Wednesday, January 28, 2015

still-sound 208. Mudcloth, scissors and yew

Look at Rosie inspecting the camel saddle.  Brennan found it a few weeks ago and decided to use it as a stool in his living room.  The orange leather upholstering on the seat had seen better days, becoming a bit tattered along the seams.  He decided to reupholster it, went to a fabric store downtown and found African mud cloth.  I never heard of mud cloth but I like the way it looks and think Brennan made the perfect choice.  It looks like it would fit in a Commune-designed interior.  Commune is a Californian design group that combines elements of modernism with ethnicy, craftsy details. Their aesthetic appeals to me.  I bought Brennan a book about Commune for Christmas and we often look threw it while drinking wine.

 I helped Brennan sew because I like to sew and have done a lot of it.  I used to make sewn sculptures back in the day in London (which took forever to complete) so I practically pinned the fabric and threaded the needle with my eyes closed.  I'd call it muscle memory, but it's more like finger memory.

I brought the seat over to Brennan's last night.  The completed camel saddle fit the space perfectly. To thank me for my labor, Brennan gave me an exceptionally thoughtful present that he picked up at a Japanese store in Venice.  It was a pair of 'spring scissors'.  Only a few days ago I described an episode of Begin Japanology which focused on scissors in Japan.  Apparently spring scissors are only used in Japan although they originally came over from Europe many hundreds of years ago.  My favorite scene of the documentary was of an arrow maker using large spring scissors to trim the feathers at the end of an arrow.  The feather trimmings fell lightly on to an indigo-dyed fabric spread out on the floor.  I watched and thought how I would like to be an arrow maker.

When I got home I put my new scissors on the bookshelf in my bedroom next to boxes holding implements for the incense ceremony.  Hanging from the same bookshelf is a brush that my friend Yvettra gave me for Christmas.  It's made of a yew branch, the bristles are horsehair. I've been fascinated by yew ever since I was a teenager and attended a sung performance at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.  The piece was written in another language and I remember reading the translation which mentioned a yew tree.  I wondered what a yew tree looked like.  I now know because I've been interested in yew ever since that night.  I use the brush to dust off my shelves and shoes.

Monday, January 19, 2015

still-sound 207. Jeans

Sometimes some details have to be perfect, and you can not compromise. At this time in my life, my jeans must be perfect.

I got a pair of forest green jeans nearly two years ago from Levi's fancier, prestige line called Made & Crafted.  You can imagine...Made in the USA, perhaps from vintage looms, based on classic American patterns.  I loved the jeans and wore them nearly every day for over a year.  This isn't an exaggeration.  I still wear them regularly.  They fit my legs perfectly which is not true of most of my other jeans.  I won't wear skinny jeans anymore because only Goths or Emos wear skinny jeans now.  And a 42 year old Goth / Emo is very uncool.  I'm 42.

I decided that I needed to add another pair of jeans to my wardrobe - allowing me the possibility to rotate between two, perfect pairs.  I found some of the raw denim, indigo, selvedge variety in a shop in Venice called Stag. Made & Crafted, like the forest green jeans.  They were even the same style (called Tack).  In the changing room I rummaged through the garment looking for a tag claiming 'Made in the USA'.  They were made in Turkey.  Obviously I have nothing against Turkish clothing but I had expected Made & Crafted to be proudly made in the USA.  I mean, it's kind of the point...

I bought them anyway.  They're perfect jeans.  I wear them with black boots.  

The legs were too long and I cut and hand stitched a new hem but the hem was not perfect.  They need to have been executed on a factory machine.  I wore the jeans rolled up twice so that the hem was not visible at all - but still the imperfect hem niggled at me.

I brought the jeans to a store called Denim Doctor, exactly one block away from the perfume store where I work.  I spoke with a man who introduced himself as Osweyo.  Being an unusual name, he spelled the name immediately after saying it.  I'm not exactly sure if the name was Osweyo in fact - he said it and spelled it all too fast for me to register the information.  I asked him how much it would cost to secure my hem with a sewing machine.  He said "Normally $25, but for you, $20." He wrote 'Rush' on the work ticket and told me that they'd be ready by Tuesday.  I asked him what the stitch would be like, and he answered 'the classic chain stitch'.  There was a display of Japanese magazines in the front of the store.  Apparently Denim Doctor was featured in nearly all of them.

$20 was a bit more than what I had expected to pay for the alteration.  J Crew and Nordstrom does hems for $5 - or at least that's what I had in my head.  But the perfect jeans need to have perfect hems.  Apparently perfect hems are chainstitched.

When I returned to work I told my friend Yvettra about my trip to Denim Doctor.  "Who helped you?  Jake?"  

"He said his name was Osweyo" was my reply.  

"You mean the black guy who runs the shop?'  
Yvettra exploded into laughter.  "He told me his name was Jake!"

Yvettra told me that her alterations from Denim Doctor took much longer than what Jake originally told her.  "Like a month.  You might not have your jeans for a month."  A mild panic crept into my shoulders.  Those jeans make up 50% of my wardrobe from the waist down.  A month without them would prove to be a real sacrifice.  And I paid $20 for it?  

Osweyo didn't call me on Tuesday to tell me that my jeans were ready.  No one called me.  On Wednesday several of my errands caused me a fair amount of stress and when I found myself especially strained, started thinking about the jeans.  'My jeans aren't even ready....and I paid $20 too...'

Someone called me at the end of Thursday to notify me that my jeans were ready to be picked up which is what I did the moment I got to work Friday morning.  Osweyo/Jake was not there. A man with a Jesus hair/beard combination with a Jesus physique gave me my jeans.  I put them on immediately.  

They look fine.  They're the correct hem but I'm not sure if I could confidently state that they feel like the perfect hem or if these were the perfect jeans at all.  Maybe I just need to grow into them.  Sometimes you don't realize something is perfect until you're used to it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

still-sound 206. Incense ceremony

On Christmas I made an online order for traditional Japanese incense ceremony tools.  I impatiently waited every day for the mailman to come like a kid having sent off bottle caps or cereal box tops in order to win a free prize.  I know kids don't do things like this anymore...but they used to.  I remember it.

My Koh-Do tools arrived a few days ago.  I worried that I hadn't ordered enough ceremonial ash.  I decided that I would eventually want to have more than two cups involved in the ritual which would certainly require more ash.  I walked down the street to the expensive natural food store and bought three more bags of ash.  I love that I live in a city where you can buy ceremonial Japanese ash down the street at a grocery store.

The ceremony works like this.  You place a lit charcoal in a cup full of ash.  You cover the charcoal with the ash and form it into a little five-sided mountain.  You poke a whole through the mountain allowing heat to rise.  You place a mica plate directly over this hole.  You place a a tiny chip of a fragrant, precious wood such as agarwood or sandalwood on the mica plate.  You hold the cup, cover half of it with your hand and take a sniff.  In Japan this is referred to as 'listening to incense'.

I already had some pieces of agarwood (jinkoh, oud, goes by many names) thanks to Faruk, a generous client at our perfume shop.  I purchased some sandalwood chips online.  I don't know whether they originally come from India or Australia - the two main sources of sandalwood.

Tonight I practiced the ceremony.  I read that the incenses should have names and that collectively, should tell a story.  I named the three agarwood specimens after birds: ostrich, swan and sparrow.  I named the two types of sandalwood Shoyeido and Yamadamatsu, after the Japanese brands that packaged and sold the chips.  I realize that the latter two names don't tell much of a story so I shall have to be a little more creative the next time I repeat the cermony.

Here's a picture of 'Ostrich' being 'listened to'.  What did it say?  It revealed the early springtime scent of narcissus.  'Sparrow' sounded more like sweet, woody marshmallow - what I typically expect from agarwood incense.  'Swan' said very little to me.  I think the chip that I carved was too small.  Or perhaps I didn't spend enough time with it to figure out what it was doing.

Listening to precious woods in this way is considerably different to my usual incense appreciation.  The cup is warm in your hand, like a small animal.  Your face moves into the warmth and the scent is subtle and close.  It's similar to smelling someone you love.  The scent is elusive.  It appears then disappears.  Then reappears.

The Shoyeido sandalwood was much more indolic in its scent than I had anticipated.  I thought of fine silk unpacked from a box with a suggestion of mothballs.  It reminded me of my Korean grandmother wearing a han-bok.  I remember how my grandmother was a big fan of mothballs.  I was only three when I knew her.

The Yamadamatsu sandalwood had a sweet fruitiness, like tangerine or orange.  This was a lovely surprise.

The ceremony took much longer than I had expected.  I 'listened' for well over an hour.  When I finished I took a very long time cleaning and putting away the tools, materials and implements as though they were all sacred objects.