Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Year in Petticoats

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday, my Band of Wild Petticoats! January 4th will mark exactly one year of petticoat rustling and peeking at the underthings of literature. And, oh my! It has been quite a year... One of the best things about the year has been sharing life, literature, and art on this blog. The Band of Wild Petticoats now has over 50 posts and has generated over 11,700 views--that's a lot of petticoat rustling! On the Eve of the New Year, before we all eat our grapes and bid farewell to 2013, I thought it would be fun to look back and see what we've been up to...

The 5 most popular posts of the blog so far, according to my stats, were:

And some of my favorite moments from the year were:

#1 Rustling petticoats across the United States and abroad. 
My journey to Maranhão, Brazil
My journey to the Midwest
Small journeys in Colorado
Finding the meaning of Home
#2 Becoming a Master (code for: getting my wizard's robes).
The preparation
The commencement 
  #3 Natural disasters and the End Times. 
Colorado rains
Reading the apocalypse 
#4 Some poems, some prose
                        Cross-dressing in Golden Age Spanish fiction

Cowpuncher Poets
The short fiction of Harry Crews

#5 Some song, some dance, some nice ideas
Neo Fantasy Music

Here's to rustling for another year! May you have a very happy New Year filled with art, books, songs and petticoats. Until next year--keep rustling! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Five For Fourteen

I am really looking forward to a new year of books! Here is a list of five books I'm especially excited to read in 2014...

5. The Baker Who Pretended to be King of Portugal by Ruth MacKay
I purchased this book in hardcover during this past semester and have looked longingly at its beautiful cover ever since. In the whir and swirl of the semester, I didn't have time to devote to pleasure reading, but now that I do, I'm happily and hungrily delving into this treat.

Ruth MacKay is a phenomenal historical writer. Last year I stumbled across her book Lazy Improvident People: Myth and Reality in the Writing of Spanish History and was delighted by her highly readable account of Spanish early modern work culture. She explored the perception of Spanish work/labor culture from both within Spain and among other European countries by consulting economic records and essays on the nature of work from the day.

In this book, she tells the story of a foiled attempt to convince the Portuguese people that their deceased--and heirless--monarch had returned from the grave to continue governing Portugal as a sovereign land. In the late 1500s, Sebastian "O Desejado" ("the Desired One") took the throne in his adolescence; he was "desired" because he was the last in a line of legitimate pretenders to the throne and stymied the consolidation of power under the Spanish crown, allowing Portugal to remain independent. But the 15-year-old king marched himself, and the majority of the country's young male nobles, into an unnecessary re-conquering battle in northern Africa, where he and almost all his companions met their end.

The throne of Portugal was vacated, with no legitimate successor, and thus was born sebastianismo, the belief that Sebastian was simply hiding or sleeping and would come back to Portugal's shores one misty morning to take up his crown once more... Though this was utterly untrue, the belief took a strong hold, especially because Portugal was forced to be governed by the Spanish crown thereafter for a period of about 60 years. BUT ANYWAY... This book details one of the most successful attempts to give the sebastianistas exactly what they were seeking: the returned king.

From the book's inside flap: "In one of the most famous of European impostors, Gabriel de Espinosa, an ex-soldier and baker by trade ... appeared in a Spanish convent town passing himself off as the lost monarch. The principals, along with a large cast of nuns, monks, and servants, were confined and questioned for nearly a year as a crew of judges tried to unravel the story, but the culprits when to their deaths with many questions left unanswered." SO EXCITED!

4. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt
Here is a literary criticism classic that I have shamefully not yet read. But it is not just shame that inspires me to read this volume-- it is also genuine interest in the central idea of the text.

Put simply: what is identity and how was it created during the Renaissance? Greenbalt's exploration of this topic was responsible for revolutionizing the way early modern texts and their authors were researched (see: new historicism).

From the book's back-cover: "[this book] is a study of sixteenth-century life and literature that spawned a new era of scholarly inquiry. Greenblatt examines that structure of selfhood as evidenced in major literary figures of the English Renaissance--More, Tyndale, Wyatt, Marlowe and Shakespeare--and finds that in the early modern period new questions surrounding the nature of identity heavily influenced the literature of the era."

Wild guess here: this book will be a challenging but rewarding read.

3. Brazil Imagined: 1500 to the present by Darlene J. Sadlier
A panoramic look at diverse modes of cultural production in Brazil throughout the centuries? YES, PLEASE.

In this book, Darlene Sadlier writes about a range of artistic production (such as literature, visual art, architecture, media, historiography, letters) in order to trace major themes in individual (and epochal) identity formation. Beginning with the arrival of Portuguese settlers in the year 1500, Sadlier marks the evolution of the imagined Brazil--from both within and without its borders.

From the back-cover: "Topics include the oscillating themes of Edenic and cannibal encounters, Dutch representations of Brazil, regal constructs, the literary imaginary, Modernist utopias, "good neighbor" protocols, and filmmakers' revolutionary and dystopian images of Brazil."

I'm expecting to get a lot of new reading material out of this one!

2. Obras do diabinho da mão furada attributed to Antônio José da Silva, "the Jew"
The title of this fictional work from the 1700s can be roughly translated as "The Little Pierced-Handed Devil." So far, I know very little about the work, but I've begun to learn about its author (I started on the introduction last night!)

Apparently, Antônio José da Silva "the Jew" was born in 1705 in Brazil. His family had converted to christianity before leaving Portugal--but they were extradited by the Holy Office to be tried as heretics and "Judaizers." His family was convicted and fined, which left them with too few resources to return to Brazil.

They settled in Lisbon, where Antônio studied law and began publishing plays and other writings. These writings were seething critiques of lisboeta society--and of christianity--of the early 18th century. At the age of 34, Antônio José da Silva was again brought before inquisitors, tried because of his writings, and sentenced to death by hanging and the public burning of his corpse.

This story is said to draw extensively from local folklore, combining Portuguese mythical creatures with the general narrative arc of the "Faust" stories (immortalized definitively in Goethe's tragic play). I haven't found an English translation of the book, so I promise to report back and let you know all the details!

1. Grande sertão: veredas by Guimarães Rosa
In the early 60s, this book was translated into English under the title The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. And it breaks my heart to report that it has since gone out of print, meaning that if you'd like a copy, you should be prepared to spend around $300. Ouch. Well, crack out that library card, because I am certain that any trouble you go through to get this book between your hot little hands will be worth it...

As I understand it, the central story is narrated by its main character, Riobaldo, a bandit traveling through the Brazilian backlands. To an (unknown?) listener, Riobaldo relates his strange and at times terrifying encounters in the desert. The Devil, it seems almost needless to say, will play a main role in this novel.

It is another classic that I am ashamed to admit I haven't read yet... but my shame is greatly overcome by my excitement to begin reading this immortal story. {Also, update: just found this blog dedicated solely to this novel!}

Oh, and by the way- check out these amazing photographs of the author, Guimarães Rosa...How ahead of his time was he?! A true pioneer of public cat obsession, in the pre-Internet era!

What are you most looking forward to reading in 2014? What authors do you think we should look out for? What's on your nightstand right now??

Until next time-- keep rustling!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Five Favorites from 2013

There have been so, so many wonderful books I've had the chance to read over the course of the last year. In fact, not only have I gotten to read novels but poems, plays, history and critique, too. It was hard to select my five favorites, and I tried to have my list represent various of these genres as well as a range in historical and geographic contexts. It was difficult to chose only five, but I liked the alliteration of "Five Favorite" too much to turn back, so here we have it...

5. El libro de buen amor by Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste de Hita
This gem comes from the clever quill of a medieval priest of the Iberian peninsula. Juan Ruiz, the priest of Hita, was known as a cheeky but good-natured rogue, writing theological teachings in what would appear to be a guide to sensual delights.

You may remember I mentioned him a while ago, quoting a particularly brassy passage that taught readers not to be given the the sin of sloth because their sex lives would surly suffer.

"The Book of Good Love," as it is translated into English, is a romp through anthropomorphic tales of hapless lions, allegorical battles between Lady Lent and Master Meat, and a small peek into the life of "Trotaconventos" ("convent trotter"), a go-between nun. All of this is masterfully woven into rhyme, with heavenly lessons seemingly taught through earthly adventures. I loved this book and inadvertently dreamed in rhyme for at least a week after I finished reading it.

4. Fuenteovejuna by Lope de Vega 
Image source
Based on an historical event from medieval Spain, this play takes the name of a town, Fuenteovejuna, that allegedly banded together to overthrow--by pain of death--the malicious lord of their region.

Written around one hundred years after the event, this play was penned by the most prolific writer of the Spanish Baroque, Lope de Vega. In this play, Lope imagines the desperation and grief of the townspeople and their rally to rebellion.

On the wedding day of the central characters, Laurencia and Frondoso, the evildoing Comendador rides through the party and snatched up the two newlyweds, placing Frondoso in the dungeon of his castle and abusing Laurencia. When she makes her escape, she runs back to the town and, with blood on her face and her clothes torn, she shames all the gathered men of the town for cowering in fear rather than coming to her rescue.

As I read that monologue, tears streamed down my face. The the depth of her sense of betrayal, the intensity of her wrath and desire for revenge blaze like a hateful fire in the mouth of a once-delicate young woman. The town becomes changed into a bloodthirsty hoard that marches to the Comendador's castle, cuts him down, and celebrates with his head on a pike. Afterwards, Inquisitors are sent to the town with torture devices to try and discover who murdered the region's lord. But when asked who was responsible, even under the duress of torture, men, women and children of the town answer only: "¡Fuenteovejuna!"

Someday I would love to see this play in person. I have read some critiques of the play that claim Lope de Vega wrote it to show how terrifying the ignorant masses would be, if ever they learned of their power, and that power should always remain in the hands of discerning monarchs. But I'm not convinced of that cynical take on Lope's intension with the play. Rather, I think he chose to gaze unwaveringly at the terrifying capacity of the human spirit to be moved by its own righteousness.

Here is a clip showing Laurencia's famous speech-- it is in Spanish and there are no subtitles, but it will nonetheless convey to the fiery intensity I described even if you don't understand the words:

3. Auto da compadecida by Ariano Suassuna 
I loved this play so much that I dedicated an entire post to it, right after I finished reading it. A Brazilian comedy set in the northeastern backlands, the play pits the violent severity of a bandit against the wits of a poor trickster and a a cast of hapless characters caught in the middle--including the lusty unfaithful wife and her witless husband, a greedy sacristan, and an old dog wed to a money-shitting cat.

The humor of this play seems to be of the very same ilk I appreciated so much in the medieval text of the Arcipreste de Hita. Suassuna brilliantly weaves together the timelessly hilarious with the unmistakably Brazilian. This is another one I'd like to see performed live-- in addition to some of his other plays, namely A mulher vestida de sol (a Romeo and Juliet-like tragedy, whose title translates as The Woman Dressed in the Sun).  

2. Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis
I read this book for a seminar this past semester and was delighted to have the chance to revisit the storytelling prowess of 19th century Brazilian author: Machado de Assis.

About a year ago, I had my first encounter with him, reading As memórias pósthumas de Brás Cubas (The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas), narrated by a "deceased-author" from beyond the grave. In it, the narrator turns an ironic gaze on the attendees at his funeral and on the memory of those who survived him as he recalls the events of his life.

In Dom Casmurro, the narrator is a cantankerous older man, barley able to hide his general displeasure and unease with the memories he recounts of the people and events that made up his youth and middle age. The narrator's sense of humor is so biting and his critical eye so piercing that the reader finds himself laughing while at the same time shaking his head, in one of those almost melancholic "funny-cuz-its-true" moments.

Machado de Assis' gift to literature was not only his sense of ironic humor; his innovative narrative style tested (and extended) the boundaries literary realism. The narrator of Dom Casmurro often speaks directly to the reader, integrating imagined readers into the narrative. At the time of its publication, the reading public in Brazil was relatively small, so the author simply invented his readers and placed them directly in dialogue with his narrator and characters. The imagine male readers received the literary equivalent of a "wink wink nudge nudge" and female readers, imagined as "proper" and full of false-piety, received equally false apologies that would end with an invitation to put down the book and not go on reading it if they were so easily offended (hmph!). The real reader ends up laughing at the characters, their narrator, and even these implied readers, who may truly have existed, in some form or another...

Unlike his contemporary in Portugal, Eça de Queirós, Machado's droll teasing of his characters ultimately had the aim of laughing with them, rather than at them. He loved his deeply flawed, pompous, silly, arrogant, racist and sexist characters--because if he didn't, who would there be left in the world for him to love? Though realism set out to reveal the naked truth about humans' deplorable qualities, Machado seemed to have decided that, even after careful inspection of these qualities, there still may be something worth adoring in people-- even those that die alone and absorbed in memories and old jealousies. While Eça de Queirós in Portugal and "Clarín" Leopoldo Alas in Spain wrote huge (and yes, enjoyable) novels filled with ridiculing irony that constantly laughed at the characters, especially when they were down, Machado de Assis embraces human imperfections, has a good laugh at them, and goes on loving them.


YOU GUYS. I recently received a long-awaited package in the mail, all the way from Brazil. It was a box FULL of cordel chapbooks. I have begun reading them, and promise to devote future posts to them, as is only proper.

Putting an entire genre of poetry as my number-one-favorite is a total copout, and I know it. And yes, technically this should be in my list of things I'm looking forward to finishing reading in the coming year. But I had to cheat a little bit on this list because the pressure of naming a number one favorite of the year haunted me for days and kept me from writing the dang post at all.

I just couldn't bring myself to select only one book for the top slot in a year in which I also read, for my first timeEl Mio CidLa vida es sueñoLos pasos perdidosRios profundosLa ciudad y los perrosPrimo Basílio, The Hobbit, and others (links are to the English translations). It was a big year of big books. So my number one slot goes fittingly to a big array of big (little) books...

*Extra Credit: The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkein
Painting for the novel by Alan Lee
And because this is my blog, I can break my own rules and cheat some more and offer an "extra credit" title in my list. This isn't technically part of my "Five Favorites" for this year, but I wanted to include it because it is part of a broader new trend in the things I'm choosing to read for pleasure.

As a child, my mother read to me--and invented for me--a huge variety of folktales about faerie creatures that I believed to be real (or perhaps still do?). I grew up listening for songs in the woods and always watching out for a villain that plagued my nightmares for years, Red Cap.

Red Cap painting by Alan
Lee from his book, Faeries
Although I study literature as a grad student now, there are few if any folkloric tales assigned as required reading. That is not because they don't exist in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries; I think it may simply owe to the way Academy tends to define "Literature" as a category separate and distant from "Lore."

Recently, I have felt a strong desire to go back to reading these tales in my spare time (and hopefully weaving some into my dissertation!). Specifically, I have a renewed interest in the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien (admittedly rekindled by Peter Jackson's translations of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into the medium of film). I recently read The Hobbit for my first time ever in life (how has it taken me so long to read that book?!).

After a flurry of amazon-one-click-shopping, a box of Tolkien books showed up at our apartment door around Christmas time... one of the books I ordered was The Children of Húrin which I began reading yesterday and finished this morning. It was a fierce, serious book, with an entirely different tone from The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There is none of Tolkein's humor here, nor does the power of good and truth overcome all evil. Rather, in this epic tale told in archaic-sounding language, a hero is born under a curse and in an utterly besieged Middle-earth; he must do whatever he can to survive, including join a band of outlaws and confront a dragon single-handedly.

There are so many old-sounding names--of people and creatures and places and swords--and each begs to be rolled around in the mouth and uttered aloud. The vastness of Tolkien's imagination is at once welcoming and overwhelming. I am inspired to read more of his canon, and most of all, to return to some of the tales that I remember from years and years ago...

What are your favorite books from this past year? What are some of your favorite books of all time?

Until next time-- keep rustling!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Winter Trees

Dear Petticoat Rustlers- Merry Christmas!
I hope you've gotten to enjoy some quality time with your family and friends in these past days. Last year my husband and I started a tradition that we continued this year-- we make some tasty food, take a long hike, and then come home and watch all 9 hours of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was awesome!
What are your traditions for the season?

As the year grows old and wise and draws to a close, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on some of the best things I read this year and some of the things I'm most looking forward to reading (and writing about) in 2014. So for the remaining days of this year, I'll be doing a series of posts on these books- stay tuned!

For today, I will leave you with some photos of our Christmas tree and a brilliant little William Carlos Williams poem...

Winter trees 

All the complicated details 
of the attiring and 
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon 
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold. 


Until next time-- keep rustling!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Head The Heart The Hand: Bryn Perrott

"Friend Sleeping"  
"Wolf Jumping"
Bryn Perrott is a woodblock artist based in Morgantown, West Virginia. Drawing from the extensive visual repertoire of traditional americana tattoo imagery, she creates beautifully intricate wood carvings. I like the idea of using the visual vocabulary of tattooing for woodblock prints -- in a tattoo, black ink is carved into the skin; in a woodblock carving, the "white," negative space is carved into the wood and the ink rests gently on top. This inversion is interesting not only in a metaphoric sense, but also in a concrete, visual sense. The tattoo flash is transformed into 3-Dimensional objects with the image hovering in the foreground, rather than bleeding and merging deeper into the skin.
"Rock of Ages"
There is an incredible amount of detail in each piece (those tiny dots and swirls!) that make each one rich and satisfying. She also adds unique elements to the recognizable, traditional images--perhaps because the medium requires her to at times, but also likely because the vision she is creating only uses tattoo imagery as a point of departure...

One of the reasons I love woodblock work so much is that you can always see the artist's hand. Just observe the below image; you can see each little stroke of the carving knife in the white space. You are almost able to follow the process with your eyes, noting each dig into the surface of the wood. On the other hand, in a tattoo, all the little strokes of the artist's hand eventually blend together, while on these carvings they remain forever visible in the wood's "skin."
"Japanese cat"
"Tea Sloth"
"Russian Arms"
"Manchester United"
Perrott does custom woodblock work, and there are several examples of commissioned pieces on her tumblr site. I think this work is awesome! I hope you enjoy it too...

Until next time, fair petticoat rustlers-- keep rustling!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Regular People Dancing

Watching regular people dance will almost invariably elicit a great sense of satisfaction. Proof of this satisfaction is all over youtube. Home videos from weddings, family reunions, and all manner of public dancing, executed by mostly untrained and un-choreographed "regular" folks, receive tens of thousands of views everyday. We like to watch non-professional dancers wiggle their parts at least as much as we like to watch the professionals. Dancing is available to everyone (albeit in varying degrees of gracefulness) and observing dancing is, unlike many human experiences, almost as good as actually doing it.

Although we can see a regular person dancing just about any day (by turning up the speakers and dancing in front of a mirror), we are collectively, as a human culture, so smitten with watching one another dance that we reproduce this phenomena and seek to publicly associate ourselves with the good feelings brought on by seeing how our (sometimes uncoordinated) peers use their bodies as a physical response to rhythm and melody.

A little while ago, I began to keep track of professionally-made music videos whose content solely featured what I refer to as "regular people dancing." Here are a couple:

Dancing is about communicating with other bodies while at the same time becoming very personally aware of your own. Dancing is about simultaneously controlling yourself and letting yourself go. It serves to remind us that our brains only go so far in controlling the way we move through the physical world-- the messages going from brain to our body parts ("Ok, hips, start wiggling") are sometimes executed by those body parts in ways our brain couldn't or didn't predict ("Huh...ok...what am I doing?" or "Dang, I am extra-good at wiggling tonight.").

But perhaps one of the most alluring things about dancing is its potential ability to allow us to transcend the limits of our bodies and our world. For centuries, dancing has been the passageway into trance, into spirit possession, into a personal experience with something eternal.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been reading a lot about a messianic movement from mid-16th century Peru, referred to as Taki Onqoy (which translates as "Sickness of Dancing" or "Dancing Sickness"). The only documentation we have of this movement comes from the Catholic priest, Cristobal de Albornoz, who took it upon himself to extirpate the movement, which he considered dangerous and heretical.
Guaman Poma's rendering of Cristobal de Albornoz's
extirpation of the Taki Onqoy movement in 16th century Peru
The documents Albornoz produced about the Taki Onqoy are addressed directly to the King of Spain and always close with an overt request to be made bishopric of Cuzco. His personal interests likely influenced the way in which he documented the Taki Onqoy, including the probably inflated number of participants and the blurry details about movement leadership.

What does seem clear, however, is the way in which this movement was practiced: after a period of fasting and abstinence, the taquiongos would enter into a trance through dancing. These were powerful experiences that allegedly lead dancers to reject Christianity and believe instead in a Pan-Indian, post-European and post-Incan society in which andean huacas (deities) acted as a united force, allowing their followers to live free of the oppression suffered at the hands of both Spanish and Incan rulers.

That dancing was central to this movement is not disputed. But rarely have critics and historians been able to explain why dancing was so crucial. ...

What happens to us when we dance? What happens to us when we watch others dance?

Fast-forward back to the present day--I've been reading a ton of books on Candomblé and Umbanda practice in Brazil. These are Afro-spiritous religions whose expression also has dancing rituals at their core. Dancing leads to spirit possession and, from within the ritual space of a terreiro, the pantheon of deities becomes fully present within the body of a dancer, before the eyes of on-lookers.

I could probably (and should probably) do a whole post on what I've recently learned about spirit possession in Brazil... but my point here is that dancing, regardless of borders, history, language, and belief systems, is experienced as a truly unique and mystical encounter of human and spiritual bodies.

These are just two examples of how dancing leads to spiritual connection and even messianic impulses... but I know there are so many examples from around the world and throughout history that would tell a similar story of dance's power. For the moment, however, I guess I am merely trying to point out the fact that even in mainstream pop-culture, we can see clear evidence of our profound attraction to dance--to regular people dancing.

What do you make of all this??
What are your favorite videos of "regular people" dancing?

Until next time-- keep rustling!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Faint Rustlings

Coffee and Vitamin C for fall mornings
My petticoats have been silent for a month! You must've begun thinking that I got too carried away with the apocalypse theme of the last post... But I'm back, and ready to begin rustling the crinolines of literature and art once more.

Colorado has been changing colors these days, going from green and gray to bright fiery reds, oranges and yellows. I will have to get out and take some photographs of all the beautiful leaves before we get a heavy snow (we've already had several light snows!). As a result of the changing weather, mornings have been filled with cozy sweaters, muted light, and the satisfying crunch of leaves under boots. I really love this time of year; it's great reading weather.

A short stack of reading materials and a devil sculpture made by my husband, Emiliano Lake-Herrera 
Recently, my dissertation theme has begun to take shape... a very recognizable shape, as a matter of fact, complete with pointy tail and horns. I have decided to investigate the figure of the devil in Brazilian literature, most likely as expressed through the poetry chapbooks, Literatura de Cordel. Now that I have a general direction in which to go with my research, I've happily begun shirking all other responsibilities in order to read broadly about the idea of the devil and the idea of Brazil...

The devil is often portrayed not as a towering black beast, but as a man. In fact, he is so like man that characters often mistake him for a simple stranger initially (in contrast, if an angel were to appear in a narrative, there is no mistaking their presence and their divine importance). So the devil appears not as an external push towards sin or wrongdoing through fear or coercion, but rather he seems to work more like a magnet, drawing out our trickster qualities when he is near. And the human characters' task is to out trick him-- we must be more clever, better liars, and as sneaky as possible in our dealings with him (human characters must out-devil the devil!).

I am really excited to be working on this project and have already read some amazing things, including an ethnography on Candomblé (an African spiritous religion) and I should really do a whole post on that book alone! So much rustling to do, my friends...

 In the meantime, I'm just happy to be back on the blog. I hope you have all been doing well and finding good things to read. What has been on your bookshelves recently? What has been rustling your petticoats???
My most faithful reading companion, on the job, on a chilly morning

Until next time-- keep rustling!