What I'm reading now: 13 June 21

So... more classic detective fiction. Specifically, Jacques Futrelle and R. Austin Freeman.

I finally read the last few Thinking Machine stories by Jacques Futrelle. I enjoyed them, although none are quite as good as "The Problem of Cell 13" - the first Thinking Machine story I read, and still my favourite. However, there is one lovely story (I don't remember the title, sorry), which I shall now spoil for you by telling you that, after The Thinking Machine has deduced the existence of a specific couple from the barest of clues, drawn them to his chambers, and demonstrated that all his deductions are completely accurate as well as brilliant, and dismissed them to sin no more, so to speak... his Watson (intrepid reporter Hutchinson Hatch) asks who the couple is - and the Thinking Machine has no idea of their identity.

I have been reading more Dr. Thorndyke mysteries. Having read all the short stories I can find, I'm now delving into Dr. Thorndyke novellas. Dr. Thorndyke is the forerunner of the forensic scientist. He doesn't detect, as such. What he does is a proto- scene-of-the-crime analysis, and it's quite fascinating. He (and his brilliant but self-effacing assistant, Polton) has developed a small vaccuum device to collect dust for microscopic analysis. Fiber comparisons, fingerprints, decomposition rates, insect traces - it sounds familiar to the forensic-science aficionados, although some of the things that happen to a crime scene before he gets there would make those same aficionados cringe. Thorndyke even looks states that he expects that one day science will be able to positively identify a man by a single drop of his blood - which is almost routinely done today.

As to the novellas: the stories ("The Eye of Osiris" and "The Mystery of Angelina Frood", from Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File) are told from the point of view of a third party, different in each story, who is the agent of bringing the mystery to Thorndyke, his companion Jervis, and assistant Polton. Because there's a little more length to expand the stories in a novella, as opposed to a short story, a side plot (a romance, of course) is slid into the mix, along with a little extra ornate prose. I could do without both, but they're only a mild annoyance, and I will admit that, in "Angelina Frood," I had suspicions of the right character, but for all the wrong reasons. Cleverly done, Mr. Freeman; I will continue hunting up more of your work.

Akron: 13 June 21: In Praise of Skirts, or What Happens When the A/C Dies

Having grown up in a family of tomboys, I am not overfond of skirts. Dresses or separates, a skirt has often seemed to me to be somewhat limiting of what one can do and how one can move. Four years of wearing a uniform in high school (a jumper and blouse, not a kilt) furthered my disdain, and years of cold winters and walking to work confirmed me in my ideas that skirts have their place, but it is a small place, and rarely intersects with my milieu.

I have, of course, worn skirts and dresses at various times in my adult life, for the ultra-dressy occasions (weddings, especially my own), and a few of the dressy ones as well (funerals, church, parties). Work? not unless I was going to a funeral immediately after.

Then, there was this week. It was hot and humid, unusually so for this time of year. And this was also the week that we had no air conditioning at work.

It has been a long-drawn-out process leading to this week. The old system was failing and due for replacement, and a case was made for setting up a geothermal system instead of simply replacing the old cooling tower. Money was found in the budget, contractors were hired... We've temporarily lost part of the parking lot as asphalt was stripped away and a dozen and a half wells were dug. There were holdups and setbacks, but on Monday morning, the old cooling tower was shut down for good.

It couldn't be a simple switchover, though - that would be too easy. There must be a difference in pipe levels that must be bridged, old fittings to cut away and new ones to be supplied. The system must be drained, flushed, refilled, tweaked, drained again, topped up with glycol, and then calibrated once more. But as of this morning, the geothermal air conditioning was at work for us.

What has this to do with skirts? Well... I aim for a professional appearance, so shorts are out. If I had worn any of my dress pants, I would have melted. So this week I wore skirts: a chocolate-brown tiered knit that came to just below the knee, a rayon summer dress in cool blues and greens, a creamy long skirt with embroidery and hankerchief insets in the hem... and I have to say I enjoyed it thoroughly. I see more skirt-wearing in my future - at least until the weather gets cold.

I have also just recently purchased a Little Black Dress for myself, as well as a Little Green Dress I came across in my search for the LBD. While dresses and skirts won't ever replace my reliable dress pants and jeans, but I suspect they'll be taking more space in my closet, and showing up at work more often.

What I'm Reading Now: 13 June 03

In fiction, I continue to read classic detective literature online. This past week or so, it's been more Dr. Thorndyke mysteries, and The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy. The Baroness is also responsible for the Scarlet Pimpernel books, but I prefer the Old Man - a nameless armchair detective who attends the sensational trials of the moment, and then sets out the solution to Polly Burton, a journalist and his captive audience at the cafe where she eats lunch. The stories are entertaining and twisty, although I find that they rely on the same twist too often. Still, an entertaining read, and you can't beat the availability and the price.

In non-fiction, there have been two: Anne Lamott's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and Eunice Adorno's Las mujeres flores.
Ms. Lamott first: as with other of her books that I've read, this is a series of essays, in this case linked to faith, especially faith when the government seems hopelessly set on a dangerous track. There are some lovely, honest, blunt meditations on being a parent, on forgiveness, on teaching Sunday School, and in all of them she throws tiny bridges of hope across the gap between what we want to be and what we are now, making it possible for me to believe that I can reach that ideal, if only for a second or two at a time. (I recommend "sincere meditations" for those moments where you believe it's impossible to ever live up to those ideals.)
Las mujeres flores is a book my supervisor recommended to me. It's a photo essay about Mennonite women in Mexico: the flower women, to translate the title. The book has a brief introduction, in Spanish and English, and then is simply a series of photographs: family photographs belonging to the women, as well as Adorno's own images of their lives and surroundings. My supervisor found the pictures very exotic - I, on the other hand, thought them very familiar. I could have gone to school with some of these women, seen them on the street, helped them and their children in the library, even visited some of their kitchens. The way of life depicted here has been transplanted almost intact to some areas of southern Manitoba. It's interesting to see what Adorno has captured as significant. My only complaint is that the only information available about the pictures themselves is a title (if any- most are untitled), the location, and the year. In many cases, I find the pictures self-explanatory, but there are a few where I wonder if my suppositions about what is shown is correct.

Akron: 13 May 30: Appropriate Apparel

Let's talk heat. Specifically, let's talk about what to wear when it's hot.

It is ridiculously warm outside. As in 33 C about the time I left the office for the day. The world is hot and muggy and smells of baking horse manure. Them's the joys of living in buggy country - horse exhaust makes its presence felt, in little piles on the road and little wafts in the air.

It wasn't long after we got here that I realized that my planned summer wardrobe - T-shirts, light pants, a pair of shorts, a couple of skirts - really was more of a mid-to-late fall and early-to-mid spring sort of wardrobe. So I began looking for proper summer wear. Short-sleeved (or maybe even sleeveless) cotton blouses/shirts, another skirt, a sundress... I found some things here and there, some of which I quite like, and some of which will stay behind when we leave. As I did most of my shopping at thrift stores, this is an affordable option.

A weekend or few ago, we visited the local farmer's market, and I insisted on stopping at one particular stall. I wasn't sure where it was, exactly, although I knew it was at the end of one of those buildings, on the left-hand side. The last time we'd been there, I saw a skirt I liked, but by the time I had decided to buy it, it had begun to rain and the vendor had packed up for the night. So I was going to see if I could find it again. Did I? Yes and no.
I found the vendor again. I found what I thought was the skirt - lightweight cotton in shades of cream, slightly patchwork-y - but it was a size too small. I shrugged inwardly and went on browsing the merchandise. Shortly thereafter, I found another skirt, also shades of cream, with a bit of patchy-ness to it and some very nice self-toned embroidery. I've worn it six times since then, and I'm already quite fond of it. It's coming with me, no question.

After the farmer's market, we ended up at the local goodwill. I had figured by now that I had enough clothes to get me through, but the vintage rack was marked "Everything $4." I'm intrigued by vintage, if only by "how on earth could anyone stand to wear that?" and "I'm sorry, harem pants from the 80s are not vintage." So I flipped through the hangers, drawn by the possibility of an interesting find. A shine of gold on green caught my eye. I pulled it out. I'm not certain of its country of origin or name of the garment, but I believe "India" and "kurta and matching sarong." I tried the kurta on, and it fit me rather well. It looks hand-made, rather than factory. So yes, green tunic, gold embroidery around the neck and down the front, gold ornaments in stripes, slit up both sides to just below my hips. The sarong is a length of the same cloth that wraps around me twice and a bit, and properly folded, stays exactly where it's supposed to stay. I was looking forward to wearing it, although I was somewhat distracted by the little voices that kept saying "cultural appropriation" in my ear. Ah, well, at least it's fashion and not (as far as I am aware) something deeply - religiously?- significant.

So - I wore it one hot Friday. It was admired (as was the smoking deal I got on it - I have no compunction about telling people about my thrift shop scores) and a coworker originally from Indias said that the tunic looked Indian, but the sarong-type skirt wasn't quite right. I did a little further research, and I've come to the conclusion that the "sarong" is actually a shawl, and that the outfit is missing the matching pants. And now I have options. I can continue to wear it with the shawl as a sarong skirt. I can wear the tunic with black or complementary leggings. I could conceivably wear it over jeans - I'm told that's done by some of the more Western-influenced set. I could also look for complementary material and have light, loose pants made to go with it. So many choices... but in any event, the kurta is coming with me, too.