March 19, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
I’m not saying I smuggled a cheese ball through security and onto a domestic flight. That would be illegal, and I would never encourage anyone to break the law, by word or deed. Besides, only a total sociopath would have the hubris to boast of having pulled off such a feat.
But let’s say I had. Let’s say the cheese ball in question contained not just cheddar, blue cheese, and cream cheese, but also mustard and many seasonings. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it had been rolled in finely chopped nuts. Let’s say I’d thought, These cheese balls are so good, and I’ve made such a large batch, that I believe I shall bring one to my parents. Read More »
March 18, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
I remember a local TV commercial that was, by the standards of the day, pretty high-concept, if low budget. It advertised the services of an area veterinary clinic, and it portrayed two dogs on leashes, Muppet Babies–style (the viewer only ever saw the owners’ legs).
“What’s the matter?” says the friendly Labrador to the tiny white Maltese.
When the Maltese responds, her voice is high with strain, vibrating with nerves. “Ooh! Gotta go to the vet!” she squeaks. “Gotta go to the vet!” Read More »
March 17, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
We live in the age of the Cake Wreck. Online, no confectionary disaster, no late-night slip of the icing tube, goes undetected or unmocked. It’s all in good fun, and at the end of the day, presumably most of the desserts still taste okay. Part of the issue is that there’s so much cake perfection in the world today. At any moment, Pinterest and Instagram are teeming with examples of whimsy and skill at which most of us can only marvel. Between the ludicrous and the ideal, what’s left? Read More »
March 16, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
Some claim that Anna Atkins—born on this day in 1799, in Kent—was the first woman to take a photograph. Others that hers were the first photos ever printed in book form.
Atkins was a botanist, an artist, and an accomplished nature photographer. Her father was a scientist, and he encouraged his daughter’s early interest in botany. Both her father and her eventual husband, John Pelly Atkins, were friendly with the pioneering photographer and inventor William Henry Fox Talbot; it was probably Talbot who introduced her to the techniques she would come to use in her art.
In her books on British algae and her later work on plants and ferns, Atkins worked by contact-printing cyanotype photograms, and by “photogenic drawing,” the process by which light-sensitive paper is exposed to the sun. Read More »
March 13, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
Even in its heyday, the Thirteen Club didn’t do much. While the society may have boasted five presidents among its (at any given moment) thirteen members, the fact that it could only meet when the calendar cooperated—the thirteenth—meant that its activities were necessarily somewhat curtailed. In any event, the Thirteen Club’s existence was always more important than its specifics: it had been established as a blow against superstition, friggatriskaidekaphobia, and the prevailing prejudice that’s existed toward Friday the thirteenth since (depending on who you ask) the Last Supper or a certain fateful dinner in Valhalla. The founding friggatriskaidekaphile was one Captain William Fowler. Fowler had attended P.S. 13; he built thirteen structures, fought in thirteen Civil War conflicts, belonged to thirteen clubs, and, whenever possible, did significant things on the thirteenth of any month. In 1882, he decided to make this enthusiasm official. Read More »
March 12, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
In the 1960s, Stevie Smith had a resurgence in popularity. The counterculture had a penchant for taking up older eccentrics—Dr. Bronner, for instance—and when the youth came calling, Smith was ready. After years of relative obscurity, the poet could finally take her place in the limelight. And did she ever.
Smith is a poet worthy of consideration, as Diane Mehta makes clear in these pages. But I’m talking less now about her tricky work than her performance. As the Poetry Archive summarizes it: “In the 1960s Smith built a popular reputation as a performer of her own work, playing up her eccentricity and ceremonially half-singing some of her poems in a quavering voice. She also made a number of broadcasts and recordings, her skillful and extensive use of personae lending itself particularly well to reading aloud.” Wrote the Financial Times of a 1969 performance at Festival Hall: “The small faun-shifted figure who darted on to the platform to open the second half was Stevie Smith, and she is a star.” Performance poetry—led by the New York School and later taken up by writers like Michael Horovitz and Beckett—had become popular in the UK, and this was clearly Smith’s medium. Writes Laura Severin in her essay “Becoming and Unbecoming: Stevie Smith as Performer,” Read More »