"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The New Orleans Bee: 29 Nov 1910

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It was inevitable that I, number one bee fan, would find this, wasn’t it? The wonderful old newspaper “The New Orleans Bee.” I was really only trying to find beekeepers or even a special Louisiana bee that I might be able to paint and write about. But what could be better than to start the New Orleans part of the blog with such a wonderful image from just one hundred years ago today.

It is really thanks to the Jefferson Parish Library who has digitised all of the publications from September 1827 to December 1923 which are accessible here. Their brief description of The Bee:

The New Orleans Bee/ L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans was a French language newspaper published in New Orleans beginning on September 1, 1827. An English section was added three months later. The newspaper continued as a dual language publication until 1872 when the English portion was dropped and once again it became French only. Briefly [1829-1830] there was also a Spanish language section. The New Orleans Bee was originally published three times a week, but became a daily after a few years. Publication ceased in 1925."

Wikipedia here has a little more to tell:

“Initially published three times a week in French, an English section was added on November 24, 1827,and in this form it was the most successful of New Orleans daily newspapers in the middle of the nineteenth century….Until at least 1897 L'Abeille remained "almost certainly the daily newspaper of choice" for French officials in New Orleans. The title was purchased in 1921 by The Times-Picayune and was published weekly until it closed in 1925.”

We shall be here for a while so I shall be posting a few pieces from this fascinating paper on the corresponding dates.

So today, 100 years ago, on the 29th Nov 1910, the English section of the New Orleans Bee was concerned with the demise of the Passenger Pigeon, the lack of respectable refuges for women in London, the rebinding of an exquisite Book of Hours with a gold cover attributed to Benvenuto Cellini in Paris and this little story:

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Transcript :

“Parrot mistaken for Man

Interrupts Young Woman’s Bath and the Human Pet Rushes in Causing Consternation

Philadelphia – Pat is a parrot owned by Mr and Mrs William Harrington. The other afternoon noticing that the door of his cage was unfastened Pat made for the window and perched on the sill of an adjoining bathroom window.

Inside there was much splashing and feminine laughter. Nora the maid was giving her young mistress a bath. Not finding the soap in its place she called to her husband whose name happened to be Pat “
Fetch the soap Pat and be quick about it”
The parrot hearing his name shrieked “Who wants Pat?”

Hearing the sound from the outside both women screamed and swooned thinking some one was endeavoring to enter by the fire escape. The man Pat hearing the commotion dashed into the bathroom and made matters worse, especially for the young woman, by breaking into the room.”

I am very taken with this newspaper and feel I might just appropriate the perfectly appropriate name for my stay here.
And where, might you ask, would a “New Orleans Bee” like to stay? Well, how about a Creole Garden? Which is exactly where I am. I’m at the delightful Creole Gardens B&B .. more of all that to come.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Road to New Orleans and a Chef with no Hands

We flew into Orlando on Tuesday and drove out again four days later. Our travelling day sandwiched between the retail frenzies of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A quiet “eye of the storm” day in the middle of the cyclone of 42 million people who were estimated to be swirling around the USA this Thanksgiving.

The directions to New Orleans couldn’t be much simpler. The 638 mile journey is detailed in just one page from Google Maps. You take the Florida Turnpike to Interstate 75, drive 107 miles and at junction 435 turn onto the mighty Interstate 10. Here Google maps merely says: “Go 478 MILES”.

And that is just what you do. Go..go go…for 9 hours and some.

Interstate 10 is the magnificent 2,460 mile long road that straddles the south of the USA from Santa Monica to Jacksonville. On the way to New Orleans you pass through the Florida Panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi. You cross the Suwanee River whose sign is printed with a couple of bars of its famous song. You stop at the pleasant rest areas and you stop for coffees. You try to find cheap petrol, try to find something on the radio that isn’t Country and Western, try to count the number of Waffle House restaurants there are on the way and stop very quickly when the maths becomes complicated and of course you stop for a bite to eat here and there.

We have done this trip once before and as luck would have it, found our way back to Sally’s Restaurant for lunch. Sally’s is just off the Ponce de Leon junction and although its very pink décor - both inside and out - is somewhat faded you will find a warm and smiling welcome and some wholesome food. It’s a local place where locals come to eat and after the dreary conformity of the chain restaurants which line the main road, Sally’s is quite a change!

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One thing that might make you hesitate though is the frightening statue of the leering chef outside whose welcoming outstretched arms are horribly handless.

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The Handless Chef at Sally’s

In this quiet wooded area it is easy to let your mind wonder as to the fate of those hands. But just ignore him and the abrupt sign on the door which says “we no longer accept checks of any kind unless you are personally known to us.” and go and enjoy some Southern cooking. There is an astonishing paper frieze around the top of the room of a French Boulangerie and an extraordinary clock and if the chef outside is handless the cook inside certainly is not and you can see Sally at work in the kitchen and the waitress was just lovely.

Then it’s on and on. The broad flat road is flanked by ever present dull green pines which march along the whole route regardless of state lines, relieved now by a sprinkling of copper tinged autumnal trees. There are swampy areas whose black waters contrast starkly with the white skeletons of drowned trees and then there are the bright steely city skylines of Mobile and Biloxi.

All the way the medians and the verges are wide and immaculately mown, presumably at night by elves who live in the adjacent forests as, on none of the three trips, have we ever seen any mowing activity at all. In the v-shaped medians occasional wooded strips act as cover for the stealth police cars and as you near the towns, the gleaming silvery domes of water towers rise, UFO like, above the tree line on thin spindly legs.

On the way I saw little rolling pastures with round straw bales which could have been in England and I saw the same long watering gantries that span the fertile fields of East Anglia. I saw some pretty perfectly spotted appaloosa horses grazing in a green green field. I saw beautiful longhorned cattle. We thought it might be nice to stop at Niceville one day but decided to give the Gun and Knife show at Mobile a miss this time.

There are many many billboards to entertain you on the way, some that make we two liberally minded, non religious Brits shudder but, as one sign simply said, “ Billboards Are Groovy”.

On the road we leapfrogged the slower RVs, the Winnebagos, a few cigar shaped perfectly preserved Airstreams, and the magnificent gleaming rigs that are American trucks. “Without trucks America stops” read the stickers on the back. We stopped to rest only to catch up with them again further along the road. The “Florida Beauty Flora” truck from Miami was with us all the way. We passed big old rolling saloon cars driven by impossibly small Hispanic men, their heads barely visible from behind. Huge people in huge pickups pulled huge trailers and a family car towed a canoe full of bicycles, topped with the cat basket... minus cat, I hasten to add.

The sun travelled with us on our left all the way, casting long black strobe like shadows across the road until we crossed the long low concrete bridge which skimmed the now placid Lake Pontchartrain and headed into New Orleans. There it crossed our path and from our right blazed onto the gleaming Superbowl turning it into a beacon of dazzling fiery-gold. We arrived in New Orleans at 5 pm, exactly on time... it was a fine trip.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Two Lovely Bees for Liz; The Early Bumble Bee and the Grey Mining Bee.

The last few weeks have been very busy and, with hardly any internet connection, very frustrating blogwise. However in my makeshift studio at my father’s house, (rickety picnic table with clip light fixed to hoe handle) I could at least work on my two bee commissions.

It gives me great pleasure to work on commissions because they are a chance to make paintings which are very personal to your clients. We will discuss the whys and wherefores at some length and this collaborative approach means they will have a painting which is just for them and has a resonance and meaning beyond just the image.

So Liz and I had discussed which bee and why and decided on the Grey Mining Bee which is such a favourite with its beautiful black and white silky coat and secondly the lovely Early Bumble Bee with her smart red rump.

There were several things which made these choices special to Liz. She particularly wanted the ginkgo leaves to be included as she has a magnificent old ginkgo tree growing in her garden. So the leaves I drew are from her tree. The hawthorn leaves were from the local hedgerow and the two little bees had been found near Lincoln, which was a strange coincidence because Liz once lived near there many years ago.

I had written about the Grey Mining Bee Andrena cineraria  before (see “The Glamorous Grey Mining Bee”) Here is Liz’ bee hovering above a sprig of hawthorn, a favourite flower with this and many other early bees.

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The Grey Mining Bee Andrena cineraria and Hawthorn.
Watercolour and pencil 9 x 9”

I drew and wrote about handsome the Early Bumble Bee here Bombus pratorum …and Mr. Sladen” and included Sladen’s poignant piece about the death of the queen. It’s a lovely piece of writing as is all the writing in his wonderful book about bumble bees, The Humble Bee' It's Life History and How To Domesticate It. I now have the reprinted copy which also contains the facsimile of his first handmade bee book. It’s completely charming.

Here then is Liz’ Early Bumble Bee flying up through the ginkgo leaves which are catching a light spring breeze. Bees do not forage from ginkgo trees but Liz’ garden looked to be a haven for wild bees and I just know she will be seeing these pretty bees in the spring next year.

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The Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum and Ginkgo leaves.
Watercolour and pencil 9 x 9”.

I am so delighted when people commission a bee. It’s not perhaps the most usual request but gives me hope that bees are getting a higher profile and winning a well deserved place in people’s hearts.  I am really looking forward to the day when bees outsell fluffy kittens…OK, I know… I may have to wait a while :). There is more work to be done to popularise bees, their undoubted charm and tireless good works and I will be continuing that next year both in the UK and in the USA…

But, for the next few weeks I will be somewhere completely different, I will be seeing what is happening in New Orleans for a while! Bees ? I hope so. What else? Who knows. It will just be a voyage of discovery!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Honey Bee and Lavender

Bee watching is one of lifes gentle and absorbing pastimes and something which should be prescribed as a perfect stress reliever. This past summer I spent many hours watching different bees coming and going on the lavender.  So, for this commission I wanted to portray this little honey bee just as I had seen them, busy in amongst the lavender stalks and enthusiastically throwing their front legs up in the air as they are about to land. As well as my own observations I had the help of Elivin’s bee, Dads lavender, and some scientific research about how bees land.

The research really just confirms what common sense and observation tells you and if you watch bees fairly closely you can see for yourself how they land and how they use their feet and antennae. But the study “The Moment before Touchdown: Landing Manoeuvres of the Honeybee Apis mellifera”  by Mandyam Srinivasan is interesting, (you can read the whole study here)

The Journal of Experimental Biology here reported on the study:

…….Srinivasan began wondering what happens in the final moments of a touchdown. Flies landing on a ceiling simply grab hold with their front legs and somersault up as they zip along, but Srinivasan knew that a bee's approach is more sedate. …..Initially, the bees approached from almost any direction and at any speed; however, as they got closer to the test platforms, they slowed dramatically, almost hovering, until they were 16 mm from the platform, when they ground to a complete halt, hovering for anything ranging from 50 ms to over 140 ms. When the surface was horizontal or inclined slightly, the bees' hind legs were almost within touching distance of the surface, so it was simply a matter of the bee gently lowering itself and grabbing hold with its rear feet.

However, when the insects were landing on surfaces ranging from vertical to inverted `ceilings', their antennae were closest to the surface during the hover phase. When the antennae grazed the surface, this triggered the bees to reach up with the front legs, grasp hold of the surface and then slowly heave their middle and hind legs up too. `

bees landing

In conclusion: “During the actual touchdown, bees simply use the appendage closest to the landing surface to make first contact – that is, the hind legs in the case of horizontal surfaces, and the front legs or antennae in the case of vertical or inverted surfaces.”

It doesnt really surprise me that bees are sensible and adopt the easiest possible landing strategies without any of the showy back flips of flies. But the  use of their antennae is fascinating. Really useful things, antennae!

Honey bee and Lavender

Coming into land on a sprig of lavender is my little worker honey bee, pollen baskets part full and front legs raised in anticipation of touchdown. 

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“Honey Bee amongst Lavender” watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 9”x 9”

It has been a lovely commission to work on especially as I have been working on it in between entertaining my father. As a beekeeper many years ago he was interested in this painting and it’s slow development has been a jumping off point for general honey bee discussions, anecdotes and fond memories of times long past. The beehives are still behind the garage. Next spring I intend to brave the Sleeping Beauty barrier of brambles and explore a little. Dad and I have been wondering what little bee or bug may have taken advantage of this ready made if crumbling shelter. I think there will be a big gang of slaters.. but who knows, there may even be a bee or two?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sketchbook Rooks and the Food Music of Worms

I am still up in Lincolnshire having exchanged the high flying seagulls of the south east coast for the lovely wind tossed, scrappy black rooks who circle high above the big copper beech and roost noisily in the nearby sycamore. I am very fond of rooks and have written about them before on the blog,  see “Beastly Birds”. They are not only very bright birds but are also beautiful and very funny.

In between working on commissions I am entertaining my elderly father who luckily shares my fondness for rooks. On a recent trip out we passed a little gang of rooks who were intently prospecting for grubs on a grassy verge. We stopped to watch them for a while. They hopped and strutted about, sometimes stopping to stare at the ground, sometimes with their heads on one side, adopting a sort of listening pose.

“They always remind me of people concentrating on some sort of orchestral performance” said Dad

“Who is performing,  do you think?” I ask.

“Worms” he said, without a moment of hesitation,  “They are listening to the music of worms, they are listening to the worms playing food music.”  That’s why they are listening so carefully”

Ahhh, “food music” of course.  My father is not mad, he just has a lovely turn of phrase.

Some Sketchbook Rooks

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Listening to food music….