Start the New School Year With “The Alchemist”
"When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too," says the boy to the sun, in Paul Coelho's The Alchemist. If I could teach children anything, it would be that. Well, that and manners. Okay manners and grammar. And kindness. Well, manners are about kindness. Okay kindness comes first, actually, and that puts us back to sentence 1. Fine.
"To realize one's destiny is a person's only obligation," is another good line. No wonder a crop of refrigerator magnets has grown up around this book, or that my copy has about 15 sticky notes in it.
Paul Coelho's The Alchemist
It's been out now more than 25 years, and I've been meaning to post about it for a while... Finally The Wall Street Journal's piece on Coehlo last week prompted me. That and the thought of a new school year beginning, which always feels like the real New Year to me, and a fresh start.
Paul Coelho in The Wall Street Journal
The Alchemist has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 315 weeks. Just out this week is the titillatingly entitled Adultery, the prolific author's 27th. Journal reporter Ellen Gamerman writes Coelho likes the one-word title because it goes well with a hashtag. Lord help us it has come to that. But the man hasn't sold more than 160 million books in 80 languages for nothing. If his social media-saviness boosts his presence in impressionable young psyches and elevates consciousness in the rest of us, fine.
Paul Coelho in The Wall Street Journal
Just now my own little psyche said, wonder if ol' Jesse Kornbluth has written about The Alchemist on his terrific HeadButler.com? I bet myself a nickel he had, and I won. He writes circles around me on the subject of books (and music and movies...), read for yourself here. Funnily enough he penned it earlier this year--and the book was published in 1988. Synchronicity.
If you don't know, or have forgotten, The Alchemist is the tale of an Andalusian shepherd boy who leaves his homeland in search of treasure. What he finds is wisdom and a great love. Writes Jesse Kornbluth, "All this is cloaked in a story that moves considerably faster than the camels that take the boy across the North African desert. Warriors appear, and a haunting young woman, and an alchemist, and there is blood and battle and a kind of magic. It’s a hot, dusty, dangerous trip — an Indiana Jones tale for the spiritual. *
I can't think of a better send-off to school for a young person than her own copy, inscribed inspiringly by you. "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams," says the alchemist to the boy.
I don't have chillens of my own, but I have step-chillens and nieces and nephews, four of whom are just off to graduate school, college, and boarding school. Each will be receiving an Alchemist from Auntie, and yes, there will be a quiz--along with the promise of Coehlo's more salacious-sounding new Adultery. That ought to get them going.
*If you go to the HeadButler post and click on the links from there, a small commission goes to HeadButler.com. Jesse Kornbluth does so much to promote writers and artists, I'm all for sharing the love. Read More
Tea Towels Make Great Gifts (We Love These Lily O’s)
As we are still in high season for hostess gifts, it is especially thoughtful to give things people actually want. Tea towels are always useful, and a fresh, pretty one is always welcome. They give your kitchen or bar a lift, and life's little lifts add up. (Now say that three times fast.)
These bright and colorful Lily O's were sent me by a friend and je les adore. Based on the charming watercolors of American artist Thomas Vieth, who, with wife Susan, founded the company, the towels are sold via the website here and in select retail outlets.
La Belle France - Lily O tea towel
The paintings have a Matisse-like quality that is so appealing, non?
Chardonnay - Lily O tea towel
Here is the artist in action... He is from IOWA, and his name is Tom, just like His Grace (aka my husband for new readers). Beat thou cornstalks into paint brushes, I say.
Tom Veith painting in Perigueux
When I contacted Susan about this post, I learned Tom Vieth does a lot more than tea towels. See ThomasVieth.com here, and enjoy his wonderful paintings. I also learned that a few years ago, Tom and Susan followed their dream and bought a house in the Dordogne region of France. He paints. She organizes life so he can paint. She also pens the delightful blog, A Small Village in France.com, where you can read more of their inspiring story.
Don't you love it when people do their dreams?!
Pansies and a chateau in Bourdeilles, France, near the home of Susan and Tom Vieth.
P.S., and en garde, Hermès... Lily O has recently expanded into scarves, also with original designs and as bright and exuberant as the tea towels.
Lily O scarves, coming soon...
Just don't get the scarves confused with the tea towels, à la Little Edie of Grey Gardens... I saw Sallie at the Piggly-Wiggly and for the life of me, she had a tea towel wrapped 'round her head...See the scarves here, available September 1. Which is right around the corner, which is un-buh-leeve-able, n'est-ce pas?
Oh, and speaking of confused, the Vieths had a cat named Lily who apparently thought she was a parrot, as she used to perch on Tom's shoulders as he painted and gardened. They named the company after her anyway. She must have been a character.
All images via LilyOs.com, and as ever, there is no remuneration for posts in FrancesSchultz.com. A bientôt. Read More
Postcard From Italy No. 3–A Cathedral and a Nap in Siena
Notes from travels earlier this summer...
You may recall from Postcard No. 1, (here) or Postcard No. 2, (here) that my dear husband is happy to travel in Italy #aslongaswedon'thavetogotoanychurches.
Nothing against churches, he is just more interested in wars and things. Of course the church with its money and power had a lot to do with those wars, but that does not sway His Grace into fascination with this mosaic or that sculpture, if you follow me. Fair enough.
Siena Cathedral, gargoyles and all
Nor does it keep Her Grace from going anyway. I was determined to get to Siena and by dern see that cathedral.
Siena Cathedral - floor mosaic
I talked HG into by saying it would be interesting to see Siena without the craziness of the Palio going on. Besides he could nap in the car.
Siena Cathedral - dome
Ooh, down again. This is Futura (I think), in a precarious balance...
Siena Cathedral - floor mosaic
Speaking of the Palio, all eyes will be on Siena this weekend as the centuries-old world's wildest horse race runs for the second time this summer, on August 16. The first running is always July 2. Found this great article in The Daily Telegraph, by Lee Marshall, on the Palio, with great photos as well. I am dying to see it.
Siena Cathedral - the Piccolomini library of illuminated manuscripts - ceiling
Same room, different view. The Piccolomini Library, from my Instagram.
Siena Cathedral - Piccolomini library
So many extraordinary elements in the Siena Cathedral, but this trip I was especially impressed by the floor tiles and mosaics. Georgio Vasari himself declared the floor of the Siena Cathedral "the largest and most magnificent ever made." From August 18 to October 27 it will is to be completely revealed, which rarely happens.
Siena Cathedral - Piccolomini library - tile floor
Magpie that I am, I was enthralled by the wall covered in beautiful metal hearts, or ex-votos, thank offerings for answered prayers, or as fulfillment of vows. The winner of the Palio posts one every year, our guide says.
Siena Cathedral - Sacred Hearts
If I raced in the Palio, I would post a heart for just surviving the damn thing, now I've learned a little about it. They ride bareback, for Pete's sake. Every set of photos I looked at (I became slightly obsessed) showed a horrible crash and some degree of carnage. Like Nascar but with Italians and horses. Here is a YouTube of last year's race. (Slide your cursor to the 11:55 minute mark. That's when the actual race starts. Before that is milling around.)
No wonder there are so many hearts. Aren't they beautiful?
Siena Cathedral - sacred hearts
Just beyond the wall of hearts is the entrance to the Chigi Chapel, with its altarpiece of solid lapis. Heavens to Betsy.
Siena Cathedral - Chigi Chapel - lapis lazuli altarpiece
And heavens to Bernini, too. His statue of Mary Magdalene has an almost other-worldly quality about it. You see millions of statues, and then you see this, and you think, this is why Bernini was Bernini. His soul is in that marble.
Siena Cathedral - Chigi Chapel - Mary Magdalene by Bernini
Meanwhile His Grace is having a nice snooze in la machinna. This outing was on the second day of our trip--the worst for jet lag. To be fair I'd had a head start in Europe by a week or so.
Siena Cathedral - dome of the Chigi Chapel
Hard to believe all this under one--granted very large--cathedral roof. And this is just a glimpse. But enough. The poor guide was a bit distraught by my whistlestop-tour-ways, but the eyes begin to glaze after a while... And there is the sleeping Grace to wake...
One last glance... Stripes were big even in the 14th century. But those Italians have always set the trend...
Upon waking HG we stroll to the city center to see where the famous hell-bent-for-leather horse races take place, and HG regales me with his tales of attending, which include but are not confined to parades and pageantry galore, gambling shenanigans and Sicilian jockeys, weeping widows, and mauling crowds. I can't wait.
Siena is also home to the University of Siena, with its prestigious schools of medicine and law. We encountered some blue-kerchiefed prospective students along the way, perhaps discussing the merits of dropping water balloons from this ponte.
Young sightseers in Siena
Siena - Civita
But alas, this is as close we came to the Palio this year--a photo in a shop window.
Siena - Palio photo in shop window
Then it's back to Florence. Ciao for now. xo Frances
Invasive Plants–Just Don’t Do It
Seems evil Russian computer hackers are not all that's invading our world these days... In the botanical world, it's all fun and games until somebody loses a species. You know what I'm sayin? As we think ahead to fall planting, we need to make sure we are planting good. Jan Merryweather of California's PlantRight reached out to me recently about the serious mischief of invasive plants, the second biggest threat to biodiversity after people. Shocking! She's here today to tell us more. Take it away Jan...
What’s the fuss? Invasive plants ravage native habitat, alter soil composition, clog waterways and provide dangerous fuel for wildfires. By stopping invasive plants we protect our wild lands and native critters, not to mention our tax dollars. California alone spends over $82 million each year battling invasive plants.
Menacing Mexican Feathergrass:
The photo above appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Association of Professional Landscape Designers magazine. “Planting for the Future” article is here. The whole magazine is here. Mexican feathergrass is the plant that everyone has been falling for, yet they have no idea that this mature plant produces 70,000 to 100,000 seeds per year, and because it easily re-seeds, is bound to become the next pampas grass debacle unless we can cut it off at the pass. Thus the campaign!
Pernicious Pampas Grass
What can we do? On the West Coast, learn about PlantRight and their campaign to stop California’s next plant invasion before it starts. They're working with plant breeders, growers and retailers to phase out invasives voluntarily. See the CA plant list here.
In New York this past July, there was Invasive Species Awareness Week, with workshops statewide. New Jersey is also recruiting citizen scientists to join their Strike Team and nip invasives in the bud. In the South, the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health offers some wild (literally) ideas for dealing with invasive plants, post-invasion.
Scurrilous Scotch Broom
Many of our problem plants were introduced via the nursery chain. Not with mal intent, but simply because the plants were deemed beautiful or useful. (It seemed like a good idea at the time…) In California, examples include pampas grass, scotch broom and green fountain grass. In the Northeast, there is oriental bittersweet, barberry and purple loosestrife. In the South, kudzu !
Plants contribute spiritually, aesthetically and physically to our personal well-being and to our local economies. Let's do what we can to help the good guys, and not the guys in these photos.
Vicious Vinca Major
See also this piece about PlantRight from the LA Times a few days ago. They are always copying me, I swear.
Thanks again, Jan!
Happy (Non-invaive) Planting, Readers! Read More