes from the thrift shop...

A sakura scarf from Japanese designer Hanae Mori.

  Kid gloves: 1940's?

 A new addition to the Floraline collection.

This timely seasonal treasure: a vintage turkey tin.

31 October 2012

Halloween Greetings...

Ellen Leonard

Arthur Rackham

                   The Haunted Chamber 
                 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

                    Each heart has its haunted chamber,
                   Where the silent moonlight falls!
                    On the floor are mysterious footsteps,
                    There are whispers along the walls!

                  And mine at times is haunted
                  By phantoms of the Past
                 As motionless as shadows
                By the silent moonlight cast.

                A form sits by the window,
                                That is not seen by day,                 
                    For as soon as the dawn approaches
             It vanishes away.

                It sits there in the moonlight
              Itself as pale and still,
                 And points with its airy finger
              Across the window-sill.

                Without before the window,
                 There stands a gloomy pine,
                  Whose boughs wave upward and downward
                   As wave these thoughts of mine.

             And underneath its branches
             Is the grave of a little child,
             Who died upon life's threshold,
             And never wept nor smiled.

             What are ye, O pallid phantoms!
             That haunt my troubled brain?
             That vanish when day approaches,
           And at night return again?

              What are ye, O pallid phantoms!
              But the statues without breath,
             That stand on the bridge overarching
             The silent river of death?

07 October 2012


Gerd Arntz was the German artist and graphic designer responsible for creating the pictograms of Isotype, The International System of TYpographic Picture Education developed by Viennese social scientist and philosopher Otto Neurath.  Isotype was a means of visually representing complex statistical information - the generic pictograms were typically used to illustrate stylized charts explaining economic and political data.   Isotype marked the inception of modern visual statistics, establishing a clear means of communicating to ordinary people esoteric information that was often difficult to understand.  In addition to the uniform human symbols, Arntz created pictograms for ships, automobiles, food, plants and factories.   Among the over 4000 symbols Arntz designed were these, my favorites, unsurprisingly: images of animals wild and domestic. 

These are wonderful images, and, quite unlike the majority of human figures he created, vivid and dynamic.  Not only are they examples of good design but they're cheerful and deserve to be seen.  With a little cardstock and some thread, I fashioned this mobile of woodland creatures - Rabbit, Squirrel, Frog, Mouse.  




If you're interested in seeing more of Arntz's work, the Gerd Arntz Web Archive is the place to start. There, you can also download the Gerd Arntz Memory App which is indeed a very pleasant brain-enhancing distraction.   And do spend some time meandering around the Gerd Arntz Archive from the Museum of the Hague.  Here are a few images to tempt you...

13 September 2012

"the noblest of fruits..."

Conradus Schlapperitzi, Bible History, 1445

...or so thought Henry David Thoreau when writing his glorious paean to the apple, entitled Wild Apples, a meticulous account of the history and habits of both "civilized apple-trees" and those old, ungrafted trees which do not bear the burden of domestication.  Published by The Atlantic in November 1862, it was one of three articles commissioned by the magazine toward the end of Thoreau's life.   It is fascinating to read and a pleasant reminder that now is, indeed, apple picking time.  If this is precisely the sort of joy-making diversion that tempts you out-of-doors, a wonderfully helpful site, Orange Pippin, can direct you to over 2000 orchards in the United States as well as locations in Canada, the UK, India and Europe.  The site also provides (!!) an extraordinarily comprehensive A to Z directory of varieties you perhaps have not heard of, from the sweet and fruity Swiss Api Etoile, introduced in the 1600's, to an 1885 cultivar, the German Zabergau Reinette, a strong russet with the intriguing taste of nettles!

Educational plate, 1902

Leonard Leslie Brooke, The Three Little Pigs, 1904

Arthur Rackham, Hi, You Up There, 1915

Apple vendor, Boston Common, 19th c.

Kate Greenaway, A Apple Pie, 1886

(Images courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery & Vintage Printable.)

21 July 2012

long live the Queen...

Today, we're celebrating Foof's ninth birthday.  Since learning of the date a few years ago, I've created announcements proclaiming the glorious occasion - this year's inspiration is that other Queen's Jubilee.  After greeting in a distinctive manner some neighboring cats who came to pay their respects, HRH tucked into her favorite repast, a chicken and duck pate with a refreshing salad of oat grass.  She accepted, with typical grace, my apologies for being unable to stage, in her honor,  a stately, floating procession of gayly bedecked craft and instead, enjoyed a few moments in the bathtub.   On the advent of the next year of her triumphant reign, she is as majestic, clever and beautiful as one could hope for.  For a celebratory treat, she asked to hear the recitation of a favorite passage from ChaucerShe is now resting, having exhausted herself over a tin of catnip sardines.
Vivat Regina, dearest Foo Foo, long may you live!

Mice Before Milk
Lat take a cat and fostre hym wel with milk
And tendre flessch and make his couche of silk,
And lat hym seen a mous go by the wal,
Anon he weyvith milk and flessch and al,
And every deyntee that is in that hous,
Suich appetit he hath to ete a mous.

from The Manciple's Tale
Geoffrey Chaucer

16 June 2012


When Bob arrived in August of 2007 it was in a dull red carrier from which he refused to move.  I  put in a friendly hand to say "hello" and was bitten, not severely, but decidedly.  He had just endured a long car ride and fearful of a new place, was not yet prepared to tolerate a stranger.  When his former mum left the following morning, poor Bob was at the top of the stairs, pulling pieces of fur from his hindquarters.  Foof, who had also suffered the trip, was in hiding, sulky and petulant under a bed somewhere and of no help to him whatsoever.  Gradually, he began to settle in.  Some months later, both cats came to live with me.  Again, he was terrified, disappearing entirely to some unseen empty space in a cabinet and causing a complete panic that prompted a preposterous outside search and then absolute incredulity when his hideout was revealed and he was discovered, quiet and baleful and forlorn. 

The challenges of another transition soon passed and he and Foof took to their new home fairly quickly.  I could see their relationship was primarily based on a polite mutual tolerance.  I think they regarded each other as competition for resources: food, territory, my affection.  They rarely argued, although on those very few occasions when they became occupied with fighting and biting, it was typically she who was the aggressor.  Only once did I see Bob bully her.  His choreography was eloquent.  Bob's shape was unusual for a cat - he was quite barrel-chested and so convincing as a thug while persecuting her for some offense.  After cornering her and looming in a large and manful way, he retreated to the berry box which she used as a nest from time to time.  With that glow of serene righteousness that the wronged experience when - at last! - favored by Justice, he flooded her lair with an abundant stream of urine.  Having put things right, he marched off, triumphant and as happy as I'd ever seen him. 

He liked cookies.  He liked pastries.  He liked popcorn and potato chips.  He liked hand cream.  He was rarely permitted access to such goodies, but when in the presence of any of these treats, he assumed a look of hopefulness and was usually rewarded with a fraction of a fraction of something sweet or salty.  The hand cream was not given as a treat, but Bob was a licker and if he could ambush you emerging from the shower he would pursue like a tiger on the prowl until picked up and kissed and lavishly complimented on being such a sweetie and it was then that he would seize you in his paws and devour as much after bath moisturizer as he could consume before being wrestled from the banquet of unguents.   I also quite recently observed, and preempted, I must add, his fondness for spray starch. 
I don't think any of the photos of him on this blog made clear the reason for his name.  He was a bobtail - either a rumpy riser or a stumpy, I haven't yet worked out which.  He had a little black stump of a tail that would blossom into a black puff at the sight of some strange cat.  Along with his bandit mask and his oddly shaped feet, (he had unusually large "heels" that enabled him to stand like a human, with his enormous back feet flat on the floor), the little tail was one of his most endearing traits.  That and his quiet stoicism and aura of pure and enduring goodness.  In his dotage he became a talker.  "Rrrrrowwww" was his favorite word but it had very many variations and it was generally only used for the benefit of humans. 

At times, Bob was quite possessive, but then, so is Foof - perhaps it's the nature of cats.  I have always had pots of fresh cat grass and catnip for the enjoyment of both beasties but the catnip always belonged to Bob.  He would often try to prevent Foof from having any by sitting in the pot and squashing it all flat.  Often, he liked to play with his toys but with one paw securing the nip.  It was quite a dilemma.  Bob wanted to have all the toys, too. 

Last week, over the course of a few days, Bob stopped eating.  He had Chronic Renal Failure and was being treated with various nutriceuticals with apparent success.  But at 21 years old, he was giving out.  I've lived with nine cats during my life and the ones who have become demonstrably sick have done so almost overnight.  They are fine one day and then the next they're not fine at all.  It was like that with Bobcat.  By last Friday, he could barely walk.  It was agonizing to watch.  For the last couple of years I have awoken every day wondering if Bob would still be alive.  Astonishingly, he always was.  I had hoped he might die quietly in his sleep and I would discover him still and at peace,  but instead he began to suffer outwardly and I had to finally make the decision to end his suffering.   When we lose our animal friends, we are often overcome by the strength of our grief - grief that is proof of our love.  That part of our hearts animals claim as theirs alone is much greater than we imagine when we choose to share their world.  Bob was a kind and loving soul.

We made the trip to the hospital at noon on Saturday with Bob in his dull red carrier lined with a soft blue blanket.  In the back seat of the car, I opened the carrier to pet him.  He looked at me, put his paw on my hand and began purring.

06 May 2012

Morris Hirshfield's cats...

It seems that even in my young days I exhibited artistic tendencies...begins the biography of self-taught artist Morris Hirshfield (1872-1946) who immigrated from Poland to the United States when he was 18. Forgoing his artistic calling to make way for the more practical matter of earning a living, Hirshfield settled in New York City where he found employment in the garment industry and later established with his brother a slipper making business known as the EZ Walk Manufacturing Company.  Together, they produced high quality ladies' "boudoir slippers" until poor health forced Hirshfield to retire in 1935.  In 1937, at the age of 65, to the amazement and consternation of his family, he returned to painting.  Women and animals were frequent themes.  He struggled to give form to his vision.  It seems that my mind knew well what I wanted to portray but my hands were unable to produce what my mind demanded.   His work was discovered in 1939 by art collector and gallery owner Sidney Janis, who selected two paintings to be included in an exhibit called "Contemporary Unknown American Painters" at the Museum of Modern Art.  In his collection of biographical studies of self-taught artists entitled, They Taught Themselves: American Primitive Painters of the 20th Century, Janis describes his first encounter with Hirshfield's work; the image below - this exceptional, preternatural cat.

 Angora Cat, 1937

About to leave the gallery, I peeked at a picture whose face was to the wall.  What a shock I received!  In the center of this rather square canvas, two round eyes, luminously gleaming in the darkness, were returning my stare!  It brought to mind the sequence in Duck Soup in which Groucho Marx, confronted by an unexpected image in his mirror, was taken aback, only to find the image oddly enough immobile.  The image I saw was just as unexpected and the round unflinching eyes continued to stare, impervious to my sudden start.  They belonged to a strangely compelling creature which, sitting possessively upon a remarkable couch, immediately took possession of me...

Janis goes on to describe "her" with great affection:

Angora Cat is a strange mysterious creature.  She is at once spell-binding and mirth-provoking.  Her deep-set eyes, staring intensely, take immediate possession of the beholder, and they hold him with the suspense of a mystery thriller.  But she is such a homey creature, round and fluffy, that the terror is not quite convincing, and the ripples of fear that run up and down  the spine eventually turn to laughter.  She is an exciting, upsetting creature, whom one cannot help but love. 

Cat and Two Kittens, 1945

 Leopard Family, 1943

 Mother Cat With Kittens, 1941

Cats in the Snow, 1946

 Tiger, 1940

 Lion, 1939

Hirshfield subsequently became one of the most prominent American folk artists of the 20th century producing seventy-seven works between 1937 and 1946.  Several of his paintings are included in  MOMA's permanent collection.  Although I've known of his work for many years, these paintings have become one of my newest obsessions.  Perhaps it's just a symptom of my feline monomania, but I think these images are completely thrilling.