Those Little Details…

Copyright 2015 by Raunig-Graham

    Most of the time, I don’t think of myself as ancient.  Older, sort of.  But old? Not yet.  I seldom think of myself as old, that is, until I run across some reminder that yes, I really was around when one occasionally  found those hand-cranked water pumps out on farms or in the mountains of Montana, where I grew up.  And yes, I used one a few times, and I thought it was fun.  It’s also true that I recall using an old-fashioned wooden telephone with an ice cream cone-shaped receiver attached to a cord on the side of the telephone box.  It was  at Mini’s grocery store.  Then there was the party line my family had in the late 1940’s when our telephone number had just four digits. So I guess when I read Neville Shute’s Pied Piper recently, there was no reason for shock when he kept referring to his 71-year-old protagonist as “the old man.” My consternation at what “the old man” said turned to amusement at how much society’s views, mine at 71 included, have changed. Not  just the obvious ones like our thoughts on technology, or on writing style, but our views of ourselves and how we are are viewed.

Little incidents occur regularly, however, that do continue to remind me that indeed, I really am 71, and I really am older. Most of my friends and acquaintances probably would not consider me the cantankerous type, or even as a scold, but I have observed that certain changes in behavior, especially public behavior, tend to give me pause, or even to feel an inner horror.  Sometimes, I just have to speak up.

To wit:  yesterday, between buses, I stopped in at a coffee shop for a skinny cappuccino. The enthusiastic and cheerful young woman who waited on me asked whether I would have it there or to go.  “I’ll sit down here, ” I answered. We both smiled. But my smile froze when she reached for the cup to serve me with her hand over the rim of “my” cup, her fingers inside the bowl of the cup.  Her glove-free hand that received customers money (and we all know how clean money is), all day long. “I guess I’ll have that coffee to go,” I said, forcing her to pick up a paper cup instead.  End of story.

Not quite.  The cappuccino was delicious.  Topped with a beautiful, perfect foam with a sweet little heart drawn on top — the kind of drawing by a young barista that always warms the heart of a 71-one-year old.  I was enjoying my mid-afternoon coffee immensely until I asked for a spoon to scoop out the foam on the bottom of the cup.  Oh yes. You can guess what happened next.  The young woman reached upon a shelf above and behind the counter and grabbed a plastic spoon by its bowl.  I gasped out loud.  “Wait,” I said, not lowering my voice. Both she and the barista looked at me.  “Flu,” I said.  Neither of them seemed perturbed and the young woman quickly reached for a different spoon and handed it to me by its handle.

I sat back down, reflecting on how many times I had witnessed something similar to this incident over the last few years despite that public service announcements in Fall and Winter now often admonish us to wash our hands frequently during Flu Season.  We are contagious, we are reminded.  We get colds and viruses and we give them.  Little gifts to the public.  Bugs offered with a smile.

Oh, I am getting old, I thought.  I remember when a good hygiene class was routinely a part of the elementary curriculum.  Then, my thoughts quickly turned to standards and to training, both of which I still believe are important.  I like young people a lot. I like their vivacity and their spontaneity.  Yet some of them seem to have missed out on the training that would allow them to understand the connections between the little details that may have larger ramifications.   Surely they need to understand that prevention is important.  Of course, I am older, and I am now more vulnerable.

Why make a big deal about it, one might ask.  Such a little thing compared with say, the violence saturating various countries in the world, especially the Middle East.  My answer would be that standards matter because they indicate that we care; we care about each other, even the strangers we meet in public.

Democracies demand civil behavior.

–Judith R-G

When Glamour Seemed Possible

Re-edited to pick up typos

A Whole Life

copyright 2015 by Raunig-Graham

In another time frame, I might have been known to some, not many, but to a few, probably my mother, maybe my father, or likely one of my sisters, as a clotheshorse. Not that I had a lot of stunning, fashionable outfits. But clothes, including  —  in Nancy Drew parlance — frocks, I did like.   Seeing myself now at age 71 in some of those long ago ensembles brings a new smile.

There I am in a Navy blue velvet, the one with the big lace collar, in my kindergarten class picture. It wasn’t my favorite in those days. There  were two summer dresses in voile, each with an organdy redingote, one in tomato red over a white sundress with red polka dots, the other in lavender over a flowered fabric: the little girl ensembles remain favorites 60 some years later. They were hand-me-downs, but…

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When Glamour Seemed Possible

copyright 2015 by Raunig-Graham

In another time frame, I might have been known to some, not many, but to a few, probably my mother, maybe my father, or likely one of my sisters, as a clotheshorse. Not that I had a lot of stunning, fashionable outfits. But clothes, including  —  in Nancy Drew parlance — frocks, I did like.   Seeing myself now at age 71 in some of those long ago ensembles brings a new smile.

There I am in a Navy blue velvet, the one with the big lace collar, in my kindergarten class picture. It wasn’t my favorite in those days. There  were two summer dresses in voile, each with an organdy redingote, one in tomato red over a white sundress with red polka dots, the other in lavender over a flowered fabric: the little girl ensembles remain favorites 60 some years later. They were hand-me-downs, but that didn’t matter to me. And white crocheted gloves added a certain touch, worn always only until September 1.

Jump ahead two or so years, and I am walking down the aisle in the Cathedral in my new deep purple curly wool coat and feeling smug wearing my new pink beret. Humility at age nine wasn’t much of a factor.

In junior high days in the 1950s, a clotheshorse didn’t have much opportunity, but high school days provided ample choice. Those were the days of pleated plaid wools and sweaters of every color and hue. Babysitting money could be applied to lay-aways at shops only too willing to accommodate the teenaged- fashionista. I can see myself at 15 in a memorable dark green black watch plaid frock with long sleeves and a white pique bib with tiny black buttons. A patent leather belt cinched the full gathered cotton skirt. How I swooned over the smooth black leather slip-ons chosen to complete this little number. They looked vedy, vedy British, I thought at the time, and emulating the Brits, or anything European in those days, seemed sophisticated, sophistication being a state of being that any striving girl was eager to achieve. We all knew back then that England did wool,  Italy did leather, and Belgium did lace; France did some of each.

This era was pre-hippy, pre-rebellion, pre-anti-establishment, pre-women’s movement, so we relished the mode presented by Paris and New York through four-color magazines like “Seventeen.” It packaged pages of glamorous photos no teenager of that day could hope to match.

A demure white linen edged with a strip of peppermint pink at the neckline, and at the hem,  with a sweet, delicate embroidery of tiny flowers near the top.  (It greeted an old friend at the airport.) A Navy blue corduroy suit. (Purchased in a now defunct but then trendy boutique located in an old mansion; it went with me to my first professional job.) A tomato red tea-length crepe printed with black splotches that sported a long row of large black buttons down the front. (It swished down the main staircase at a symphony concert.)

How do I reconcile those various outfits that so beguiled me with the clothes  I don today: comfortable slacks and often inexpensive knit tops usually worn with ankle socks and flat shoes? Is it lack of money, laziness, or simply  the inevitability of age? Perhaps, a bit of each. Nevertheless, it still feels wonderful when a occasion calls for something well-chosen, an ensemble that pleases at least me when I look in the mirror. In the last few years, I have not hesitated to stop a stranger to compliment her or his apparel. Such a person deserves applause.

Times have changed and no one wants to be a slave to clothes,  or to be dictated to on what is wearable. Unfortunately,  today’s styles have become casual to the point of slovenly. “Let it all hang out, ” a plea to let go of overdone strictures 40 years ago, was apparently taken literally by some and eventually became  the mainstream. Yet, it’s  apparent to me now that one of the reasons a lot of us tuned in to the hugely popular “Downton Abbey” is the costuming for both women and men. Those gorgeous designs the characters are so lucky to wear keep me guessing. Is it silk? Is that one wool? Maybe chambray. And the color combinations. Inspired. Plus,  these sumptuous clothes are being given their due because  the actresses and actors showing them carry themselves impeccably.

When I think about those old closets, now empty, I cherish the words of Helen Keller, “So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.”

–Judith R-G

Etiquette and Elocution

Copyright 2015 by Raunig-Graham

A few months ago, a friend of mine who had moved to this city from another state, mentioned that he thought we lived in a terribly noisy city.  Hadn’t I noticed? The level of noise bothered him.  Had I become inured to it?  No, I had not.  In fact, it bothered me as well. Restaurants are particularly notorious, I was thinking, especially for someone with hearing loss, the unfortunate situation in which I now find myself. Noise in public seems to be the new normal.  It’s as if the kind of voice used at a football game is perfectly acceptable elsewhere, even in what used to be a place for relaxation.

A recent outing on a Friday evening with a second friend proved so noisy for both of us that we couldn’t even exchange two words of conversation.  Our vain attempts at a few phrases  left us angry and disappointed, so we glumly ate our food in silence and quickly left. It was an odious experience of noise pollution. Maybe, I thought later, it’s time to introduce etiquette classes into the school curriculum.  And maybe an elocution class, though it focuses on public speaking,  might carry over into personal conversations by the time students have become adults.  Some noise is natural to children;  this restaurant crowd was composed of adults.

I have been reflecting for some time now on how we sound to others and on whether it makes a difference.  Of course, I would contend that it does.  I might even suggest that intonation in our English speech in the last few years has changed society.  One could argue that it’s the other way around  —  that society has changed the way we speak, which is undoubtedly true.  Still, in my view, a case can be made that day-to-day speech has become harsher, gruffer, rougher, and louder.  Such a common way of speaking in turn makes us feel that society has become less civilized.

Today, on a public bus, people sitting up front seem to think nothing of yelling at someone in the back to get someone else’s attention.  Such passengers seem completely oblivious that they might be disturbing their fellow passengers.  And a bus rider sitting by the window wouldn’t find it unusual to glance out and see, and hear, someone on the sidewalk yelling at someone else as much as half-a-block or more away.  Gone are the days when people expect to have a quiet, pleasant bus ride. Public behavior doesn’t mean what it did 50 or maybe even 20 years ago, and I can’t exempt my own lapses.  Nor am I suggesting that we all ought to speak as if we are in the Intensive Care Ward of a hospital. There are times when a raised voice is demanded. A more casual and relaxed public behavior, however,  doesn’t mean we now have a right to be inconsiderate of others.

Then there’s the new telephone behavior, where a voice can sound hostile, disgusted, patronizing, or accusatory.  Unfortunately, what such sounds often do is provoke the listener into using a similarly unfriendly tone. Having experienced more than a few such phone voices, I decided to see what I could find on the Internet about tone of voice, particularly related to personality. While researching, I ran across a wonderful list of words put together by the Macmillan Dictionary people. It’s a list that can be used to describe different kinds of voices.

This list defined the “penetrating” voice as one “so high or loud that it makes you slightly uncomfortable.”  Then there was the “raucous” voice, which also is loud and sounds rough. Two other voices that won the “rough” award were “gravelly” and “gruff.” The “shrill” voice was considered “very unpleasant.”  It occurred to me that we may have forgotten such adjectives, as well as the good ones that describe voices:  modulated, soft-spoken, silvery, husky, matter-of-fact, appealing.  I might add the cheerful voice and the quiet, confident voice to that list.

It’s clearly not just what we say, the words and phrases we choose to express ourselves, but also how we say it that affects our interactions with people. If we fail to recognize that our interactions matter, whether with strangers or the important people in our lives, we have lost something precious. I think respect is the word that comes to mind.  We need to be able to respect others and hope they will respect us as well.  It’s the glue that keeps society from falling apart.

Skip a stone in a pond and watch the ripples on the water.

–Judith R-G

Art to Touch One’s Soul

One of the real joys of being of a certain age is the possibility of making new discoveries. Emile Galle is one of mine.  Such a splendorous name! Full of cachet. As if his parents knew he would be headed for a distinguished, even grand path. His name, French of course, should have an accent slanted right over the “E” in Emile and over the “e” in Galle, so that it would be pronounced something like “A-Meal Gall-A.”  When I encountered Galle for the first time a few months ago, I felt immediately compelled to learn about him. Just three pieces of his art glass housed in a gallery display case, sent me scurrying  to the library. My world expanded.

Though Emile Galle died in 1904, his contributions to the world of  decorative art remain quite alive. He gained recognition in his own time and his art is still celebrated in museums around the world. He is credited with being the first glass artist to attach his signature to his work. Toward the end of his short life — he lived just 58 years — he subscribed to and also influenced the Art Nouveau Movement. He experimented freely in order to become an expert in the techniques of glassmaking. To my surprise, this prolific artist worked not only in glass; he also designed and produced memorable wood furniture. He used the technique of marquetry in both.  It is Galle’s glass, however, with which I have become completely enthralled.

When I first encountered those three cameo glass pieces on display at the Seattle Art Museum, their beauty caused me to gasp.  The exquisite coloration of a small, almost luminous dish, light yellow deepening to light gold almost gave off an aura.  It seemed to wear a halo.  Then a small vase with a ruby floral motif entwined around its body. Finally, the tall opaque vase onto which dark maroon leaves and scarlet globes of fruit decorate its white body that shifts to shades of deep orange to amber. It evoked a certain era, one that seemed a little more refined and romantic than our current one. Elegant. I was smitten.

A quick trip to the Internet produced an abundance of information on Galle.  I learned that he had inherited a successful glass enterprise from his father, Charles, who had established it in the Lorraine area of France.  The production of glass had existed there since the late 1400’s. With that history, Emile, who was born in 1846, could easily have focused solely on the manufacture of utilitarian or commercial glass; his factory produced and sold a lot of it. But Emile Galle’s love of nature, his curiosity about the bugs and insects living among the plants and flowers that he inspected on his ventures in Nancy where he lived as a boy, kindled a desire to study botany, which he did, in Germany, after he finished his studies at the local lycee.  Eventually, he was able to incorporate that knowledge and passion for nature into his unique glass art.

Flowers and insects would become the basis for Galle designs on hundreds of beautiful chubby or cylindrical vases, bottles, cruets, ewers, plates, bowls, perfume bottles, lamps, and even cigar cups. Buds that were about to effloresce and blooms and leaves in decay. Nasturtiums and peach blossoms.  Roses and hydrangeas. Lilies and orchids.  Butterflies, cicadas and grasshoppers.  They all made their way into or onto Monsieur Galle’s  layers of glass.  Who would imagine that spindly legs and beady little insect eyes could adorn a vase or dish that would end up in museums visited by thousands of people from around the world? His imagination and understanding of the natural world applied to limited edition glass objects could even touch the soul.

Photos on the Internet and in some of the several books on Emile Galle give testimony to the variety of this prolific French artist’s designs. But whether colored in the lightest pale pink or sky blue, in orange or a misty lavender, tender representations of nature added to or embedded in the surface of the glass make these pieces unique.  A lamp in the shape of a mushroom incorporates a bronze base curling up a green stem, for example, and seed pods attach to the mushroom “shade.”  Branches and leaves in various phases of growth or  decay, provide a connection to the natural world.  Japanese and Egyptian art designs and philosophy all influenced Galle, helping him to achieve the artistic results he desired. Those subtle influences, combined with the effort he put into learning new techniques, and the expert carvers and souffleurs de verre that he employed, allowed Galle to create pieces that gained him a reputation in his own lifetime and beyond.

Undoubtedly, the best place to become truly acquainted with Emile Galle would be the Musee de l’Ecole de Nancy in France. According to the museum’s website, more than 450 pieces produced by Galle’s atelier can be found there.  This master of glass, both commercial and limited edition pieces, once served as president of the ecole (school) in this historic city. If unable to travel to Europe, Galle’s glass art can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Art Institute, The Minneapolis  Art Institute, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, at The Seattle Art Museum, and probably at several others.

copyright 2015 by Raunig-Graham

Esoteric Pursuits

Names.  They have long held a fascination for me. My interest probably started in childhood when I played with dolls. At around age six, I gave two of my dolls, what we called “Big Girl” dolls in those days, what I thought were French names, Denise and Elise. Sensual names. Sensual sounds. I have since learned that Elise is a German name. My baby doll twins, dubbed Taffy and Sandy, deserved cute names, and back then I thought twins had to have names that rhymed.  How I knew that Sandy was a diminutive of Alexander, I can’t imagine.  Probably because of my highly intelligent mother.

But why did I choose those names and not something like Alice and Roberta for the grown-up dolls, and maybe Rosa and Roland for the “babies?” It was the sound, I think now, and the way the words felt on my tongue. I had an affinity for language that seemed beautiful to me in the first case, and the twins’ names were fun to say. As a girl, I wasn’t thinking about what a name meant.

A few years ago, I discovered the field of onomastics, the study of names. There was even a society to join for those dedicated to the study of names.  Fabulous, I thought.  Other people out there as eccentric as I was interested in this esoteric discipline.  Work, and other interests at the time, prevented me from joining the organization. Now, I have learned, interest in onomastics has grown considerably and academics are pursuing research that enriches the understanding of names for all of us.  It is definitely a great time to add my name to the rosters of those inclined toward names.  The Internet makes research easy, even for the neophyte.

One of the websites that provides a wealth of information on names and prompts some wondrous exploration, is called “Behind the Name.”  The site points out that onomastics is a discipline connected to linguistics and history, as well as to psychology and anthropology  and other areas of study. What a convenient Internet tool for would be parents, for teachers, for writers, for actors and actresses! Or simply for the lovers of names, like me.

On the site, you can find out which names were most popular last year in different countries, or which names are trending at the moment. You can look up the derivation of your own name or your spouse’s or that of your children, siblings, or friends. Do their names match their personalities? Good question. Maybe there’s a study out there. What about how or whether a name affects academic performance? Some researchers are studying that. I can imagine that a young couple might read what such studies conclude and may change an initial choice for their yet to be born progeny.

The choice of a name, whether for your child, or for the protagonist in the novel you are writing is seldom based on just one criteria.   In choosing a name for a book or a play, a writer may indeed want to connect a character’s name to a theme of the book. In choosing a child’s name, traditions within a person’s family may dictate the choice.  Trying to come up with a name that is unique is and will be memorable to others is often another consideration. The French writer Anna Gavolda named one of the main  characters in her well-received novel, Hunting and Gathering, Phililbert Marquet de la Durbelliére.  Didn’t that just fit his aristocratic background? Who could possibly forget a name like that?

An esoteric pursuit can turn into a love affair.

–Judith R-G