Posted by Ellen

In the year 1212, the woman who became Saint Clare of Assisi founded the Poor Clares order of nuns.  From the beginning, Poor Clares sisters were entirely cloistered and took vows of poverty much more extreme than those of other nuns of the time; they owned no property whatsoever, individually or collectively, and depended on alms for survival.

For the past 700 years, Poor Clares in Naples, Italy, have lived here, in Santa Chiara, a church and monstery complex built for them by Queen Sancha of Majorca and King Robert of Naples. The complex was extensively remodeled in the eighteenth century, with the addition of exuberant ornamentation, especially in this garden, that seems difficult to square with the nuns' professed poverty and simple life apart from the world.

Indeed, the tiled benches illustrate decidedly non-religious scenes, from masked pageantry at Carnival to peasants chasing after pigs. The tiles on the columns are garlanded in flowers and fruit: lemon trees, grape vines, figs and bananas. The designer was Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, an architect and sculptor known for imposing a personal stamp on every project, no matter what the client might have had in mind.

For two more centuries, the Poor Clares stayed on in Vaccaro's fanciful cloister, until 1995, some years after they had downsized to a smaller monastery next door. For the first time, their garden was opened to visitors from outside the order.

Posted by Ellen

This showed up the other day on the wall next to a parking lot in our (Seattle) neighborhood.

Posted by Ellen

No idea what this was all about, but it's Philadelphia.

Posted by Ellen

In 1960, British photographer John Gay (who was actually born Hans Göhler, in Karlsruhe, Germany) shot these clotheslines in front of the chimneyline of Islington, London.

A confession: I miss clotheslines. Don't miss lugging baskets of soggy clothes up the basement steps and out across the yard. Don't miss slapping at mosquitoes with a mouthful of clothespins. Don't miss convincing myself it won't rain when of course it will, and it does. Don't miss how stiff the clothes are when they're finally back inside.

I just miss seeing clotheslines when I walk the streets and alleys of my neighborhood, or any neighborhood. Nowadays, backyards look lifeless and uninteresting. Doubtless, this is a small price to pay for progress, and this nostalgia of mine is a small and silly thing, but still.

So now and for a while to come, Monday will be laundry day on Hole in the Clouds.

Posted by Ellen

My sister Carol is hard at work on a sewing card, in our front yard in Silver Spring, Maryland, circa 1958.

Back in the day, little girls and perhaps also some boys "sewed" around the pictures on these cards as an introductory activity intended to help prepare us for real sewing. Carol was probably three or four when she threaded the shoelace-tipped yarn through holes punched in the card; by age five or six, she had probably moved up to simple cross-stitch embroidery using real needles and thread and tiny, child-sized thimbles. All that stuff is out of fashion now, though the old cards, sometimes called lacing cards, are still available on ebay and etsy. Maybe the whole sewing thing is just too girly for modern parents. Or too 1950s.

I never was much of a girly girl, but I really loved sewing cards and cross stitch, and I kept begging and begging my mother to teach me how to use her sewing machine. As soon as I started to learn, however, I gave it all up for good. It turned out that real sewing involved ironing each seam as you went along–and I hated, hated, hated ironing. Also, sewing under my mother's eye required doing the stitches properly–in other words, I had to rip out most of my attempts at seams and do them over and over again.

But Carol was and still is good with her hands. For her, the sewing cards may have served as preparation for piano lessons, or for penmanship at school. But isn't this activity more suitable for work indoors, sitting down on the floor or at a table? I'm guessing Carol put her sweater on and brought the card outside so our father could take a picture without a flashbulb.

 

Posted by Ellen

An uncropped version of this photo took first place in a contest defined as "Big rivers and the life along them." It was shot with an Android cellphone.

The river is the Li, in south China, and the lively village is Fenghuang.

Posted by Ellen

The ferry boat Michigan Central, carrying railroad cars, prepares to enter its slip on the Detroit River, circa 1900.

Posted by Ellen

At a hotel, every day is wash day.

Posted by Ellen

We perhaps remember what happened last year in Great Britain when the public was invited to submit names for the government's new scientific research vessel. Almost all the people who participated suggested the same name–Boaty McBoatface–a very nice name, we thought. We even submitted it ourselves to the organization responsible for naming our first grandchild. And just like the Brits, we had our submission swatted back at us unceremoniously, and so we learned that the world is run by tyrants who tromp all over the will of the people.

In Britain, the powers that be promptly named the research ship after a long-dead naturalist, though they did throw out a little bone to public opinion in announcing that the ship's robot submarine would bear the winning name. And so this week, the little yellow Boaty McBoatface departed for its first mission, to explore meltwater flow and underwater currents in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.

A British commentator writing under the name Stuart Heritage, a name that might be even sillier than Boaty McBoatface, helps us understand the larger issues here:

Boaty McBoatface is what the people wanted.... So it's a bad idea? So what? People vote for bad ideas all the time....

Look at [London Mayor] Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson is a terrible idea. He's a egotistical twit in a child-sized Sia wig who keeps filling London with insane foreign-owned monuments to his own genitals, but people keep voting for him anyway.... Nobody overrode the results and installed a more sensible mayor.

Boaty McBoatface would have been trampled by the might of the state had it been suggested in mainland Europe, while the gonzo patriotism of the US would have left the poll only containing options that sounded like Bruce Springsteen albums – Soaring Eagle or Thunder Avenue....  Boaty is the British character writ large. “We are British,” it says. “We have terrible ideas but, God bless us, we stick to them.”

Boaty McBoatface is a godawful name for a boat, and anyone who voted for it deserves to be stripped naked and fed poison in a dungeon for the rest of time, but the people should get what the people want. Can you hear us? Je suis Boaty McBoatface. Nous sommes tous Boaty McBoatface.