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I’m writing this on Thursday, Dec. 22, the first day of Winter. So you know what that means:

Welcome to the Halcyon Days!

What’s the Halcyon Days, you ask?

Halcyon is a name for a bird of Greek legend which is commonly associated with the kingfisher. The phrase comes from the ancient belief that fourteen days of calm weather were to be expected around the winter solstice—as that was when the halcyon calmed the surface of the sea in order to brood her eggs on a floating nest.

OK. Maybe it’s too much to expect whole days of Halcyon this holiday season. Well then, how about a moment of Halcyon, here and there?

And that was the idea behind my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card this year, which I call:

All is calm. All is bright.

 

There was another component to my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card this year, a message that I put on the inside to remind you all to Go Easy in 2012:

Some of you may recognize this is my little joke on the very famous poster from WWII England:

What is ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’?

Right. Pay attention at the back, and no slouching.

Keep Calm and Carry On was the third in a series of World War II posters drawn up by the UK Ministry of Information in order to boost the morale of the British people by passing on a message from King George VI. The posters were a stark white text on a red background, with the only image on the poster being the royal crown of George VI.

The first two posters, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory” and “Freedom is in Peril” were widely printed and distributed. However, the third poster, which carried the simple message “Keep Calm and Carry On” although printed, was never distributed, as it was intended only if invasion was imminent.

At the end of the war, the posters were collected up and pulped. It is believed that only two original posters out of a print run of over a million survive to this day.

The story would have ended there were it not for Stuart and Mary Manley, who run a bookshop called Barter Booksin Northumberland. (Yay bookstores!) Whilst sorting through a box of old books, they found one of the few surviving original copies of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster. They liked it so much that they had the poster framed and placed near the till in their shop.

They soon found that customers were very keen on the poster – even to the point of asking if they could buy it! So, Stuart and Mary started selling and printing facsimilie copies of the poster. The rest, as they say, is history…

In the nine years since 2000 the poster has become world famous, having been mentioned in news articles, on TV and having been seen in many disparate places from country pubs to the Houses of Parliament.

The preceding text was brought to you courtesy of a website, where I also got my “Shine On” poster:

http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/

Have a great Holiday, everyone. Go dance by the light of your ChrisHanuKwanSolstice dream.

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It only cost $30 to get a ticket (time-stamped) to see Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels on display at Christie’s auction house in Manhattan. That’s a lot of money for an entrance fee, and for a nanosecond I hesitated. Then my common sense kicked in and I happily shelled out the smackers for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see some legendary bijoux.

The place was mobbed. Lines were out the door. This never happens in an ordinary sale.

I skipped the handbags and the shoes on display, and I moseyed through the dresses on view (they were wonderful), but I came for the jewels.

I came for this:

The  brooch that Ms. Taylor bought in 1987 from the estate of the Duchess of Windsor. It’s the three plumes of the Prince of Wales, and of course since Richard Burton was Welsh well, you know, Ms. Liz had to have it. She paid $565,000 for it, and it’s now estimated at $400-$600,000. It will go for at least twice that. By the way, it looks HUGE in person.

Mike Todd gave her this tiara:

From what I overheard, most of the ladies only wanted to see stuff that Richard Burton had given Ms. Liz, like this Bulgari emerald necklace:

And the 33-carat diamond ring, which used to be called the Krupp Diamond but is now the Taylor-Burton diamond. In person, this stone doesn’t look all that huge. It’s BIG, but not paper-weight sized. They must have got a small hand-model for this shot:

‘I wanted to see the Taj Mahal Diamond that Burton gave Ms. Liz just after she became a grandmother at age 40:

But the thing I MOST wanted to see was the Peregrina Pearl, the natural pearl found in the 16th century in Panamanian waters by Spanish conquistadors:

That’s a Cartier necklace that Ms. Liz commissioned in  the 1980s — it’s ugly, but does not diminish the presence of The Pearl — which is HUGE in person (much biggger  than I expected it to be):

The very first piece of writing that I ever got published was an article about the history of the Peregrina that I wrote for a fine little antique jewelry magazine in 1993. So the Peregrina looms large in my legend, and I’ve waited lo these many years to SEE it.

I’ve known it only from photographs:

And from paintings of its original  owner:

Mary Tudor .

The pearl was put  up for auction by an aristocratic English family in 1969 in New York, where Richard Burton bought it for $37,000 amidst much controversy. Some titled Spanish lady claimed that she had  the Peregrina, which she didn’t; and when her ruse was revealed there was some clamour that a Hollywood tart shouldn’t be able to own a Spanish crown jewel.

In my opinion, Ms. Liz had much more class than all the Spanish queens put together, who were for the most part a rough bunch.

The Peregrina is estimated to go for $2-3 million. I will bet right now that it goes for closer to 5, and I hope against hope that it stays in sight in the Western world, and doesn’t disappear into the Middle East.

**** The Peregrina sold for $11,842,500, the highest price ever paid for a pearl at auction. It was the top lot of the entire sale; no word on the identity of its new owner.

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Ah, the color of memories.

Remember the warm rosy glow of those lingering Summer twilights?

Well, there’s a new ray of light in town.

Last weekend I bundled up and bustled out to the local stately mansion (the deserted old manor house of the renowned American man of lettres, William Cullen  Bryant) to catch the very last gasp of Autumn.

Instead of a warm rosey glow, there was only a wan pearly greyness. The color that flooded the eyes didn’t come from the light:

I need this infusion o fjoie to my vivre. I’ve had one of those weeks. The kind of week when you have a small package that you need to take to the post office on Monday, and it takes you until Thursday to get there.

It’s been one of those  weeks when the news is even more depressing than usual. The cops raided Occupy Wall Street in the middle off the night and trashed the whole enterprise, including the OWS Library. What a dick move, NYPD.

It’s been the week that I noticed that the Japanese Dogwood tree in the backyard was hitting its peak Fall leafage.

And then, the next day, it rained, the kind of November rain that wipes out the peak Fall leafage all around the world, and our dogwood tree looked like this:

Good-bye, Fall of 2011.

 

 

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It began in the middle of Saturday morning. A heavy, cold, fat rain pelting down with bits of snow-slush stuff that began to accumulate on the ground. That’s what the freak Northeastern snow storm of October 29 looked like here on the north shore of Long Island.

Yes. Snow. And most of our trees haven’t even started to turn color yet. It still looks like late Summer out there. 

It was an ignoble end to my brave and courageous cosmos.

I had a late morning dentist appointment in Sea Cliff (for those who are keeping score, this was two Saturdays in a row) and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go visit the Sea Cliff Library.

The library is smack in the middle of town, in the old Methodist, or Presbyterian church. I ave already forgotten which. But it was Protestant.

This was my first visit here, and I couldn’t help but let out a little “Ooooo” of appreciation upon seeing the churchie details still intact.

I pulled out my camera and started to take photos. The librarian looked at me and said one word : “Architect?”

I replied with one word, in an apologetic tone: “Illustrator.”

I want to live here, in this church-windowed corner.

While I roamed, I overheard a grown woman ask the librarian:”Are all novels fiction?”

“Yes,” she was told

“But aren’t there true-life novels?” she asked. “No,” the librarian said: “That’s narrative non-fiction.”

The woman persisted: “But not all short stories are fiction, right?” she asked, “Because aren’t some true books written as short stories?”

“No,” the librarian said. “If a non-fiction book is written in short chapters or in a series of essays, that’s an episodic devise of the narrative. But it’s still non-fiction.”

“Oh,” she said. “OK.”  But she didn’t sound convinced.

That hole in the ceiling is from the lengthy investigation going on in the 100-year old Sea Cliff Library to find out where the rook leaks. They’ve been looking for the source of the leak for about three months.

I know government work when I see it.

Now I’m wondering about the life of a librarian. I used to be envious —  they work with books! In a workplace with no non-stop background music! And with very few other people1

Now, I kind of feel sorry for them.

 

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My local NPR station (WNYC, New York) was having its Fall Fundraising Drive so you all know what that means. I pledge my various dollar amounts to support listener-funded radio for another year and I head out of town.

Actually, I had made a dentist appointment. Because there’s really no difference between listening to an NPR Fundraising Drive and the ear-piercing whine of a dentist’s drill.

My dentist happens to be in the town of Sea Cliff, Long Island — so after the dental awfulness was done for the day I took myself  afterwards to my favorite museum on all of Long Island:

The Sea Cliff Museum. It’s housed in the old rectory of the old Sea Cliff Church. On the main floor there’s a fireplace that I long to illustrate —

I think this is one of the finest fireplaces on Earth.

I always judge a museum by its gift shop. The Sea Cliff Museum has a swell gift shop (even thought I couldn’t find anything to buy).  It stocks books by local authors, one who is a sketch artist and one who is a poet.

The focus of the Sea Cliff Museum are exhibits of relics of local life such as swimsuits fromf 1900 —

— from the times when the local lasses were noted for their high spirits:

Ancient household items include a push button phone from the 1970s.

And the preserved rectory kitchen c. 1929.

In an alcove there is a collection of dolls from the 1940s – 1970s on loan from a local resident.

But the star of the show is a scale model of a well-known Sea Cliff house called the Connor Cottage:

Which they say is this house (below), but I think they have the wrong house.

The model house was a project of Ed Knieriem, who started it in 1939 and worked on it until his death in 1969. It was Ed Knieriem’s wish that the model be given to the Sea Cliff Museum, where it is exhibited as a village treasure.

The interior of the house is decorated as the actual house looked in 1937.

What is it about miniatures?

Even in this CGI world, there is something irresistible about miniatures — so familiar, but so other-worldly.

I want to  have tea in this miniature house.

I want to have sweet dreams under this lace bedspread.

I would LOVE to  invite all my itty bitty dear readers into this itty city home to have an itty city cup of tea.

Happy Weekend, everyone. Occupy Everywhere.

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I have not been in lower Manhattan since September 14, 2001.

The last time I was in the neighborhood, the twisted steel girders from the World Trade Center were still smoldering. I could see that the Trade Center was gone, but it just did not comprehend it. I stared and stared, and tried to understand that it was gone. All gone.

I’ve been in Tribeca and the Lower East Side many times since 9/11 (I met Top Cat at a party in the old Meat Packing District in 2003) but I haven’t been near Wall Street for a decade.

The new Freedom Tower that is ring up in place of the Trade Center looks like it will be a beautiful building:

The reason I was in lower Manhattan is because I wanted to see Occupy Wall Street, so Top Cat and I drove in. It took us 40 minutes to find a parking space — the whole area is a huge tourist attraction now, now that it’s called “Ground Zero” (a name I loathe).

We entered Zucotti Park down by the Faith Tree.

The Faith Tree is a meditation circle that is the official “quiet zone” of Occupy Wall Street. You can see that people put little totems up and sit in contemplation here. That’s a photo of John and Yoko in the center, above a Petition For World Peace. That green and purple sign says “Community Altar. Sacred Space”. There’s little American flag there, incense, potted plants, picked flowers, and candles.

The park was packed with people, occupiers and visitors. We walked up to the end of the park where some clergy people were holding an outdoor service. The lady minister wore a turquoise jacket that you can see in the background.

I liked this guy in the hard hat with the tiny American flag on the top.

You’ve probably heard that the occupiers are not allowed to have tents at Zucotti  Park. But they can have cardboard boxes and tarps. Here’s an occupier at home in his cardboard abode:

Getting his sign ready for the next march.

This is the famous “grey water” purification system that the Occupiers use to water the plants at Zucotti Park.

This kid was doing his Holding Up The Sign For Tourists duty, eating a popcicle. I thought he was extremely cute. If that were my kid, I would be extremely proud that he was fighting oppression there at the grey water station.

I was excited to see the Press Working Committee in action —

—there were about five bloggers hammering away at lap tops, oblivious to the throng. In fact, it seemed that the occupiers were mostly oblivious to the crowds, busy doing their Sunday afternoon prep for the working week ahead.

I LOVED the Occupy Wall Street Think Tank stand:

The sign had an email address, with little arrows pointing to plastic bowls, “Deposit Ideas Here”.

And I had to get a picture of the guy holding up his iPad Protest thingy:

It says OTC Derivatives. I don’t get  it.

This whole Occupy Wall Street is  such a Baby Boomer-free movement — that that was one of the reasons I wanted to head down here , to show up for the nest generation. But I was happy to see a few fellow Boomers hanging out with the kids:

I also had another two reasons for coming down to OWS in person. I wanted to give them money for food, so I found the Food Working Group at their open buffet:

It was very well organized, with lots of pizza and rice and vegetarian dishes on a long table. People waited in line with a paper plate to choose from about a dozen hot dishes (and you can see that the food servers were wearing gloves — nice!).

 I had planned on giving lots of money. I asked the guy, “Can I make a cash donation?” and he said  “Sure!” And he pointed to a small locked tin, into which I stuffed $100.

I was also lugging two large tote bags of books for the library. Occupy Wall Street has a lending library and I had  some very good books  I had travel books, half a dozen Calvin and Hobbes books, Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis books.

This is the library at Occupy Wall Street:

And these are the librarians at Occupy Wall Street:

I talked to these librarians, and there wre serious book lovers. They were very happy with my donation — they have a system. Each book that they take into the library is marked on the top of the pages with black magic marker “OWS” with a number. They have a ledger into which the book title and number is entered, and then it’s put on the shelves and people check them out.

Yes, those are copies of my book in that photo (lower left corner. I gave them three copies of When Wanderers Cease to Roam and I wasn’t going to mention anything, but Top Cat picked up one  and told the young man, “This is the book that my wife wrote!”

“Wow,” the guy said (which I thought was awfully sweet of him). “Would you autograph it for us?”

So I did, one book. I wrote:

Occupy Wall Street, October 16 2011

Occupy Everywhere! Vivian Swift

It is my dream that one day I will find that book selling on eBay for an obscene amount of money.

We’d had enough of the crowds by then, so Top Cat and I were edging our way out of Zucotti Park when we saw John Oliver from The Daily Show with a fim crew walk right past us.

And right before we exited, an occupier asked us if we would like to take home this:

Thank you, Occupy Wall Street.

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So me and my sister Buffy took our un-ironed selves down to the First General assembly of Occupy Wall Street at Washington Square Park last Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011.

Buffy made us two matching signs that read: “I Am The 99%” — this is her picture from before we dove into the gathering, standing at the famous Washington Square arch:

And this is her picture that showed up on the famous website Gawker when they reported on the event later that day:

 

(In case you can’t read the sign, here’s a close up:)

Her sign — I Am The 99% — means, of course, that we are of the 99% of Americans who did not rape our beloved capitalist system of the USA with fraudulent and criminal bank loans/steals, yet we are the 99% being held accountable financially and politically for the devastation that has ravaged our society for these past three years (and for generations to come).

This is the Occupier “wave”, the way we all signify that we like what the speaker is saying — raising our arms and wiggling our fingers — instead of cheering or clapping. It’s very restful, and makes you laugh when you see all those arms shoot up and all them digits flapping in the breeze. (There was no breeze on that day BTW. It was hot and  sunny, and Buffy and I were glad to use or signs as shade devises.)

A lot of people asked if they could take pictures of me and Buffy holding our signs. Did I tell you that Buffy is my identical twin sister and we both had  khaki pants and white shirts on? Yeah. Cute. And plus, we’re, like, old.

These guys (see below) were standing next to us right before the General Assembly began, and they asked Buffy for a pen so they could write “I Am The 99%” on their coffee cups, and hold them up to let their freak flags fly:

Once the General Assembly began,  we were asked to sit down in front so that the thousands in back of us could see. This is what I call my “Occupy Wall Street” neighborhood (the people I stared at for the next hour or so, during the speeches):

Buffy and I both thought this was the cutest guy in the neighborhood:

As you can see, Buffy and I were right in the front of the Assembly. We could hear the speakers just fine, but as the speakers were not allowed any amplification, we were part of the Human Microphone that, in a chorus of 200 or so, repeated every few words of speech so that it could be heard, and relayed, to the back of the crowd.

It was a HOOT to be part of a chanting crowd.

This is the guy (see below) from Egypt’s Tahrir Square who came all the way from Cairo to add his support to Occupy Wall Street — the things he said got a lot of “Like” signs, even though he mentioned revolution:

OK, you can’t really see Mohammad in this shot — but you can see the speakers facing us, and although I have a lot of photos of the scrum of photographers who were crowding the speakers area you can’t really get a good idea of how many media-types there were, snapping photos like crazy. HUNDREDS. Maybe dozens. About 40.

So I wasn’t surprized that we made it into the official photo for the  Wikipedia entry for Occupy Wall Street:

This was taken from way behind where we were  sitting, but you can still see us. See? (See below)

Whenever you see two rectangles of white in an Occupy Wall Street General Assembly photo, you’ll know that’s us.

As in this photo from the New York Post, taken from the opposite direction, facing us from across the front of the Assembly, on the opposite side from us:

See us? Everybody in this Post photo is waving YES YES YES to the speaker who just encouraged us all to OCCUPY EVERYWHERE.

See? Doesn’t that look like fun?

Now, I haven’t been to Zucotti Park since it was occupied, but I know Zucotti Park and it’s nothing even close to a “park”, by the way. Even in the best of times it’s a shitty paved plaza with some crappy potted trees, so don’t worry that it’s being a green space that’s being trampled to death.

I’d love to see how it’s been humanized, colonized by My People.  I want to go down and hang one day soon. You too!

Come on down!

We Are The 99%.

We’re Too Big To Fail.

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July 16: Top Cat finishes mowing the front yard and he comes into the house and he says to me, “Did you see the cosmo growing in the old flower bed?”

That’s the cosmo, in front of the Cosmo-O-Meter

And I said, “Hmmm… I haven’t planted cosmo seeds in three years. If there’s a cosmo plant growing, this I gotta see.”

And I kept watch every week ever since then.

July 23:

July 30:

August 6:

August 13:

August 20:

And on August 27, the same day that my brave little cosmo bloomed her first flower, Hurricane Irene threatened to flatten my dear cosmo, so I had to dig her up and bring her inside to safety:

And I thought for sure that would be the end of the brave Cosmo of 2011. But the storm passed, I put my cosmo back out in the front yard, and she’s been blooming like crazy ever since.

And this is what she looks like today, Sept 23:

I usually try to steer my blog readers clear of any sappy life lessons, but in this case it’s kind of unavoidable.

Life is wonderful.

 

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The proofs of Le Road Trip came today!

 

These pages are all set to go into production: if I have any objections I have to make then now, or forever hold my peace.

The proofs are on the same quality of paper that will be used for the book itself, so I can get a good look at how the art work will print.

Suddenly, all those homely hand-made pasted-up sheets of paper look dignified, presented in (almost) end product form.

Each sheet of proof paper holds two pages of text in numerical order. This happens to be pages six and  seven. I’m supposed to look each page over and let my production editor know if the color saturation and contrast in up to snuff.

I looked, I judged it perfect, I sent in my OK.

As far as my part in the creation of this book, my work is done.

To celebrate, Top Cat said “Let’s pack a picnic dinner and a bottle of Bordeaux and go to Morgan Park and watch the sun set tonight.”

And as we are hauling ourselves and our buffet from the parking lot to the lush lawns of Morgan Park, I say to Top Cat, “I’m putting out a request to the Universe for a Blue Jay feather tonight, so keep a look out.”

And, not a half minute later, Top Cat says to me, “Oh, here it is.”

That’s the Blue Jay feather that Top Cat almost stepped on, on our way to our picnic dinner. (That’s my dear sweet Top Cat in the background, with the picnic hamper.)

I was ecstatic, of course. And I said something like, “More! More! I want more Blue Jay feathers! This is a Blue Jay feather goldmine!!”

Top Cat tried to calm me down by saying, “Sweetie, come on, what are the chances that lightning will strike twice?”

And then he said, “Oh. Never mind.”

That’s one of the best things about my Top Cat. His magic is strong.

And as the last SkiDooer motored in to port in the last light of day, me and Top Cat were grateful that most of the 20 million people who live within a 20-mile radius of our picnic paradise decided to stay home and watch Entertainment Tonight than come out and watch the sunset.

Even though this looks fake as can be, this is for real. I took this picture with my own camera and, of  course, with my own eyes.

Life is good.

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Oh, right. Hurricane Irene.

This is my first ever attempt at taping my [any] picture window against hurricane-force winds.

Good thing Top Cat was in charge of hunting and gathering vital provisions for our bunker:

2 bottles of cheap champagne (my fave), two bottles of 2005 Bordeaux reds, two packets of tea biscuits, an angel food cake, 1.5 quarts of vanilla ice cream, and 24 Klondike bars.

And fwhat more could you want for your Impending Doom Dinner but Homemade Macaroni and Cheese?

The candlelight was a nice touch, non?

And then it started to rain with a vengeance. Of course, I could not coax my bad boy backyard feral cats indoors. This is me, hanging out my back door, trying to cajole Bibs to come bring  his ass in out of the rain:

When we woke the next morning, it was still grey and rainy and so very windy. In fact, it was the sound of the wind that really got on my nerves. So I stayed inside and soldiered through the various power outages all the live long day, thinking that Hey–this hurricane stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all.

Because I did not see for myself, until the next day, how narrowly we missed having a totally awful hurricane experience. Because this is what the house next door looked like:

That’s not a hedge in the middle of the drive way. That’s the top of a tree that collapsed across the yard…

…just barely missing the side of the house:

.

Our neighbors up the road also had a close call:

And the historic district of our beloved village also managed to escape destruction by the  very smallest [insert some measure of really, really fine distinction]:

How wierd is it that this tree (see below) fell exactly in between these two historic landmarks?

The red house on the right is the oldest house in all of Long Island, having been built by some Dutch guy in1645. The pretty blue house is also old but is from the mid-1800s and I forget why it is famous.

Top Cat and I wandered further afield and saw how broken telephone poles are repaired:

That guy in the blue shirt is one second away from telling me and Top Cat to get the hell out of their way.

And in case you’re wondering, this is how our Bibs and our patio looked The Day After (Irene):

All we got was a bunch of downed leaves.

Here at Feral Cat Mansion, All Is Well.

So have a happy holiday weekend, everyone.

And to Irene, Merci mille fois.

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