face of the forest

Discoveries from the forest floor and beyond.

How I met the fisherman

by amy – December 11, 2015 in Words

Sunset in Island Bay

I was slightly reluctant to stop at No. 8 Recyclers on my way home from dropping Florian off at work that morning, but as I saw it approaching on my right, I resigned myself to forge ahead with the plan, and pulled over across the street. It was an overcast day, which gave me pause. I’m always conscious of the weather when I’m contemplating a bold move. If the weather is favorable, it gives me a feeling of good luck. Good weather makes people more agreeable, too. Maybe the weather wasn’t quite right today. Or maybe I was just trying to use it as an excuse.

I went inside. I didn’t see the old man at the desk when I entered, so in order to justify my arrival to no one in particular, I turned to browse a rack of terracotta pots on my right. Well, if the old man wasn’t there, I might as well poke around and see if I could find something to make my visit worthwhile. Some might call this secondhand warehouse a junkyard; others might call it a treasure trove. It made me feel like I was inside the hull of a big wooden ship that had washed ashore in Lyall Bay. It was bigger than a barn, and full of undiscovered gems. Sure, everything was covered in a thick layer of grime and grease and dust, but that didn’t deter the true treasure hunter.

The more I went there, the more intrigued I became. I lost myself in those tall aisles, rummaging through containers of assorted nails, screws, bolts, buckets of hinges, doorknobs, rusty handsaws missing teeth, shelves of candelabras and rotary phones, a bin of dusty burlap bags next to a stack of old picture frames. Opposite this mess, the other side of the building was carefully lined with beautiful old French doors and windows of every style. There were big back doors that opened onto a timber yard, allowing a breeze to waft through the dusty high-ceilinged cave. read more

Sólstafir – Ótta

by amy – December 1, 2015 in Music

ottaOnce upon a night, I discovered the brilliance of this album. There is a soulful, nostalgic feeling to it. A feeling of reaching back to one’s origins.

Sólstafir is an Icelandic band. Their name means crepuscular rays in Icelandic, referring to those rays of sunlight piercing through dark clouds that you often see near dusk. Ótta is an album revolving around an old Icelandic system of timekeeping called Eykt, a monastic system that divided the day into eight parts of three hours each. Accordingly, there are eight songs on the album, one to represent each eyktar. It starts at midnight with the opening track, Lágnætti (low night). Ótta, the second track, refers to the time between 3-6 a.m.

The cover is a black and white photo of an old man with white hair. He’s positioned on the left side of the photo, and behind him is the sea, with big rocks jutting out of the shore, shrouded in mist. The wind sweeps the man’s hair to the left as he looks in that direction. His face is somewhat haggard. It bears the creases of time. His expression is quite unreadable. He’s wearing black, nondescript clothing. He could be from any time. The photo well conveys the timeless feeling of this album. It speaks of a connection between a particular kind of landscape and the person who belongs there.

Twilight shore

The vocalist has a strong presence in all the songs, his raspy voice often belting forth Icelandic like a driving wind. Or, I imagine that maybe he is shouting into the wind in order to be heard, using the force of both wind and voice to direct the music that accompanies him. Icelandic being a Germanic language of a Nordic flavor, it has that ancient feeling that hearkens back to the Vikings. Language has always intrigued me for being intertwined with the culture and history of a place. The sound of a language, the words themselves but also their intonation, convey a feeling of the geography and character of the land. Iceland is a land of mystery to me, to which this album lends further mystery, and invites one to feel and hear its nature through the elements. For this reason, without having to understand the words being spoken, Sólstafir’s music is powerful in providing an Icelandic immersion.

While the vocals tend to drive the songs at their most energetic points, they don’t epitomize the album. Long instrumental interludes also occur. The album opens gently with piano and violin (or strings of similar nature). Elsewhere, later, a banjo enters. These stringed instruments come back again and again throughout the album to twine beautifully with the guitars, drums and vocals. There are time changes that rise and fall like tides. Times of noise and wind and rain, then quiet times of contemplation and reflection. These moods transition naturally. There is a consistent energy that builds and subsides, always seeming to flow from the same source. The drums and guitars will often interrupt a slow intro with a strong and steady tremolo rhythm, gathering momentum to launch brilliant crescendos that eventually wane back into silence.

The atmosphere created on this album is impeccable. A folk feeling is conjured by the banjo. Heavily distorted guitar paired with the distant crashing of a cymbal routinely combine to create a misty atmosphere, thanks to the delicate handling of the production. Violin or keyboard melodies ease through the fog to lend soul, sincerity and longing. A beautiful combination.

On Rismál, the drums shine and twinkle through a white fog of distortion, calling on the organic sound of a tambourine to accent the cymbal. If the twinkling were sunlight, it might lend meaning to the title, which means sunrise. There is an awesome part in Nón (noon) where a knife-edged lead guitar rises up out of the sea and dances for an instant with the ghost of heavy metal.

Ótta shines like the burning flame of an old candle that refuses to die. Through the timeless veil of wind and fog and sea, it reminisces of a time forgotten. It’s humble and heartfelt, almost balladic. It’s an ode to the heartland and the homeland. An offering.

The Birthday Bordeaux

by amy – October 16, 2015 in Words

It’s a sunny morning and I’m seated outside as usual with a cup of tea, a boule of bread baking in the oven. I had enough wine last night to give me a very slight hangover, and now I’m nursing it with the tea, a banana, and sunshine. It was a Bordeaux; a birthday Bordeaux. Florian had looked up the best French chef in Wellington, winner of competitions, and found his little restaurant called Jano.

jano bistro

Jano Bistro in Wellington, New Zealand

As we approached by night, it barely looked like a place of business. It was a petite little cottage with a pointed roof and warm yellow light spilling out its windows onto a covered front porch. The signage was understated.

“Florian?” The hostess glanced up from the reservation and welcomed us with a warm smile. She took our coats, then led us up a narrow set of stairs to the second floor. There we found wooden floors and private booths. The room was well lit, but the light was gentle, and so were the colors it caressed. A brick chimney added a rustic feeling.  read more

The Big Purple Pancake!

by amy – October 13, 2015 in Cooking

This is it. This is what you’ve been waiting for.
Welcome… to The Big Purple Pancake.

the big purple pancakeSo there I was. It was late, late morning. Other people were way past their morning coffee and muffins, pastries, porridge, whatever it is that you people eat for breakfast. But not I. I hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours. I was skeletal, not to mention hungry. Hungry as hell. I needed a meal that was more like brunch. read more

Crusty Pan Pizza

by amy – October 1, 2015 in Cooking

One day I felt like pizza.

Do you ever get that craving? But I didn’t want to make just any old pizza. I wanted that Pan Pizza kind like the one I remember from Pizza Hut, the one with a thick, puffy crust with a crunchy, buttery exterior that collapses onto a soft, pillowy interior when you bite into it. This, believe it or not, is a crust you can achieve at home. And you can do it in a cast iron skillet.Crusty Pan Pizza

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The Devil in the White City: Book Review

by amy – September 21, 2015 in Words

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Beneath the gore and smoke and loam, this book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow. In the end it is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.

Erik Larson’s prologue well captures the spirit of this tale. His words are a better introduction than I could hope to write in order to inspire any would-be readers. Though it reads like a novel, this is a book of history that immerses the reader in a time and place long forgotten. It tells in parallel the biography of two fascinating, ambitious, and clever men: the architect Daniel Burnham and a psychopathic killer who went by the alias H. H. Holmes, among many others.

The author clarifies straight away that this is not a book of fiction. Anything appearing between quotation marks comes from an original letter or document. The bibliography is extensive, indicating that this book probably required years of research. He goes into some detail in the epilogue about his in-depth search for original sources. It’s worthwhile to acknowledge Larson’s devotion to the facts, because the story told is one that amazes and confounds.
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