New Story: Maghda’s Song

Happy September! This is a special Thursday blog post brought to you by my newest short story publication. “Maghda’s Song” came out yesterday in the August issue of Anathema. Although my short fiction is less consistently musical than my novels, music, as the title suggests, features heavily in this story. There is also a cat, if you need that in your life.

Fun facts: “Maghda’s Song” is set in the same world, but in a later era, as another story I wrote first and for which I have yet to find a home. I hope you’ll get to read that story someday too (it’s also…very musical). Additionally, I originally wrote “Maghda’s Song” for a call for submissions to khōréō, a young SFF magazine that publishes immigrant and diaspora authors and often features stories that touch on themes of migration. That focus is definitely reflected in “Maghda’s Song.”

I’m so pleased to be appearing in Anathema for the first time. Plus, it’s my first short fiction publication since 2020! You can read the story here.

L’Aquarium de Paris

I’m behind on my Paris posts, but this is the last one! Toward the end of my visit, Isabelle, Olivier, and I took the bus and the metro to Trocadéro and crossed the plaza in the middle of the Palais de Chaillot, which was full of tourists milling about and taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower across the Seine. We wended our way downhill within the Jardins du Trocadéro. Our destination was the Aquarium de Paris and, specifically, Hanami, the temporary outdoor Japanese street food café the aquarium had set up. The menu was pan-Asian but with a Japanese focus.

Hanami by the Aquarium de Paris (nobody wanted to sit in the sun!)

At the counter, we ordered takoyaki, three kinds of yakitori (one type was beef, actually), two kinds of dumplings (duck and veggie–in French, dumplings are called raviolis, although at Hanami they might’ve called them gyoza?), and sweet potato fries for good measure. It was sunny and very hot, but some of the (rustic) tables were under a wooden roof, so we were able to sit in the shade. The food was tasty!

Part of our lunch

Next, we went into the aquarium and followed the path through the various exhibits and sections. The Aquarium de Paris is focused on the sea life of France, but France in the sense of its global empire, including its overseas territories in more tropical climes. There were digital panels on the walls that asked True or False questions (aimed at children, judging by the color schemes), and one that struck me was about the largest lagoon in the world. After revealing whether the statement had been true or false, the text noted of the two lagoons (the largest and the second largest?) that “both are French.” That is, they belonged to France. I think one of them was in New Caledonia, and the other was also in the South Pacific. It was very…colonialist.

The kissing fish! They kept doing this; it was very cute.

That aside, the exhibits were pretty nice, with lots of colorful fish. No mammals, however, unlike at the Aquarium of the Pacific. The Aquarium de Paris is known for its Médusarium, which features many species of jellyfish. Somehow, they still seemed harder to photograph than the jellyfish in Long Beach.

Nemo!

Garden eels

A little pufferfish

This last picture of moon jellies comes with a good story. I thought it was one of my better aquarium photos but not intrinsically that amazing. Still, I tweeted it after our visit, and thanks to a few lucky retweets, this became possibly my most successful tweet ever (not that that’s saying much). I hadn’t tagged the aquarium, but somehow its Président Administrateur général found the tweet and replied to it, thanking me (in French) for the beautiful photo :O

Moon jellies

L’Hôtel de la Marine

In early July, while I was still in Meudon, Isabelle, Olivier, and I went to l’Hôtel de la Marine on the Place de la Concorde in Paris to see the exhibit “Gulbenkian par lui-même” (“Gulbenkian through himself”). Calouste Gulbenkian was an Armenian born in the Ottoman Empire who became a fabulously wealthy oil magnate and an art collector with a dazzling collection. When Isabelle and I were in Lisbon, she (but not I) went to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and saw some of his treasures, which was what made her want to go to the Paris exhibit. (The Lisbon museum now houses most of Gulbenkian’s collection, but when he was alive, he kept his collection at his home in Paris.)

Qing Dynasty jar (famille noire) with 16th c. velvet hanging from Bursa in the background, both from Gulbenkian’s collection

L’Hôtel de la Marine is a very grand and imposing building, with a colonnade and pediments. It faces the Place de la Concorde, with its gold-tipped obelisk, and has views of the Eiffel Tower beyond. La Marine is the Navy, and the building housed the Ministry of the Navy from the French Revolution to 2015. (I didn’t know all of this when we actually visited; I looked it up for this blog post.) Before that, it housed the royal Garde-Meuble, the office in charge of the king’s furniture. It was first built in the third quarter of the 18th century. The fact that the building was for the Navy until 2015 probably explains why I hadn’t heard of it before this trip.

L’Hôtel de la Marine is now a multi-faceted museum. A relatively small part of it is long-term host to the Collection Al Thani, a different art collection assembling pieces from ancient civilizations. This was the collection of a Qatari sheik. The Gulbenkian exhibit was on display in one gallery inside the Collection Al Thani space, so on our visit, we first passed through two galleries with items from this collection.

The first room reminded me of photos I’ve seen of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. It was very dark, there was black all around, and it was hard to tell where the walls were. Hanging from the ceiling on black strings were hundreds, maybe thousands, of gold ornaments about the size of the palm of your hand. They looked like a cross between a snowflake and a chrysanthemum. They glittered in the lights shining from above, and the effect was kind of like moving through a very orderly swarm of mechanical butterflies. Evenly spaced throughout this small room were eight or so items from the Collection Al Thani. They were all fairly small and displayed inside tall narrow black and glass cases. There was a Mayan jadeite mask-pendant, the inscribed jade wine cup of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, a golden bronze bear from Han China, a 4,000-year-old gold rhyton in the shape of a deer…

Bear, China, Han Dynasty

The next gallery was long and narrow, leading from the first room to the temporary exhibition room, and it was dedicated to sculptures of human heads, from many different cultures and eras. It sounds weird when put that way, but it was actually very cool: all these individually rendered faces, produced long ago by people from around the world. One 4,000-year-old terracotta head was from Mesopotamia; the head of a princess carved from quartzite was from the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt. There was a 2,000-year-old Nok culture head from Nigeria, and the head of a statuette of Serapis, carved from lapis lazuli. There was a jade mask from Guatemala and a gold one from Gandhara. There was a 2nd century chalcedony head of the Roman emperor Hadrian and an 18th or 19th century Fang wooden reliquary head from Gabon. The diversity of features, expressions, and styles assembled in one gallery was quite compelling.

Head of an Amarna princess, Egypt, 1351-1334 BCE

Beyond the row of faces was the Gulbenkian exhibit. It occupied a single rectangular room, but there was an incredible number and variety of pieces on display. The information panels on the walls emphasized that Gulbenkian sought only the finest works of art, items of truly exceptional artistry and craftsmanship. And his interests were very broad: this selection from his collection included everything from a fragment of an Ancient Egyptian statuette to Safavid rugs and illuminated manuscripts, from Chinese porcelain to Japanese lacquerware, from 18th century French books to René Lalique jewels, and much more. The sheer breadth of his collection and the number of treasures assembled in one room was almost dizzying.

Ottoman and Ilkhanid ceramics, from present-day Turkey and Iran

Manuscript of a ballet by 18th c. French composer Pierre de La Garde

We left the temporary exhibit through a gallery parallel to the one with the heads. In this last room displaying items from the Collection Al Thani, we saw quite a few more small artifacts from antiquity, including a Sumerian lapis situla (bucket), an Ancient Egyptian obsidian cosmetics vial carved in the shape of a duck, a Sassanid silver rhyton shaped like an antelope’s head, a Tibetan banquet service made of gold and encursted with mosaic turquoise birds, a gold lunula (crescent-shaped necklace/collar) from Bronze Age Britain or Ireland, an Olmec pendant plaque made of jadeite and bearing a Mayan inscription, and plenty more. This gallery led back to the infinity room, and then we exited the Collection Al Thani.

Gold plaque, Tibet, 600-800 CE

Our tickets to the exhibit included much of the rest of l’Hôtel de la Marine (though there was a separate part–the intendant’s apartments–that required a different ticket). We got to wander through the reception rooms and also go out onto the loggia, with its collonade and view across the Place de la Concorde. The reception rooms were very ornate: high ceilings, tall, narrow doors, parquet floors, gigantic chandeliers, wood paneling, mirrors, elaborate molding, curtains drawn back with tasseled cords, classical imagery, and tons of gold.

The reception rooms

In a room just before the loggia, there was an interactive display about French maritime history. You could follow different historical figures, and the first one I was presented with was Marie-Louise Victoire Girardin, an 18th century Frenchwoman who disguised herself as a man and went to sea, joining an expedition to Australia and the South Pacific.

The loggia

After leaving l’Hôtel de la Marine, we took the metro to Batignolles and walked through the Square des Batignolles to go to Pastelaria Belem, a little Portuguese bakery and restaurant. We wanted to eat pastéis de nata, like we had in Lisbon (though in fact there’s a little Portuguese-accented supermarket right near Isabelle and Olivier’s apartment where we also bought frozen pastéis de nata twice). The bakery looked a little bit like Pastéis de Belém, home of the original pastéis in Portugal, insofar as there were azulejos on the walls and paper napkin and cinnamon dispensers on the tables. Before we went in, we noticed a big multi-colored cat dozing on a chair inside, next to the window. We ordered three pastéis to eat at the bakery and three to take home, plus Compal fruit juices, like we’d drunk in Portugal. The proprietress told us the name of the cat, which was something like Abada, but not that. He wasn’t as easy to photograph as we’d hoped, though he briefly approached our table before disappearing behind the counter. Ah, well. The pastéis were delicious.

An apartment building in Batignolles

À la rencontre du petit prince

I’m visiting Isabelle in Meudon again, and at the end of June, we went to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris to see the exhibit “À la rencontre du petit prince” (“An encounter with the little prince”). The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is right by the Louvre, but I had never been there before. We actually caught the last day of the exhibit (although Isabelle and Olivier had gone before).

English first edition of The Little Prince with a dedication by the author in French to Annabella Power

According to the museum, “À la rencontre du petit prince” was “the first major museum exhibition in France dedicated to the timeless literary masterpiece, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.” It was a big show (many rooms!) that explored seemingly every moment of Saint-Exupéry’s (tragically rather short) life, as well as the writing and publication of Le Petit Prince. There was a lot of emphasis on his dual identities as a writer and an aviator and on his humanistic vision of the world. On display was the original manuscript of Le Petit Prince, which is normally kept at the Morgan Library in New York City and had never been exhibited in France before. There were also scads of drawings, sketches, and personal letters in Saint-Exupéry’s own hand.

The little prince and the fox

I think I first read Le Petit Prince in 7th grade, in my French class. But I believe we also had a copy at home, so maybe I had looked at it before. I was very taken with the drawing of the elephant inside the boa constrictor. I also imitated others of Saint-Exupéry’s drawings, especially an image of two overlapping hills with a lopsided five-pointed star overhead, which I drew in the margins of a lot of school notebooks.

The little prince watching the sunset on his planet

I don’t know how many times I’ve reread Le Petit Prince, but it definitely had more of a lasting impression later. When I was in college, I wrote a story (which wound up basically novel-length) about a group of teenagers living on their own in a closed environment. One day, they discovered a hidden room in their living space. It was a library of books and music. They all began reading different books, and the main character discovered The Little Prince and was stirred by some of the passages in it. (The story was probably not very good; the premise was that the teenagers were sent unsupervised on a generation ship to populate a new planet, and a rogue member of the team that conceived the project built the library into the ship to break the teenagers free from their stultifying existence and state of forced ignorance.) Anyway, this story prominently featured my favorite part of Le Petit Prince, which is the little prince’s encounter with the fox. Isabelle also loves this part. In grad school, she made me a pin with a tiny book inside a glass dome, and on its pages she penciled an excerpt from the conversation with the fox.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s contract with his U.S. publisher for The Little Prince

Returning to the exhibit, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born in 1900 in Lyon. His father died when he was young, and his family scattered (boarding school, living with relatives, etc.), but they kept in close touch via letters. Many handwritten letters to his mother, from throughout his life, were on display in the museum.

Stamps of various countries featuring the little prince and Saint-Exupéry the aviator

Saint-Exupéry was taken with the idea of flight from a young age and became a pilot during his military service. He then worked as a mail pilot, flying routes in North and West Africa and South America. His flights inspired his first novels, published when he was around thirty. The exhibit went into quite a bit of detail about pretty much everything, so there were lots of photos of airplanes, a flight log, newspaper clippings, illustrated advertisements for airmail companies, various editions of all of Saint-Exupéry’s books… There were quite a few pictures of Saint-Exupéry too, and Isabelle and I agreed that he bears an (unfortunate?) resemblance to Mr. Bean.

Saint-Exupéry’s writing and art materials

In 1935, Saint-Exupéry and his mechanic, André Prévost, attempted to beat the record for fastest flying time from Paris to Saigon. They crashed their airplane in the Libyan desert and eventually set off across the dunes in search of help. Saint-Exupéry encountered some fennec foxes during this sandy trek. He and Prévost were ultimately rescued by Bedouins. As the exhibit pointed out, this episode inspired the opening of Le Petit Prince (and probably the fox too).

First editions, in English and French, of The Little Prince

After the Nazis invaded and occupied France in 1940, Saint-Exupéry went to New York to help persuade the United States to enter World War II. While in the U.S., he published a war memoir, but it was also in New York that he wrote and illustrated Le Petit Prince. The book was published in 1943 in both French and English in the United States; it wouldn’t be published in France until after the war, in 1946. Saint-Exupéry wanted to fight for France, and he returned to Europe to fly military missions. Apparently he didn’t fit in that well with all the young pilots, since at this point he was in his forties. Only a year after Le Petit Prince came out, in the summer of 1944, Saint-Exupéry and his aircraft disappeared during a reconnaissance mission. He was probably shot down by a German plane. He was recognized as having died in service to France.

Unpublished illustration of the little prince, with the narrator’s hand in the foreground (ultimately, Saint-Exupéry decided not to show the narrator in any of the book’s illustrations)

One room of the exhibit was dedicated to the original manuscript of Le Petit Prince, although there seemed to be pages from several versions, which was a bit confusing. One version was the manuscrit autographe, which is the one held by the Morgan Library. Another was the premier état, which suggests an earlier version…? I have not figured this out. In any case, it was cool to see the pages of the book written in Saint-Exupéry’s own hand. Le Petit Prince is dedicated to Saint-Exupéry’s best friend, Léon Werth, but somewhere in the exhibit, there was a letter he wrote to his wife, Consuelo, in which he said he regretted not having dedicated the book to her. He and Consuelo had a tumultuous relationship echoed by the relationship between the little prince and his rose in the book.

Manuscript (premier état–first draft?) of the first chapter of Le Petit Prince, with the iconic elephant inside a boa constrictor

In another room, there were draft chapters and illustrations that didn’t make it into the final version of Le Petit Prince. In the book, the little prince visits a number of planets inhabited by odd characters, and Saint-Exupéry apparently came up with some other characters, like a crossword puzzle fanatic, that he ultimately cut. There was also a scene in which the little prince walked into a house where a couple was eating dinner, and they basically ignored him.

The little prince and a baobab, surrounded by those lopsided stars

The last room in the exhibit displayed over a hundred different translations of Le Petit Prince. The book has actually been published in nearly five hundred languages, often with a version of the original cover but sometimes with art by another illustrator. I always love seeing the same title in a bunch of different languages and scripts. In this case, it was a testament to how broadly this slender and deceptively simple book has resonated.

Réunion Creole translation of Le Petit Prince (other translations on display included Basque and Breton editions)

Michelle Zauner at Grinnell

Back in May, the Grinnell Asian American Association hosted a reading and Q & A by Michelle Zauner, the author of the bestselling memoir Crying in H Mart. Zauner was also on campus to perform with her band, Japanese Breakfast, which I personally did not know of but which seems to be kind of a big deal? I had heard of Crying in H Mart, though pandemic time being what it is, I somehow thought it had come out before the pandemic rather than in April 2021. I wasn’t originally planning to attend the reading, but then my friend Laura, a colleague who also comes from a Taishanese-speaking family, asked if I wanted to go with her, so I did. It was well worth it.

The event drew a crowd that filled the auditorium. When Zauner walked out of the wings, I was surprised to realize she was mixed race. Somehow I had assumed she was just Korean; maybe Zauner was her married name. But the chapter she read from her memoir made her background pretty clear. Crying in H Mart is generally about her Korean mother’s death from cancer. I haven’t read it, though I’d definitely like to now. Zauner read the chapter about her and her white father’s vacation in Vietnam after her mother had passed away. They had thought to take a trip for a change of scene, to take their minds off things, and they decided on Vietnam. Unfortunately, Southeast Asia did not furnish an escape from the fog of grief, and the trip was not exactly fabulous. The chapter describes some of their sightseeing and then relates a fight she and her father had a Franco-Vietnamese restaurant, which culminated in her father telling her her mother had warned him not to let her, their daughter, take advantage of him after she was gone and Zauner saying to her father that she was exercising great self-control in not telling him all the things she could be. She then stormed out of the restaurant and wandered around the town. She ended up in a karaoke bar frequented by locals, where she met a young Vietnamese woman. They each told the other they were sad. When the Vietnamese woman asked Zauner why she was sad, she said because her mother had died. The Vietnamese woman was sad because she wanted to be a singer but her parents didn’t support this. She encouraged Zauner to sing a song, and by the sound of it, everyone in the bar did.

The chapter was very well written and funny in places, and Zauner read it compellingly. Afterward, the floor was opened for audience questions. I don’t remember all the questions and their answers, but Zauner was great at this part too. There were some questions about her dual careers as a writer and a musician. Zauner said that, funnily enough, when she was growing up, becoming a rockstar seemed more possible than becoming an author. I believe she said she wasn’t much supported in artistic pursuits. In college, she took all the creative writing classes available to her except creative nonfiction because she didn’t think someone like her (a mixed race person) could write nonfiction that anyone would be interested in reading. It sounded like she hadn’t seen any examples of this, that is, she hadn’t had any mirrors, so she didn’t think it was a possibility.

Someone asked her if her father had read Crying in H Mart and what he thought of it. By the sound of it, the memoir may not have been the most flattering portrait of him. Zauner said he claims to have read it, though she’s not sure if that’s true. He did object to her having written that he’d sold used cars to the military because actually the cars had been new. She found it funny that it was this of all things that he’d complain about.

Another thing Zauner brought up, although I can’t remember what prompted it, is a notion a fair number of mixed race people subscribe to, namely, that we aren’t “half” anything. I might not be recalling how she expressed it exactly right, but she said that a lot of mixed people nowadays see themselves or at least choose to describe themselves as whole: wholly X and wholly Y (rather than half-X and half-Y). And she thinks that’s great, but for her personally, that doesn’t really resonate or feel authentic to her own experience. She does feel half-Korean, and I think she also said it felt like an asset, in some way? (This is what comes of writing blog posts a month after the fact!) Maybe that it had helped her in her musical career somehow, this feeling of not being fully one thing or the other? I was struck by her comment because I count myself among those who try not to use “half-X” language when talking about their own identities. But adjusting your language is one thing, and how you actually feel is another. That’s not to say I feel “half,” but being mixed is definitely a disinct experience. I liked how Zauner addressed that head on and shared what she actually thought, even if it perhaps didn’t fit into recent prevailing sentiments.

A Harpsichord Lecture Recital

Toward the end of April, I attended an unusual concert at Grinnell. Technically speaking, it was a lecture recital, which was not a genre I was familiar with but is basically exactly what it sounds like. The speaker and musician was Dr. Heidi Tsai, a Taiwanese-born keyboardist who lives in France and has taught and performed extensively on both sides of the Pyréneées. (She has a doctorate in historical keyboards–how cool does that sound?) The lecture recital was described thusly on the program: “A Transgenre Tale…from the cross-dressing Abbot François-Timoléon de Choisy (1644-1724) and the celebration of 17th-transcriptions [I think that should say 17th century?] for the harpsichord in France”.

I hadn’t heard of de Choisy before I learned of this event, nor was I familiar with most of the composers on the program (the exceptions were Lully and Couperin). I arrived a bit on the early side, wanting to get a good seat, and at first the audience looked extremely sparse, but the concert hall did fill up. Before Dr. Tsai began her lecture recital, one of Grinnell’s French professors, a specialist in 17th and 18th century French literature, gave an introduction to some of de Choisy’s writings. He focused particularly on Histoire de la marquise-marquis de Banneville, a story about a young marquise who falls in love with a young marquis (and he with her). If I recall correctly, the marquise’s mother has to tell her that her anatomy is actually characteristically male (not sure how the young woman is unaware of this), and at first it appears this might spell the end of her courtship. But affection prevails, the two get married, it turns out the young marquis is also transgender (possibly–I’m not clear on how this is presented in the story). And they have a happy union, enjoying the best of both worlds. So, there’s a lot to unpack there! But I have neither read nor studied this text.

Dr. Tsai then took the stage. The lecture recital consisted of remarks on the life of de Choisy (his upbringing, his relationships with the family of Louis XIV, his female alter egos and cross-dressing adventures), the expectations of 17th century French high society (the harpsichord was the perfect instrument for young women because it didn’t involve contortions of the mouth and face, wild gestures of the arms, or anything placed between the legs!), transpositions of musical works between instruments (e.g. transcriptions for harpsichord), and other background on the composers, instruments, and pieces. I enjoyed the music more than anything else, though the lecture was interesting as well.

Dr. Tsai performed on a double-manual harpsichord that belongs to the college; it was built in the 20th century but modeled on 18th century French instruments. It has a lovely sound! I mean, I love the timbre of the harpsichord. As mentioned above, there were some works by Jean-Baptiste Lully and François Couperin, two French Baroque composers whose music I like very much. Part of the conceit of the concert was that some French composers of the time had written pieces inspired by de Choisy. The theme of crossing over was also realized in the performance of harpsichord transcriptions of music originally composed for different instruments or ensembles. The transcribers were Jean-Henri d’Anglebert, Jean Baptiste Forqueray, and Dr. Tsai herself. Other composers included Jacques-Champion de Chambonnières, René Mesangeau (alternatively Mézangeot?), Louis de Caix d’Hervelois, Jean-Baptiste Barrière, and Antoine Forqueray. Don’t they all sound fancy? (And wasn’t John the Baptist a popular namesake?)

One of the last pieces on the program was Antoine Forqueray’s “Le carillon de Passy” (which for some reason always seems to be paired with “La Latour”? Oh, maybe it’s because they’re part of the same suite in G minor). Dr. Tsai explained that Passy was a tony neighborhood in Paris, and I was thinking to myself, I know, it still is!

The program ended with three pieces by Couperin. The first, “La Régente ou la Minerve,” was familiar, probably because this past year I went through some phases of listening to entire albums of Scott Ross’s recording of the complete harpsichord works of Couperin. The last two pieces were both musettes, that is, works meant to imitate the sound of the small French bagpipe called the musette. And they were certainly imitative! Couperin really leaned into capturing the musette’s drones.

Trip to Northampton

At the beginning of the month, I visited Northampton, MA for the second time in my life to attend the wedding of my college friend Leland. It was a quick trip at the tail end of my spring break: I flew into Boston early Friday evening and flew out again early Sunday afternoon. When I arrived in Boston, I met up with another college classmate, Ben, and his fiancée. Ben and I both played cello in the college orchestra (at least until I dropped orchestra for folk dance), and he and Leland played in a Swarthmore-famous string quartet. Ben and his fiancée kindly gave me a ride to Northampton.

On Saturday morning, I walked from my hotel up the road to Tart, a bakery in downtown Northampton, and bought a spinach and feta pastry for breakfast. Actually, outside the wedding festivities, nearly all the food I consumed during my trip came from Tart. I’d been there once on my last trip to the area, and I guess it’s now my modus operandi to glom onto a bakery for all my sustenance needs when I travel for a wedding.

Later in the morning, I walked back up the hill for the wedding ceremony. There was a protest going on outside a bank downtown, and a woman handed me a leaflet, telling me it explained why they were protesting, to wit, to draw attention to banks’ contribution to the climate crisis. The leaflet encouraged me to move my money out of banks and into credit unions and tell my bank why I was doing so. By this time, the woman had moved on, so I couldn’t tell her all my money was already in credit unions and she could give my leaflet to someone else.

First Churches of Northampton, the day after the wedding

The wedding was at First Churches of Northampton. It was a sunny day, if a bit brisk still at the time of the ceremony, and there were a few guests milling about in the yard in front of the church. I recognized some people. I went inside and signed the guestbook. I ran into Leland and gave them a hug. I ventured into the sanctuary, which was high-ceilinged and wide, with two aisles. As I was admiring the space and contemplating where and with whom to sit, I noticed someone I knew standing near me: it was Kristine, a fellow phonologist. As with a number of the other guests, I hadn’t anticipated seeing her, but as soon as I did, it made sense that she was there. We went and found seats in a pew together and listened to the prelude. The organ was at the front of the sanctuary, and the big pipes were painted in dusky Scandinavian colors (that description might only make sense to me).

The processional began, and various family members advanced in sets down the two aisles. While we were looking around, Kristine and I noticed Ivy, another linguist, sitting in the left section of pews, and we all waved. Then it was time to rise for Leland and Bryn’s entrance; the person sitting in front of me shot up and clasped his fist over his heart. Leland and Bryn also processed in parallel down the two aisles.

I heard someone joke afterwards that the ceremony was essentially a concert with some wedding rituals thrown in; there was indeed a lot of music, which was fitting for the couple. First, a crowd of Sacred Harp singers, many of whom I knew or recognized, sang Harmony from The Shenandoah Harmony; Ivy led. The officiant spoke some words about Leland and Bryn and the things they had in common, including the fact that they both really like ringing bells. This provoked laughter from the assembly.

A trio of friends sang the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei (split across two occasions in the service) from Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices. The second occasion was communion. Later, an octet including Leland’s mother and sister and a couple other people I knew sang a hymn, and toward the end of the service the congregation got to sing Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (the Hyfrydol setting). And the recessional was the Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music. The bulletin invited us to listen for English change ringing on our way out of the church, and indeed, there were four ringers on handbells outside. I heard more than one person confirm that they were ringing a whole quarter peal (no promises about the accuracy of my change ringing terminology).

I had sort of skipped over the receiving line on my way out of the sanctuary, so later on I went back to greet the newlyweds and their close family. I also said hi to other people I knew, like Ivy (and I met her partner in person for the first time, as opposed to on Zoom). Among the guests were other Swarthmore alumni, folkies, people I met on my first trip to Northampton, and various combinations thereof. There was also Gretchen McCulloch, internet linguist!

Eventually, we migrated around the corner to the Hotel Northampton and into the brick-walled, low-ceilinged Wiggins Tavern for a cocktail reception. I talked to Sophia, the string quartet’s first violinist, and Becky, Lorelei, and Daria, who were Leland’s roommates at the time of my last visit (Becky also went to Swarthmore). A bell ringer and I mutually recognized each other in a hazy sort of way and ultimately concluded we must have met the day I hung out with the band in Boston. While we were talking, Myles, another Swarthmore alum/linguist/singer/bell ringer, etc., came over. Apparently I have this thing where I introduce myself as a linguist and academic to strangers at weddings, and then someone who knows me brings up my novels. Myles and I alluded to my still fledgling attempts to become the next Donna Jo Napoli. He also mentioned that he and I had once met up in Istanbul (we literally found each other in the Hagia Sophia, in fact, though that was after we each knew the other was in the city). A little later, I brought some fruit back to the table where my acquaintances were sitting, and Lorelei laid out the Hamp/Noho divide for us.

Next, we transitioned to the bright and festive ballroom, where Leland and Bryn’s friend Maia served as master of ceremonies. I was seated at a table with Becky and Lorelei, among others. There was also Nicole, yet another Swarthmore alum/singer, etc., who I had run into by accident the last time I was in Northampton and who, on that occasion, had given me a mushroom in a paper bag to deliver to Leland. Then there was Mel, another folkie I’ve known since my Swarthmore days. Plus additional guests with Swarthmore, singing, linguistics, and other connections (sometimes all three). I sometimes (creepily? I hope not) knew more about them than they probably knew about me.

There were multiple brunch buffets with things like eggs Benedict and waffles with strawberries and cream. There was also a very nice playlist on in the background, and every now and then someone at our table would say, Hey, I have this album (that was me), or make a remark about Crowfoot’s flutist, or complain about a singer’s ungrammatical distortion of a line from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” Mel also told me from across the table that they’d read one of my books after finding it in a little free library, and I felt like I’d unlocked an achievement! It was somewhat unclear which book they’d read, but I think we concluded it was Sparkers?

After people had mostly eaten, Maia orchestrated the succession of toasts. We had flutes of champagne to raise in honor of the couple. The parents and grandparents told some amusing stories from Leland and Bryn’s distant and not-so-distant pasts. I think it was also one of them who asked guests to raise their hands if they were Sacred Harp singers, bell ringers, etc. There was a considerable contingent of change ringers in the back of the ballroom, and someone (Maia?) warned everyone else not to approach them unless we wanted a lecture about ringing. The whole string quartet came up to give a toast. At our table, we speculated about whether there would be dancing or not–there was, after all, a small dance floor–but there was none that I witnessed.

I wandered a bit to talk more with Ivy, her partner Gabe, and Kristine, and then after arranging to ride with Nicole to the evening event, I headed back to my hotel. I stopped by Tart to buy a lox and goat cheese sandwich to eat for dinner later (it was excellent).

Early that night, Nicole picked me up, and we drove to the Artifact Cider taproom in nearby Florence for the Shenandoah Harmony singing. Yes, I brought my wicker book all the way from Grinnell for the wedding. It was my first shape note singing since the Before Times. At the cidery, Leland and Bryn were still in their wedding finery while a lot of other people, including me, had dressed down. I drifted over to a table where Ivy, Gabe, Gretchen, and a few others were drinking ciders and eating a sheet pan of nachos.

The singing soon began, and I shared my book with Gabe. Becky gave a very quick lesson on how to deal with the shapes for the non-Sacred Harp singers in attendance (they were definitely in the minority). Despite having owned the book for years, I haven’t sung much out of The Shenandoah Harmony (it’s the newest shape note book), so most of the tunes are unfamiliar to me. A lot of the ones we sang were good! And there were some incredible texts. Like these words from Isaac Watts, in Converse: “I’m tired of visits, modes, and forms / And flatt’ries paid to fellow worms. / Their conversation cloys, / Their vain amours and empty stuff” and “Fly from my thoughts, all human things / And sporting swains, and fighting kings, / And tales of wanton love; / My soul disdains that little snare, / The tangles of Amira’s hair”–I mean, who’s Amira?! Or how about this text by Charles Wesley: “Ah! lovely appearance of death! / What sight upon earth is so fair? / Not all the gay pageants that breathe / Can with a dead body compare. / With solemn delight I survey / The corpse when the spirit is fled, / In love with the beautiful clay, / And longing to lie in its stead.” That’s not one the mainline Protestant hymnals have kept around.

Leland and Bryn circulated a bit during the singing, and when there was a break, I managed to hand-deliver my wedding card to Leland, since I’d failed to find the appropriate place to leave it at the reception. I also talked to Ivy and Gabe about my research and the job market and learned that Gabe went to the same tiny college as the president of Grinnell.

I made plans with Ben & Co. for our journey back to Boston, and then Nicole dropped me back off at my hotel. The next morning, I went back to Tart (third visit!) for breakfast and provisions: I bought a pain au chocolat and a savory biscuit. According to its website, my hotel was not currenty serving breakfast, but I’d discovered on Saturday morning that this was false; there was quite a comprehensive buffet. So I decided to keep my pastries for later and brought some breakfast back to my room. But then, Leland invited me to an originally family-only brunch at their and Bryn’s house. The quartet was going too, so I could just leave for Boston from there. And unexpectedly, I’d have the chance to see Leland one more time.

The former St. John Cantius Church, near Leland and Bryn’s house

I checked out and walked over to Leland and Bryn’s new house. They had, in Leland’s words, a million quiches and a million leftover desserts from the wedding reception, plus oatmeal and fruit. Later, a giant order of amazing-looking pastries arrived. I was kind of sad I’d already eaten breakfast because everything looked really good, but I wasn’t hungry. I sat in the living room with the quartet and partners, as well as Leland and Bryn when they weren’t greeting various relatives. Their extremely cute cats, Lentil and Miso, both brown (or gray?) tabbies, made several appearances.

Soon, it was time to leave for Boston. We did a sort of Minnesota goodbye (you know, first you get up saying it’s time to leave, then you spend at least ten minutes talking in the hall, then you have hugs in the entryway, then you have hugs in the driveway…), and then Ben, his fiancée, Amy (the second violinist), and I hit the road. I had the earliest flight, so they dropped me off at the airport before embarking on their sightseeing and cannoli-acquiring adventure. I ate my pain au chocolat on the sidewalk before heading inside for the airport rigmarole.

So, it was a swift trip, but it was a lovely wedding, and I hope I’ll get to visit again someday, hopefully in even better times.

A Chilly Minnesota Spring

I’m in Minnesota for spring break just now, but it hasn’t been a very warm spring break, on the whole. At the very beginning, there was one balmy day, and I took advantage of the nice weather to walk around Lake Harriet. The ice on the lake is getting soft and slushy, and there are some patches of open water along the shoreline. Here are some Canada geese–scoping out nest sites?–as well as other fowl flying low in the sky.

One day, my mother and I had lunch at FIKA, the restaurant inside the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. We had kroppkakor (potato dumplings filled with spiced pork) with crème fraîche and lingonberries and a semla (a cardamom-flavored roll filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream). They were both excellent.

Kroppkakor

Semla

Another day, we made an excursion to Keefer Court, the pre-eminent Chinese bakery of Minneapolis, which after all these years I’d still never been to. The side of the building is painted with a cute mural depicting birds and flowering trees.

Otherwise, life is busy! I hope to be back in April with some more exciting posts!

Middle Grade Fantasy About Fighting Injustice

Shepherd is a new book discovery website that lets you browse lists of books on a particular theme or topic (e.g. middle grade books about unlikely friendships, zombie books, etc.). Each list is written by an author who has a connection to the topic and personally recommends five titles that fit the theme. When Shepherd invited me to put together a list, I decided to recommend books in the same vein as my two middle grade novels Sparkers and Wildings, that is, children’s fantasy novels about fighting social injustice. You can read my recommendations over on Shepherd (and maybe you’ll find you enjoy list-hopping!).

If you want some behind-the-scenes tidbits: one of the titles on my list, Ptolemy’s Gate, is the third book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, which I read as an actual middle grader (I remember really wanting the first book, The Amulet of Samarkand, when I saw it in a book fair catalogue–and I got it!). Years later, after I’d written Sparkers, it struck me that it probably showed the influence of Stroud’s trilogy. The other four books on my list are much more recent titles, all of which I read as an adult. In terms of tone and theme, I think The Troubled Girls of Dragomir AcademyA Wish in the Dark, and the Bartimaeus Trilogy, for that matter, are the most similar to Sparkers and Wildings, so if you liked my books, I think you’d like those, and vice versa!

Finally, my Shepherd list says “best books,” but really they’re just favorite books (and books that I’ve actually read, of course!). In assembling the titles, I had to make some decisions, and two books that I considered including were Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Daniel José Older’s Dactyl Hill SquadThe Girl Who Drank the Moon won the Newbery and is in many ways a fairy tale, but it does have things to say about oppression and political power. I’ve only read the first book in the Dactyl Hill Squad series, but it stars Black and brown kids in an alternate Civil War-era United States–with dinosaurs!

Winter Amusement

It’s been fairly cold in the wintry north since the turning of the year (though somehow the East Coast still gets the best snowstorms). Back in January, while I was still on winter break, my family enjoyed some distinctly wintertime activities. First, my brother works in the theater world, and his home base, the Zephyr in Stillwater, built their second ice maze this year. As a sound designer, he was in charge of curating the playlist. I kept suggesting film scores by Prokofiev, but I’m not sure he took me up on any of my picks (I mean, why wouldn’t you want visitors to your riverside ice maze listening to the soundtrack to the battle on ice from Alexander Nevsky?). Anyway, we visited the maze on a Sunday evening, when colored lights illuminated the giant blocks of transparent ice. I also went down the big, slippery ice slide.

Ice dragon guarding the maze

Braving the maze

Minnesota pride

Later, we went cross-country skiing at Hyland Lake Park Reserve for the first time in several years. It was a warmer day, a good day to spend outdoors. I should really ski more often!

Back on the ski trail

They’re hard to spot, but there are two deer in this picture

A sky of soft-edged clouds