PRATIE PLACE

Thursday, July 31, 2008

[New York]: Garfield minus Garfield

Boy, am I tired of packing.

Here, a mindless distraction I enjoyed: this guy took all the images of Garfield out of the comic book Garfield. Many of the cartoons are actually better - weirder, more thought provoking - his way.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Judy's "Haiku Bike Journey"

My friend Judy is back from her 1815 mile solo bike ride across the west and has posted gorgeous pictures, commentary, and haiku at "crazyguyonabike.com."


She writes:

I was unsure of my physical capabilities in serious mountains, and began to train in earnest, albeit in a 50+-year-old's fashion, a few months before my departure date. But I was more worried about my mental capabilities: could I manage for five weeks without friends and family, without familiar routines, without someone to talk to daily? How could I prepare for the mental and emotional challenge?

I decided during my training rides prior to the trip that I should perhaps find a way to focus my head through poetry. I tried writing a Haiku as I rode-a short poem that captured the essence of that day's ride. It worked like a charm: I spent time really absorbing my environment to find the most important thing to capture, and then I spent time working with words to express most perfectly what I felt or saw. Hills went by without suffering; the miles passed easily as I considered images and counted off syllables: 5, 7, 5.

And so, on June 14, 2008, after a reasonable amount of preparation and a little Haiku practice, I flew out to Western Oregon and began the last, long leg of my journey. I traveled light: I brought no cell phone, no odometer, no IPod, no laptop. I brought minimum supplies and clothes, a set of maps, and a small flip book of index cards with my pre-planned daily itinerary on each page. At the end of each day of riding I would jot down notes of the day on the back of the card and then write down the Haiku I had finalized during that day. Over 31 days I biked across Oregon and Idaho, down through Montana and Wyoming, and into a little of Colorado, absorbing the scenery at close range and writing my poems as I went along, to complete my journey near Denver.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Menticia goes riding and listens to Billy Jonas

This morning I picked Menticia up early and we drove out to Greensboro, where the Gentleman Farmer gave her a riding lesson.

She was quite nervous at first and, to be honest, so was I - I had trouble sleeping last night worrying that she would be too timid to have a good time!


The Gentleman Farmer was quite patient and said "you won't have to do anything you're not ready for." He gave her a brush and she gently (maybe too gently) brushed this patient, elderly horse named Chance.


A running commentary on the difference in temperament between Chance and my donkey Jethro began, and Jethro did not come out very well in the comparison. (The Gentleman Farmer thinks Jethro is crazy and thinks I'm crazy to have him.)


To see what happened afterwards, go to the bottom of the post...













Before you leave your riding lesson, you must kiss the nice horses...


... all of them.


On the way home I put on something I thought there was a fighting chance Menticia would enjoy: the Billy Jonas cd Life So Far. She read the liner notes carefully and said she liked the music. At that point I was so happy and content it almost hurt.


Here is one of the songs (mp3 file at his website).

God is In
God is in the child's eyes, see them wide, wondrous, wise
God is in the rain and snow, and each snowflake: this we know
God is in the trees and air; the rocks, the birds, the bees, the bears
God is in the clouds above; God is in each act of love
God is in the oceans deep, some say God goes there to sleep
God is in the mountains high, whistling a lullaby
God is in the darkest woods, God is in your neighborhood
God is in a place that's near; sometimes it's just not so clear
God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in

God is in your strangest pleasure; some say God is into leather
God is into body piercing; in your nipple, lip, and nose ring
God is in your new tattoo, in your scars and birthmarks too
God is in your brand new nose in your control top pantyhose
God is in the latest fad, except for bungy jumping -- thats dangerous and bad
God is in your cellular phone, God will not leave you alone
God is in the internet, wondering why you're not there yet
God is in Vogue, and Spin, and Rolling Stone cuz God is IN! God is in .... God is in ....
God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in

God is in the Christian house; bread and wine and holy cross
God is in the Jewish home; shalom chaverim, shalom
God is in the Muslim, Allah hu akbar salaam
God is in the Hindu way, jai bagwan! namaste
God is in those dancing Pagans, in each drop of perspiration
God is in the Wicken coven; twelve plus one -- a perfect dozen!
God is in the Druid's song, that's why they go on so long
God is in the Buddhist’s chair saying "don't just do something -- sit there!"
God is in the Vatican; God goes there for vacation
God is in the Quaker meeting, sleeping 'til they start the singing
God is in your guru; how do you spell that? "Gee, you - are - you"
God is in the atheist, saying "yeah, I don't exist"
God is in the flowing Tao, then and now and now and now
God is in the Rastaman; I and I and on and on
God is in the Moonie wedding; who gets who -- begin the betting
God is in the Hare Krishna, rub their heads and make a wish now
God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in

God is in your bank account, sometimes juggling the amount
God is in your ATM, counting bills and stacking them
God is in your college fund, laughing cuz it's gone gone gone
God is in your IRA, adding interest every day
God is in your pocket change, your job is giving it to strangers
God is in the beggar's cup; sometimes God just fills it up
God is in the empty hand, spent it all on cheap Almaden;
God was in the S & L's but left, that's why they went to hell
God is in the Wal-Mart; greets you with a shopping cart
God is in your old jalopy, makes it go when it should not be
God is in the Greyhound bus, sitting in back, watching us
God is in 'tourist class,' on a frequent flyer pass
God is in the pilot light; dancing through the night
God is in the radio, Wolfman Jack told me so
God is in the microwave, unless you try to use something metal -- then the microwave is
the devil; also don't microwave with plastic wrap cuz it forms molecular bonds with
your food and turns your intestines into Tupperware
God is in your Tupperware, but not the lids so buy some spares
God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in .... God is in

God is in the ozone layer; holier and holier
God is in the atom bomb, or at least the atom bomber's mom
God is in Chechnya, Sobrenica, Slovenica, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovia, Montana,
Oklahoma
God is incredulous at all the stuff we do to us
God is inspired by those who fly and those who try
God is insatiable so sing and dance way past full
God is in you and me, someday God will help us see that
God is in love with love so live and love and that's enough
God is inside of you and all you don't and all you do
God is in your greatest doubt, the jury's out, the doctor's out, but
God is in, God is in, God is in your darkest sin, and out and in, and out and in, and God is
in .... Goddess in .... God is Zen .... Got us in .... God is in


Then we went and stuffed our faces at the excellent Fiesta Grill on Highway 54.

.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fabulous cityscape pictures

Go see these wonderful pictures at the Wired site.

.

Labels:

Weekends in New York

Some times in New York, we have fabulous parties like this:



Then things start to wind down a little bit and everybody checks their cell phones. The Companionable Atheist says that you know the party is over when everybody starts checking their cell phone (are they waiting for text messages from their mothers telling them to go to bed?)


Soon, even the most fabulous social butterflies are getting a little snoozy:


And then we go home to bed, and usually we spend a lot of the next day like this.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nature may misfire, but roosters never lose hope.

The Buckeye hens I've had the longest tend to go "broody" quite often - this means they stop laying eggs because they'd like to hatch some. They commence sitting all day and all night. However, they sit haphazardly -- meaning even if the activities that followed the pictures below were successful, the hens wouldn't tend the eggs 23 days straight and they'd never hatch.

For a few days one of the hens was sitting in the top box, which was empty. Then the other hen started sitting below, on an actual bunch of eggs.

After a few days they got lonely and started sitting together, both in the top bunk, ignoring the eggs in the bottom bunk.


Today I got aggravated. When hens are "brooding" they don't lay eggs and hardly eat or drink, they just sit in there the whole dang day. What's the point of that?

So I threw out those neglected eggs, because if they are half-incubated there might be things inside a person wouldn't want to see.

Then I performed a lockout by disattaching the metal door from the space-age German electronic eye light-sensing door opener.

The hens couldn't believe it.


Soon two roosters came thundering into the area. Red Alert!


The hens felt cornered. They didn't want to leave the top rung of the ladder, just in case the door should magically open and allow them to resume sitting together in the top bunk. But the roosters were in harrassment mode and getting away from them was a high priority.


Shortly after this picture was taken, both hens abandoned the ladder and ran away with the roosters running after them. Everybody was squawking.



Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Labels:

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Canned."

This is a beer can label I adapted from the scan (right). The original colors were kind of drab.

Hmm, just now I realized I wrote "Vellow" instead of "Yellow." If this were a gig I'd be fired.



Technorati Tags:

Labels:

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Canned."

"ONE FABULOUS IDEA IN CAN: 99¢

Acrylic on canvas

Mark



Technorati Tags:

Labels:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"The Big Windfall," by Sholom Aleichem, translated by me, part three

I'm working on this for Scott Davis, proprietor of JewishStoryTeller.com and author of "Souls are Flying," with the sage counsel of Musia Lakin.

My son Zed read part one and part two and said "this is some shaggy dog story!"

In part one and part two, Tevye - at the time a bitterly poor man who supports his wife and many daughters by dragging logs to town and selling them - is making his weary way home one evening when he comes upon two rich ladies lost in the woods. They nag him into turning his wagon back towards Boyberik (it's like a fancy gated community) and taking them to their dacha (fancy country home). On the way he talks to himself, wondering if he can make a little money from his kind act.


The Big Windfall, (A Groyse Gevins) part three
Sholom Aleichem


God sent you this encounter, such as comes along once in a hundred years, how could you not have settled on a price right at the start, then you'd know what you're getting out of this!

Whether you're talking about justice, or common sense, if it's from the point of view of simple humanity, or of Yiddish law or Russian law -- or even from the point of view of I don't know what -- well, is it a sin if you lick the chicken bone, pluck the fruit that's right in front of you? Here's your chance: stop the horse, you cow, tell them this and that, say it straight out: "I get exactly so much and so much from you, everything's fine, but if not - I ask you, get down from the wagon!"

Only then I say to myself again, "You're such a cow, Tevye! You don't know. One can't sell the pelt off a bear in the woods [because the bear is still wearing it i.e. there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip], or as the goys say: 'You haven't caught the bird yet but you're already plucking it.' "

"Why don't we travel a little quicker?" say the women and they nudge me from behind.

"How is it that you're so short of time? Nothing good," I say, "comes from hurrying!" I take a sidelong look at my little characters: seemingly, women, the usual kind, one with a silk kerchief, the other with a wig, sitting and looking at each other and whispering together.

"Is it much farther?" they ask me.

"Are we almost there? Definitely not," I say. "Here, soon," I say, "we go down a hill, then up a hill, after that," I say, "we go again down a hill and up a hill and right after that," I say, "we have a steep uphill, and from there the road goes straight, straight to Boiberik."

"What a shlimazl," one calls to the other.

"The nightmare just drags on," says the other.

"It's the last straw!" says the first again.

"He's crazy," says the other.

"Exactly," I think to myself, "as usual, I'm a crazy man, that I let these women lead me by the nose."

"Where, for example, will you be wanting me to throw you off the wagon, my dear women?" I call to them.

"What?! Throw us off?! What's that mean?" they say.

"Coachmen speak this way," I say. "In our language we'd say, rather: 'In what vicinity would you bid me have you disembark, should we come,' " I say, " 'to Boyberik, with the Supreme One's aid, healthy and strong, if God will kindly give us the gift of life?' As they say: 'Better to ask [directions] twice rather than to get lost once.' "

"Oh, that's what you mean? You can be so good as to let us off at the green dacha by the river, on the other side of the woods. Do you know where it is?"

"Why wouldn't I know?" I say. "I know Boyberik as well as I know my own home. I should only have 2,000 dollars for all the logs I've carried here. Just recently, the summer before last," I say, "I set two large bundles of wood against that green dacha. A really rich guy lived there, from Yehupetz, a millionare-chik, with at least a thousand karbn (unit of money) and maybe two thousand."

"He's living there still!" both women call to me and look at each other, whispering and laughing.

"Sha," I say, " 'if the trouble from carrying is so great' - if it can really be that you have some kind of connection with him, would it perhaps be," I say, "it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to favor me, have a little talk with him for my sake, a favor for me, a job, some position, I don't know what.

"I know," I say, "a young man, his name is Israel, he was a nobody with nothing; he got himself to Boyberik, nobody knows how. And to make a long story short, now he's a V.I.P., now he earns maybe 20 karbn a week, maybe as much as forty, who knows! Some people have the luck! You know, for example, what happened with our shochet's son-in-law? What would have happened to him, if he hadn't gone away to Yehupetz? True, the first few years he was ground down, he almost starved to death. But then - no harm to him, I wish it would happen to me - he's already sending money home. He already has a mind to take his wife and kids away from here. But he himself isn't allowed to stay there [he's too low class], ay, that's really the question: where DOES he stay? He really tortures himself - a pity, I say. Live long enough, anything can happen...

"Here you have," I say, "the river, and here's the big dacha," and I drive right in as though I belong there, in a rage, straight into the courtyard.

As soon as we were spotted there was an outcry, a clamor: "Oy, Grandma! Mom! Auntie! You found the way home! Mazel tov! Gevald, where were you? We were out of our heads all day! We sent messengers into the woods. We thought it was something from a story, maybe wolves? Robbers, God forbid? What's the story?"

"The story's a fine one: wander in the woods, get thoroughly lost, wander so very far, maybe ten versts. Suddenly a Jew... what kind of Jew? A shlimazl with a horse and wagon... we could barely prevail on him to help us in our troubles..."

"That's terrible, what a dismal nightmare; alone, wholly without a protector? What a story, what a story, thank God 'for he hath brought you through danger.' "

So, in brief, they brought lamps out into the courtyard, prepared the table, and began bringing hot samovars full of oceans of tea, with sugar, with jam, with good pastries, with fresh butter-rolls, good smelling, all kinds of comestibles, the most expensive delights, rich broths and finely cooked things, lots of goose, with the best wine, cherry and plum shnaps.

I was standing some distance away, and I thought - no evil eye - how the rich folk of Yehupetz - no evil eye - eat and drink. I'm just a pawn passed over. I thought to myself, "one should be a rich man!" It seemed to me that what fell off the table onto the ground around here would be enough to feed my children for a whole week, until Shabbos.

"Dear God, gevald, dear Friend, You are really a big God and a good God, a God of loving-kindness and justice, how is it that You give away to one man everything, to the other absolutely nothing? For one, butter-rolls, for the other, a plague on the first-born son?"

But then on the other hand I thought to myself: "You're a big idiot, Tevye, I swear! How is this relevant? You want maybe to dictate to Him how to manage the world? Maybe, if He makes it this way, it should be this way. It's a sign for you - when things should be different, they will be different.

"Ay, what? But really, why shouldn't things be different? Is the reason 'we were slaves' - is that why we are such little bits of Jews in the world? A Jew should live with hope and faith; he should believe, first, that there is a God here in the world, and we should find hope in Him, who lives forever, that things will, maybe, if He wills it, get better."

"Sha, where is that Jew?" I hear somebody say, "has that shlimazl already ridden away?"

"God forbid," I call from a ways off. "What do you think, that I'll ride off that way, without a goodbye? Good evening to you, 'shalom aleichem,' 'blessed are those who are already sitting where they live and having a nice meal,' eat healthy, you're welcome to it."

"Come here!" they say to me, "Why are you standing there in the dark? Let's look at you at least, to see what kind of face you have. Maybe you'd like to take a bit of brandy?"

"A little brandy? Oy," I say, "who would turn that down? How does it go in the book? As Rashi says: 'God is God and brandy is brandy.' L'chaim!" I say, and toss down a cup. "Let God give," I say, "and may you always be rich and have great satisfaction. May Jews," I say, "always be Jews! May God give them," I say, "health and strength, such that they shall be able to overcome misfortune."

"What are your names," the rich man himself (a good-looking Jew in a skullcap) calls to me in lousy Hebrew. "Where are you from? Where do you live? What's your occupation? Are you married? Do you have children? How many?"

"Children?" I say, "One can't complain. If each child," I say, "would only be, as my Goldie says, a million bucks, well I'd be richer than the richest guy in Yehupetz. The problem," I say, "is that poor isn't rich, crooked isn't straight, as the book says: 'that which separates the sacred from the profane,' the one that's got the dough is the happy one.

"Actually it's Brodsky who has the dough and I who have the daughters. And if one has daughters, forget laughter, oh well, never mind, God himself is also a father. 'He carries out,' that's to say he lives above and we toil away here below.

"One slaves, one drags logs, does one have any choice? As the Gemarah says: 'if there is no mentsh then you must be the mentsh.' Is a herring fish? The whole misfortune is - one must eat. As my granny, rest her soul, used to say, 'when the mouth lies in the dirt, the head goes in gold.' If only we didn't have to eat, we'd be rich. Don't be offended," I say, "nothing straight comes from a crooked ladder and nothing crooked comes from straight talk, especially," I say, "on an empty stomach."

"Give the Jew something to eat," the rich man called - and there, created on the table, a feast, 'of all the kinds of fish and flesh,' fish, meat, nicely made things, and chicken quarters, and gizzards and liver without end.

"Would you like something to eat?" they ask. "Go, wash up!" "You have to ask a sick man if he wants to eat, but don't ask a healthy man -- just give him the food."

on to part four ...

Technorati Tags: ,

Labels:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

[New York]: Adventures in Asheville, and on Ebay

I should say that [New York] is not going to be an appropriate header for me anymore - I'm moving to [California] in a couple of weeks to begin a PhD program in history.

I just spent a very trying hour trying to package a triangular object in a rectangular box for shipment. Whew. Why don't they make triangular boxes? Melinama is very good at this kind of thing, but unfortunately, she's not here to help. by the time I was finished, the somewhat wobbly, trapezoidal-shaped final project was so wrapped in white tape it looked like the mummy.

Some more pictures from our trip:

Here's ma, riding a fat, passive, slightly grouchy horse in the beautiful blue ridge mountains.



This was from a horseback ride tour we took that, in spite of its fancy signs and good advertising, was barely an outfit at all in the sense of caring whether customers showed up or not. When we drove up in a cloud of dust, there were about 40 saddled horses standing waiting to be ridden. With barely a word, they got us on two of these horses and pushed us along down this beautiful trail behind a teenage boy who was nearly as passive and mute as the horses themselves. He said not a word to us as we set out.



The only time the horses woke up from their stupor was when the people on the 1-hour tour split off from us (we were on the 2 hour tour.) You have never seen such a fuss! We kicked and pulled and kicked our horses, but they only turned in grouchy half circles, totally boycotting the extra 60 minutes of walking (which really turned out to be only another 40 minutes of walking or so, ahem). Mr. 16 year old (who continued smoking and texting throughout our tour) had to get off and haul the horses through the gate for their strenuous extra 40 minutes).




Here's ma in front of a garnet mine. The boy - on autopilot like the horses - got to the garnet mine and said "Now you have 10 or 15 minutes to explore the garnet mine" and lit up again. Neither ma nor I had any intention of walking into this exceedingly dark hole in the ground. But it seemed to be a mandatory destination of our ride, so we dutifully looked at it.

Here are some people playing bluegrass music and dancing at a public concert in an Asheville park. Mom does not like bluegrass because she thinks it is all played by Republicans, but really, can you think of a more harmless activity?



Now here are some other people playing at tents specifically set up for open jams at this same concert. What a lovely idea!



And here are some more people jamming.



This guy had some terrible problem with his hand, but he'd rigged up an amazing mechanical something or other so that he could play. He was proud of it!



And finally, here is the hugest hotel in Asheville, the Grove Park Inn, supposedly built by fine Italian masons, but we thought it was very ugly. Those Italian masons must have known better. I bet they hoped their own masters never found out what they did. Still, pretty amazing to look at.

Asheville Saturday morning: "Whitewater" rafting on the French Broad

Again selecting the company with the best website, Hannah chose Huck Finn Rafting and made us a reservation.

We arrived, as requested, half an hour early, leaving time for filling out forms that say customers will not sue if they get killed on the trip. That took 55 seconds so we spent the rest of the half hour looking at T-shirts. This was my favorite but it was only in kids' sizes.

The water level is still very low after last year's 100-year drought. In fact, the rafting trip of the previous afternoon had been cancelled and it looked like the afternoon trip on Saturday would be cancelled as well. So there was no white water. However, watching the "guides" figure out how to get us through the rocky channels under these low-water conditions was very entertaining. Sometimes the guide (who was festooned with tattoos) would yell "SLIDE RIGHT" and the left-side people would careen over into the embrace of the right-side people (luckily for me, that was Hannah). With weight only on one side, the raft could get through narrower channels on "two wheels."

The guides entertain each other with little games like (1) who will be the first to blow his whistle when somebody falls out of a raft, or (2) who can get his raftful of idiots through a challenging passageway without having to get out of the raft and push. Our guides also entertained themselves by mocking the guides of another company because they had to carry bailing pails and we didn't.

We laughed and laughed and the air was wonderful. We were let out of the raft a few times for little swims and then the guide hauled us back in like big fish he was landing, which in a sense I guess we were. They must see us as wallets which are unfortunately encased in idiot bodies.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In which we discover: picking your own berries does not necessarily result in a low carbon footprint

After our purchasing extravaganza Friday morning in the metropolitan Asheville crafts market, Hannah and I decided a trip into the country would make a nice Friday afternoon event.

There were several "pick your own blueberries" sites listed by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, and of the ones that advertised themselves as being within twenty minutes of Asheville, she chose the Long Branch Environmental Education Center because they had a nifty website and said they were only eighteen miles away.

From their website: "The land itself is 1635 acres of rugged wilderness and farmland ranging in elevation from 3,000 to 5,152 feet in the Newfound Mountain range, a side-chain between the Black Mountains to the east and the Great Smoky Mountains, 9 miles to the west." It was gorgeous, no question about that.

Of course, it turned out to be an exceedingly remote spot; it in fact took an hour to get there, rather than the twenty minutes they had estimated. The road was mostly uphill and (see left) my radiator boiled over after we'd bumped slowly up, up, up a craggy pitted gravelly road. We almost didn't make it. The car roared and smoked and stank and spat. It's good we'd (almost) gotten where we were going.


My van is 14 years old. I have been telling the mechanic "I want to keep driving this van until my son Zed graduates from college." For various reasons, this goal may have to be adjusted.


So instead of driving all the way to the parking lot, seeing as how the car was in grave need of a rest, we decided to stop just as you see here. We walked up the hill, yelling for the proprietor. The cellphone was getting no reception (heh) so we couldn't call him.

The path wound alongside this greenhouse which has plants growing in it, around it, and through it. The sign says "Community Center." This started to remind us of post-apocalyptic America.


We found a blueberry patch and the blueberries were wonderful. However, Hannah thought she would sit a bit and cogitate on the situation before getting to work.

Eventually the owner showed up. He told us his Educational Center must needs be, of course, far from civilization - it is educating people on self-sustainable living in the country. Solar, windpower, grow your own, etc.

He worked on educating us; I think he was a little bit annoyed that I'd asked if his "educational center" designation provided any tax advantages. He pointed to bee balm and said, "do you know what this is?" "Yes, bee balm," Hannah and I responded in unison. "Do you know its latin name?" "Yes, monarda." He was annoyed again.

His next piece of education was a success. He took us to see a big patch of Japanese wineberry, Rubus phoenicolasius, something we'd never seen before: incredibly sweet, tender, delicious small raspberries.

We picked a lot of wineberries and blueberries, and ending up paying this guy an awful lot, maybe as much as in a grocery store, because he pie-eyed us and said we should support his educational endeavors.

(I came away from this adventure eager to grow wineberries, only to find on google many scolding warnings that wineberries are an invasive exotic which does not belong here in North Carolina. Dang.)

Since the car had almost blown up on the way to his place, we were relieved to head back in a downward direction.

We stopped at this store for something to drink. It was chock-full of local color. I wished Hannah's boyfriend, the Companionable Atheist, were there to see the sights.


The store didn't look exactly new, so I'm not sure what the "Grand Opening" aspect of it was.


The proprietor came out and was very friendly. He explained the store had been there since 1953 but there had been an addition made in 1957. He shook his head and said "things sure have changed." Looking at his store, Hannah didn't really think so.


Technorati Tags:

I bought a Steven Miller cigarbox fiddle in Asheville

And here it is! (Click, as always, for larger view.)




At the Woolworth Walk I saw a display of cigar box fiddles by Steven Miller, and I bought one. It's gorgeous and plays pretty well, considering!

I'd seen this article about him in the Mountain Xpress. Excerpt:
Working out of Asheville Craftworks ... [Miller] is focusing on cigar-box fiddles for now [but] plans to steadily expand his business to include such other exotic instruments as frying-pan banjos and toy pianos, as well as more mainstream fare: guitars, mandolins, pochettes (small "pocket" fiddles) and even classical Stradivari-style violins.

Using vintage wooden boxes he buys mostly on eBay, Miller has crafted 39 cigar-box fiddles so far... Although he believes he practically has the cigar-box-fiddle market to himself, both here and elsewhere, he admits that they're not exactly selling like hotcakes.

... many famous musicians started their playing on such instruments, notes Miller. He cites such rock, folk, jazz, blues and country-music luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Blind Willie Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, Charlie Christian, Carl Perkins, George Benson, Roy Clark, Buddy Guy, Big Bill Broonzy, Eddie Lang, Josh White and Sleepy John Estes, among others.

"Cigar-box instruments basically started off as homemade instruments in the mid-19th century," says Miller. "Say you're a guy here in Buncombe County and you want to play a guitar, banjo, fiddle or something, but you don't have any money or any way of getting one. Cigars were being shipped in wooden boxes ... so you pick up a cigar box and say, ‘Well, I'm halfway there—all I need now is a neck and some strings.' That's literally how the idea started. My inspiration was to take that old idea and just do it as well as it could be done. I want to make the absolute best cigar-box fiddle anyone has ever seen."

... the instrument's defining feature is probably its graceful strut, which Miller says he invented. Of one piece with the neck, it extends across the box's entire underside, giving it the strength to handle the requisite string tension while maintaining its tuning.

Right now, he says, he struggles with refining the production process to make it more efficient. While $400 may seem like a lot for a cigar-box fiddle, the materials needed and the 20 hours of work it takes, on average, to make each instrument translate into a very low profit margin. Right now, he says, he's making about $3.62 per hour.
His website pointed me to an article called Jewish Vaudeville and the Cigar Box Fiddle in which Shane Speal writes:
In all my research, one of the most fascinating side-streets I've discovered is the tradition of one-string cigar box violins used in early 1900's Yiddish Vaudeville. ... One of the favorite gimmicks used by performers was a jug band style Klezmer music played on one-string cigar box fiddles, rubber hose horns and other homemade instruments.

Larry Fine of the Three Stooges was known as a virtuoso on the one-string.

Four years ago, I got an email from a Fiddlin' Lew Sellinger who told me about his Uncle Charlie, another one-string cigar box violinist from the Vaudeville Era. He said his uncle called the instrument a "Broomalin" because the neck was made with a broom handle and could make the instrument cry like a gorgeous soprano and sound like a human voice!

Charles Sellinger lived in New York City and was part of the Vaudeville scene prior to World War II. In addition to playing the one-string Broomalin, he also played musical saw and a rubber hose "Flexotone" trumpet of his own design.

Lew writes, "I remember my Uncle Charlie visiting us in Brooklyn and my mother was always confirming what a bad influence he was. Well, what do you expect with a background of being an expert in making crème de menthe in his bathtub while all the roughnecks were making beer and gin?"

When we hauled all our treasures back to the hotel, Hannah (who had been a strong proponent of this purchase) promptly painted this picture of the instrument. I hope she'll post a better picture of her picture, which she took back to Manhattan with her.

Technorati Tags: ,

Labels:

Find me on Google+