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Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Weaver's Bracelet

Edit: It's now for sale at etsy!
Edit Dec. 14, 2016: The first one sold out, but I've made another

At Deborah Harkness's website for the All Souls Trilogy one can find all sorts of multi-media tidbits inspired by the books, including some wonderful jewelry by Jennifer Cadsawan.  I can't do anything like that, but I can bead, and I was inspired by the magic of spell weavers in the book.  Over the course of the trilogy Diana learns to manipulate ten "ribbons" of magic, each a different color -- brown (earth), yellow (air), blue (water), red (fire), green (the goddess), purple (justice), gold (the sun), silver (the moon), and white and black (I forget what these two stand for, and I had to return the book to the library -- light and dark magic maybe?).  From there it was not hard to envision a ten-strand bracelet, with the colors woven together.

After briefly considering different types of beads, I settled on size 11 seed beads to keep it simple.  For silver and gold, I thought it would be nice visually and texturally to use the actual metals; silver chain was easy, since I have a bunch of it for different projects.  Gold, not so much, because it is expensive and not my favorite.  But then I remembered a set of thin gold chains I got ages ago, which would be about the right length; I picked the ropey one and I was all set.  A silver slide barrel clasp would do for a simple closure.

My initial plan was to weave the strands the way I would for any braid with more than three strands, by taking the leftmost one and weaving over and under the rest, repeating for the length of the bracelet.  But the results were not great, probably because the seed bead strands were not very flexible:
Coincidentally, this bracelet showed up on my pinterest feed, with instructions for the basketweave.  That resulted in a much nicer braid:
Painter's tape, by the way, is effective for temporarily holding beads and and strands in place.

The completed bracelet:
Despite carefully noting the order of the strands, I still managed to cross the red and blue ones one too many times at the end, something I did not notice until I had already attached them to the clasp with crimp beads and trimmed the excess cord.  Grumble.

Edit: It's now for sale at etsy!
Edit Dec. 14, 2016: The first one sold out, but I've made another.   

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

As soon as The Book of Life,the last volume in Harkness's trilogy, came out, I snapped it up from the library, and spent the next several nights staying up too late reading.  It was as good as the previous two, filled with action and adventure, science and history, and magic and romance.  The secrets in the titular Book of Life were what I expected, and I would have liked more information about the origins and history of vampires, witches, and daemons and the implications of their relationship to ordinary humans, but the story ended satisfyingly.  There were also hints that Harkness might be planning a sequel, so there's that.

As enjoyable as the trilogy was, however, it confirmed for me that I am generally not interested in modern vampire stories (with one notable exception, Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian). Vampires are evil.  They are predators who prey on rational, intelligent beings, often in cruel ways, and their actions are a perversion of the Catholic Mass.  I have trouble seeing them as decent, let alone romantic, creatures.  Some creators try to address this thoughtfully.  Joss Whedon's Buffyverse, for example, posited that a lack of a soul was responsible for the evil and cruelty of vampires, and if one got his soul back, as Angel did, he would be remorseful and strive to be good.  But this explanation is ultimately unsatisfying -- where are the souls when they are not in vampires?  Why would a soul make a difference, when demons have souls, as do humans, both of whom have no trouble committing evil?  What about Spike, who as a result of a long period of moral evolution chose to do good and fight evil, and chose to get his soul back so that he could be an even better person?*

Other creators never really address the problem of evil at all, and leave it to individual vampires to choose to do good or evil or both, like everyone else.  Anne Rice took this approach (at least in the first couple of volumes), focusing on the personal cost and effects of vampirism.  It is also the approach Harkness takes, but she also goes to some pains to develop a vampire social contract of sorts, which as she puts it is about "law, honor, and justice"; mercy and charity have no role.  She creates an elaborate set of rules governing vampire behavior, but it ultimately boils down to "might makes right," and that is something I find neither attractive nor interesting.  Matthew, being the hero, is always striving to do the right thing, but that is more a vestige of his human life -- his Catholic faith -- rather than a trait of his vampireness.  He is concerned with notions of sin and atonement and forgiveness, but many other vampires think him rather odd in this, and their good deeds tend to extend only to protecting those they love rather than any abstract notion of decency or charity.

By contrast, the witchy society seems much more humanlike in its approach to morality (although we do not spend nearly as much time in their culture).  Which is not to say there aren't evil witches; there are, and those in power are slow to punish them, but they are all motivated by the usual reasons rather than a species-wide justification.  That, plus their neato magic, makes them far more interesting to me than the vampires.  I hope any sequel focuses more on their world, and that of the daemons who were rather short-changed in the trilogy.

*I recently read that Whedon has stated he had no real education in any religious traditions, and that explains the screwy theology of is world -- not just the soul issue, but demons who are nevertheless sometimes good, and more critically the existence of a great, overarching "First Evil" with no apparent good counterpart, something that is present in pretty much any real world religious or mythological system that stresses the fight between good and evil.

Monday, August 11, 2014

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

I have a conflicted relationship with Spanish (as in the language) literature.  I used to be quite fluent -- I was born in Puerto Rico, I heard Spanish growing up, I studied it extensively in school, I even spent a summer living in Spain.  So there was a time when I could read novels in Spanish just as easily as English, and in fact did it quite a bit as a result of all the lit courses I took.  But I can't really call myself fluent any more; it's been years since I've had an opportunity to really use the language, and while I can converse decently in Spanish, reading a complex novel is beyond me now -- figuring out the literal meaning of the words would keep me from fully appreciating the work itself.  Reading English translations, on the other hand, means admitting defeat.  I've been wanting to read Don Quixote for a long time (it's meta!), but I'm not good enough to read the lovely Spanish copy I received as a prize from my High School, and I'm too stubborn to read it in English.

When Gabriel García Márquez died in April, I wanted to reread One Hundred Years of Solitude.Luckily for me, I had already read it and most of his other works in Spanish.  So with some relief (and a bit of guilt) I picked up my husband's English copy.  Of course, it's foolish to let the language issue keep one from such a great work of art, and I'm glad I didn't.  100 Years is considered García Márquez's greatest work for a reason.  In his depiction of seven generations of the Buendía family living in the odd town of Macondo he encapsulates the history of Colombia, from exploration, conquest, and immigration to civil war, the Banana Massacre, and modernization.

As the town prospers and decays, so do the characters.  Colonel Aureliano Buendía starts out as an idealist, determined to bring about justice and freedom through a revolution, but over the course of decades his ideology becomes more and more rigid, until even his closest friends are enemies to be destroyed. He reasons for fighting degenerate from ideals to pride to revenge to, ultimately, inertia -- the futility of a civil war where no one can tell the sides apart and no one really knows what they are fighting for. José Arcadio and Aureliano Segundo are creatures of appetite, who let their various lusts waste away their potential.  Amaranta, despite her name, lets bitterness and fear dominate her life.  Arcadio is a schoolteacher-turned-tyrant, making the rather remarkable transformation over only a few months.  Fernanda allows her obsession with propriety to circumscribe her life until she becomes a recluse corresponding only with her children (who lie to her) and "invisible doctors."  The family's slow fall is heartbreaking, especially as witnessed by the matriarch Ursula, a wonderful character who did much to hold the family and town together but is finally too old and infirm to halt the descent.

There is a sense of futility in everything the family does, whether it is fending off the red ants, attempting to restrain passions, trying to create the philospher's stone, waging a civil war, or fighting the foreign fruit companies; fate cannot be avoided. Much like the real history of Latin America, the beauty and pleasures of the land and its people cannot be separated from the chaos and horrific violence.  The elements of magical realism in the book -- a rain of yellow flowers at the death of a patriarch, Remedios the Beauty's assumption into heaven, a baby born with a pig's tail -- suit the tone perfectly.  These beautiful and terrible oddities are calmly accepted by the characters, because to do otherwise is pointless.  No explanations for the magic are ever offered, because that is life in Latin America.

It is a gorgeous, sad, violent, stunning novel, well worth reading in any language. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Beaded Beads II

These beads were designed by Diane Fitzgerald, and are from the April/May 2012 issue of Beadwork.  Aside from a finicky start to the thread, they worked up easily; to give them a firm shape I stuffed a bit of cotton between the two halves before sewing them together.  I made the one on the left first, although the pink and green are not as bright as I wanted.  The spiral design made me think of peppermint candies, so of course I had to make a second one in red and white.  I'll think of something Christmasy to do with it.