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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Ajanta Caves

It helps if you spell a word right. There are many websites about the Ajanta Caves, mentioned in my last post. It's worth looking up. While Petra is undoubtedly the most famous carved cave site, the Ajanta caves are no less remarkable, especially as they are on a hillside.

Click here
and here

An even more fantastic story, though, is that of Oberto Airaudi, an Italian businessman who dreamed of fantastic temples and a benign culture, and who initiated the creation of secret underground recreations of his vision. This installation was revealed only in 1993, but already a spiritual community has grown up that includes organic farms, eco-friendly homes, and a commune operating as an independent "Federation of Damanhur."

It's too rich a story to try to summarize here - go to:
See Damanhur

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Trapped in a Web of Words

Last night I was reading about the Deccan Traps and I distinctly heard my Grandmother’s voice saying, “Don’t forget your traps.” Grandma has, of course, been gone for many years, but her quaint sayings, as well as her admonitions and words of advice linger on. Grandma was not, in any way, referring to animal traps. But before I get to that, let’s return to the Deccan Traps for a minute.

Although this term sounds rather threatening, in fact it refers to a volcanic formation in India. In this case, the word comes from the Swedish trapp, meaning steps. The Deccan formation consists of layers of lava flow in huge terraces, laid down over a period of years. The jury still seems to out on the duration of this period (somewhere between 1.5 and 4 million years) but the major eruption occurred about 65 million years ago - about the time of the dinosaur extinctions. Some scientists theorize that the gases from this eruption may have contributed to that extinction, possibly in combination with a meteor strike in the Yucatan. (This combination poses an interesting scenario, which so far I haven’t seen addressed.) At any rate, it is estimated that the original flows covered up to 600,000 square miles. Today they cover about 200,000 – about the size of Oregon and Washington together. This is still one of the largest volcanic features in the world.

In a valley high in the Deccan Traps, the caves of Ajunta were discovered by a British horse officer in the 19th Century. These caves are carved out of the solid lava, with amazing statuary, including life-sized elephants, many figures of Buddha, and even a free-standing two-story temple; as well as many well-preserved frescoes. The caves were carved between the 2nd and 7th centuries A.D. – then abandoned and forgotten until their rediscovery.

Grandma’s word “traps” had nothing to do with geology or Buddist carvings. She would say “Don’t forget your traps” when you were leaving after a visit, and she was referring to your belongings – usually coat, hat, purse, whatever you had brought with you. I always assumed that it came from the word “trappings,” which it does, although both are shown as dictionary terms. We do sometimes come across “trappings” in older literature – phrases like “their elegant trappings.” The term also sometimes refers to caparisoned horses, and the word can also refer to a small horse-driven wagon. But I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing “traps” used the way Grandma did. Apparently the word – along with “trappings” – is slowly fading from use.

Me and my Grandma, Vera Green, fishing in Arizona when I was about five years old.

Frequently Grandma would say, “Company is coming, so I have to redd up the spare room.” The only other place I have heard or seen “redd” was in a book by a Scottish poet. that puzzled me, since most of Grandma’s phrases came from her Pennsylvania Dutch background. In fact, *redd* is Scottish dialect (from Old Norse rydhja) and brought to the American midlands by Scottish immigrants. “Redd up” is a particularly Pennsylvania use of the term. As a child, I was used to hearing “kaffee” for coffee, “pruins” for “prunes," and grammatical constructions such as “I’m going to take the broom out and sweep the walk around.” Mind you, Grandma spoke no German, but these inflections carried into everyday English for her family. Although her “dubishy” may have been a purely Grandma word – it meant “dubious.”

Pages from an altered book that I did, honoring my grandmother

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What’s in your back yard?

Well…after a week of sub-freezing weather, a week of snow and snow-begone, a couple of weeks of rain….we have had our usual second-week-in-February “spring break.” It happens nearly every year….clear sunny days, warmish (50s) temperatures, crocus and camellias and heather starting to bloom, irises and other bulbs poking through the ground. We enjoy it while we can, because we KNOW that winter is not over. We KNOW the weather will be crap again. It’s just that little window of hope that gets us through the rest of Flabuweary and the muck of March.

Something else happens this time of year. As Valentine’s Day rolls around, there is a certain romantic influence in Nature.

I finished up a bunch of chores the other day and decided on a rest break on the deck to enjoy the sunshine. I let my gaze wander across the yard, past the labyrinth and over the rock garden boulders into the woods beyond. I admit that my gaze was somewhat swimmy – so at first I didn’t notice anything unusual. I was just admiring the sunshine on the basalt rocks out there on the perimeter, when one of them said, “Bork!”

There is nothing like having a medium-sized boulder say “Bork!” to get your attention. It was then that I realized that there were actually far more rocks out there than usual. It was a moment later that I realized that they were wild hen turkeys hunkered down and not boulders at all. I stood up and walked over to the railing where I could see more of the yard, and out there were more hens and a proud Tom, strutting his stuff in full display. Yes, it’s that time of year that a turkey’s thoughts turn to …. well, reproduction.

Normally the males don’t display – unless they are being protective and/or showing off for hens. While they seem pretty much the size of the hens when they are deflated, a puffed up male turkey with his wings spread to the ground, his hackles fully raised, and his tail widely spread makes a fairly impressive show.

I chanced going into the house for my camera – most times, by the time I return with it the birds have moved off. But no – they were undisturbed by my presence although I knew they were aware that I was up there above them. Of course as soon as I tried to get a picture of Tom, he turned away. Fine – a photo of a big fluffy turkey butt was not what I was after. He then managed to maneuver himself along so that any time he was front-forward and in full display, there was a bare-branched bush in front of him. It was frustrating. Turkey-butt, bush. Turkey-butt, bush.

Far back in the woods I could see a red head or two pop up now and then, and I figured that the young males, recently ostracized from the flock, were keeping an eye on things, too. I finally decided to make my way out the front door, around the house, and down into the yard in hopes of a better photo.

Tom stood his ground, but by now he had the hens moving along toward the fence at
the other side of the property. I got my photos – not without Tom doing that sort of booming-spitting thing that’s a bit of a friendly warning – and decided to retreat so as not to upset them any more. I could hear the hens flying over the fence and saw some of them land on the neighbor’s roof.

Back on the deck, I watched as the young males moved down through the woods. Well, I thought, it will be interesting to watch this. I fully expected some feathers to fly. But no….Tom just poked around at the ground, letting the youngsters join him. He did chase one that got a bit challenging, but that was over quickly. Eventually they faded back into the woods, and I assume that Tom rejoined his harem on the other side of the fence.

What a nice piece of passive resistance, I thought. Hang out with the boys for a while so they don’t feel totally dispossessed. Nice turkey. Nice day.

Response to a comment - Whither goest Internet bookselling?

I find the following comment left on my blog on bookselling:

“I think that this is an interesting, well thought out, post but I wonder if you could elaborate on your final sentence, 'The generalist Internet bookseller, however, either needs to develop a specialized market niche, or to adapt to the realities of an online marketplace.' It seems to me to be a contradiction in terms.”

I can understand how some confusion might occur in regards to my statement. Simply rephrased, it means that – given the proliferation of books available on the Internet -- anyone who is now a generalist bookseller needs either to become a specialist with a specialized inventory (thus being no longer a generalist) or to be able to sense the direction of the general book market and take steps to move with it.

I have thought and thought on what to say regarding the general book market. But, since I don’t sell in that category, and since I don’t sell on the sites that cater to mass market books, all I could offer would be hunches and guesses about where that market is headed. I leave it to the general-interest booksellers to figure out how and why and what affects their businesses.

I don’t think we yet appreciate the profound influence that the Internet has had on contemporary culture. It is huge, it is global, it affects every aspect of our lives these days. And it is very, very young. There are still many opportunities for it to be exploited, or regulated, or used and misused.

Bookselling was one of the first successful retail businesses to make use of the Internet, but it is being swirled around now like a woodchip in a whirlpool. With so much changing so fast, it’s no wonder that we feel that we can barely keep afloat. The only sure thing is that things will not go back to the “way they used to be,” and they will continue to change at a breathtaking pace. We can only try to anticipate what some of those changes will be, and what they will mean to us as entrepreneurs (not to mention, as consumers).

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Personal Review of the Bookselling Trade

Many of us earned our “bookseller badge” the old-fashioned way. We come out of an era of bookselling that drew its ethos from centuries-old traditions. Not much had changed from the time that books went into print, and much of what persisted in terms of trade standards was drawn from the European guilds of the sixteenth century on.

Then came the Internet. Some of us eagerly jumped on the opportunity to trade on the Internet. Books that were unwanted in our local areas were eagerly sought after in other parts of the world. We tried to bring our “old-fashioned” standards and ethics along with us….But!

Since bookselling was among the earliest successful Internet retail ventures, venture capitalists were quick to look for ways to jump into this small but potentially viable marketing scheme. Entrepreneurs quickly saw the potential and issued book after book about how to make money selling books on the Internet. People with little or no background or knowledge of books saw the opportunity in treating reading material as a commodity. Suddenly the old standards were at risk, or had been disregarded altogether. Websites that attempted to retain them were purchased by investors who also saw the medium as a moneymaking opportunity, not as a means to preserve a centuries-long tradition. Today, “traditional” booksellers struggle against a tide of cheaply priced merchandise. It’s market economy – supply and demand. If booksellers cannot embrace the changes wrought by the Internet, they are an endangered species.

The problem is one of making adjustments. That does NOT include lowering any standards. It does mean that ideas about marketing and business methods need to change. Efforts to retain the old models are doomed to failure. We are NOT going to go back to the old ways, at least not any time soon.

I handle a lot of ephemera and I’m always intrigued by advertising from those periods when a technology was in process of change. For many years, ice was a luxury and most of it came from ponds, lakes, and rivers (and sometimes caves) where ice could be cut and transported to markets where it was not otherwise readily available. This was a very lucrative business, and one that reared up in shock when refrigeration methods improved, and local markets could offer artificially produced ice. (The American South was primary in this development.) The “natural ice” marketers tried in vain to claim that theirs was a healthier product (never mind the issue of pollution that were present even then) but they were doomed. Artificial ice was more readily available and a lot less expensive in the areas that provided the largest market.

The advent of the farm tractor threw the makers of horse-drawn plows and equipment into a frenzy of advertising the advantages of the horse over the gasoline engine. (Cheap fuel, recyclable waste, easy maintenance, lower cost, easier on tilth.) The gasoline-powered tractor, however, allowed farmers to produce more work for less labor.

Then came the automobile. It’s interesting in some of the period magazines to see ads for buggies and carriages on the same page with ads for early autos. [See below] There were, of course, attempts to build autos that were propelled by steam, electricity, and gasoline internal combustion engines. [See below] What is most interesting is that the manufacturers who jumped onto the automobile phenomenon were the buggy and carriage makers, as well as bicycle makers. So you can see horse-drawn conveyances from Buick, Studebaker, Cadillac, Dodge, etc., companies that became some of the earliest makers of autos. Bicycle makers who turned to manufacturing autos included Pope and Columbia. In fact, it was a bicycle manufacturer (Stirling Elliot) who solved the problem of wheel-turning ratio, a solution that is still used on cars being manufactured today.

Well, the natural ice industry melted away and the horse-drawn plow still has its advocates, not only among groups such as the Amish but also with some modern farmers. In fact, as the old manufacturers abandoned their trade, and as the old equipment wore out, many small entrepreneurial firms sprang up to offer horse-powered equipment to a new generation of farmers who want to pursue this method. There is now an annual trade show called Horse Progress Days (they have a nice website) where modern horse equipment manufacturers can showcase their wares.

And yes, there are still buggy makers, and buggy whip makers, catering to a specialized market. And the horse population is larger today than it ever was.

All of which is to point out that bookselling has changed radically with the introduction of the Internet. Booksellers who cling to the traditional models are going to have to change perspective if they don’t want to follow the path of the natural ice merchants. Those who can convert their methods – as the buggy and bicycle manufacturers did – to take advantage of the new technology may prevail. There is still room for the specialist, and brick and mortar stores that have something special and personal to offer their customers (so long as they are in appropriate locations) can survive, so long as they accept a modest market share. The generalist Internet bookseller, however, either needs to develop a specialized market niche, or to adapt to the realities of an online marketplace.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The transition from Horse and Buggy to Early Autos

The little runabouts were probably fairly impractical at a time when paved roads were pretty much unheard of.

White Sewing Machine Company got into the act with this steam automobile. Steam had a short burst (so to speak) of popularity.

Early Electrical Woods auto.

Ads for horse-drawn vehicles and autos often appeared on the same page in magazines, as in this 1903 page featuring an ad for a Cadillac auto along with the Babock Stanhopes and Phaeton. Not only did the names of horse-drawn vehicles carry over to autos - many of the styles did also.

Later a premier auto manufacturer, Studebaker was still building horse-drawn vehicles in 1903. This was advertised as a Station Wagon.

Another cross-over 1903 ad with Studebaker carriages and Northern automobiles.

Bicyle manufacturer Pope offered this auto in 1903.

Oldsmobile was early on the scene, with this 1903 version, advertising Mother Shipton's Prophecy, "Carriages without horse shall go!" In this ad, Oldsmobile claims 23 years "of practical experience in gasolene (sic) motor and automobile construction. Located in Detroit, they had 58 selling agencies.

Early Autos - bicycle makers to Cadillac

Columbia was another bicycle manufacturer that segued into automobile manufacture, as shown in this 1905 advertisement.

By 1906, Studebaker was firmly into the auto business

Bicycle manufacturer Pope moved easily into the automobile business. They understood the appeal to women and used it extensively in their advertising.

By 1907, Cadillac was pushing for the elite market.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

ATCs - Maybe Not Fine Art, but Fun!

Perhaps you have heard of ATCs - Artist Trading Cards. These are tiny works of art, just 3.5 x 2.5 inches (64 x 89 mm) in size. The whole idea was conceived in 1997 by a Swiss fine artist, M. Vanci Stirnemann. He was concerned that his work was becoming so expensive that many of his friends could no longer afford it. Then he saw a sports card trading session, and he had his bright idea – miniature art works that would be traded, not sold.

The idea caught on and has spread around the world. Although the preferred method of trading is live and in person, many artists have met to share their work through the Internet when local groups are not available. (Needless to say, some have taken advantage of the interest in ATCs and offer them for sale, sometimes under a slightly different name.) The size format and idea has been adopted by rubber stampers, scrapbookers, digital artists, and others. But I happen to belong to a group that, while it does trade through a website, restricts its work to original drawing, painting, and sometimes printmaking (engraving, etc.) Other groups focus on collage or mixed media.

It can be a bit intimidating to join a group like this, particularly if you are unsure of your artistic skills. However, most groups are friendly, warm, and welcoming not to mention encouraging and helpful. Each group operates a bit differently – some have themed swaps or round robin type trades. Our little group is strictly one-on-one: if you see a card you like, you request a trade. You might not always get it but there are no hurt feelings if someone declines. It’s all about doing what we love, and acquiring artworks that we love.

And looking through the cards that you acquire can make you feel utterly wealthy – most of us keep our collection in albums and imagine what it’s like to open the covers on your miniature art gallery!

I’m including a few of my own little productions – I don’t think of myself as a “fine artist” and I certainly have no training. But it is a whole lot of fun!

If you are interested in joining the Yahoo Fine Arts ATC group I described, here's a link: (sorry if there are some "junk" words - when I tried to clean this up it was rejected.)

alt="Click here to join FineArtsATC">
Click to join FineArtsATC

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Ice Box with some Ephemera

Speaking of ice and snow, as we were a couple of days ago, I overheard Emeril use the word “icebox” on his TV show the other night. And I had to wonder how many people knew that he was referring to the refrigerator, and of those who did, how many actually knew what an icebox is – or was. And of those who knew, how many had ever had to live with one.

With the kind of serendipity that often befalls an ephemera dealer, the very next day I turned up this advertising piece for an ice delivery company in San Francisco.

It was clearly made to hang next to the icebox, an early version of the advertising refrigerator magnet. The verso of it shows how to place the ice, and where in the box to put various food items. This piece was probably produced at about the time that electric (and gas) refrigerators were being introduced, since the slogan is, “A Block of Ice Never Gets Out of Order.”

That may be, but if you ever lived with an icebox, you must remember the “drip tray.”
“Drip” is a nice term for all that melted water. Now, it may be that the icebox in this image had some kind of draining device, but the one we had when I was a kid had a sheet metal tray under it that had to be pulled out and emptied.

That ice tray pretty much controlled our lives. Trips and visits were often cut short with the phrase from my mother’s lips, “Oh, we have to get home and empty the drip tray.” There were a few times that we didn’t get there in time – we’d walk in to find a stream of cold slimy water inching its way across the cracked linoleum floor.

Removing a full tray was no fun, either, as you can imagine if you have ever tried to pry a flat wobbly tray brimming with water out of a floor-level hole, and balance and lift it to the sink. A deal of bailing had to be performed before the task could be undertaken with some degree of success. Our icebox was nothing like the luxury model in the above image. It was a low box with one compartment and a couple of wire shelves. A block of ice went into the bottom of the box, and a limited amount of food could be placed on the shelves. The only advantage to having to live with such a contraption was that it couldn’t keep things frozen. The other phrase from this era that comes to mind is, “We have to eat up all this ice cream, because it won’t hold in the icebox.”

The ice was made, I knew, in the ice house that we sometimes walked past on the way to the park. It was a huge warehouse building, rather formidable and scary with unpainted wooden steps and landings and, when the doors were open, a huge dark cavern was revealed. The whole building exhaled cold and damp. In fact, everything about it seemed to be wet all of the time – the walls, the loading decks, the ramps, the parking lot. The men who worked there were big and burly and aproned in heavy leather and … well, wet. It had to be a rather nice job in summer, since air conditioning was not yet common in our part of the country.

It’s no wonder that I dearly love my self-defrosting refrigerator, with the freezer on the side and the ice dispenser in the door. It has to be one of the modern age’s most wonderful inventions, and I make no excuses when I am caught hugging it with deep affection.