Warbler Sitting in a Walnut Tree

Summer is in full swing one way or another (it’s been sunny, it’s been rainy, it’s been both at once!), I’m on vacation time until the end of the month, and between work (yes, I know…) and the kids and the opportunity for physical recovery (sleep! sleep! sleep!), I have spending a lot of time contemplating my life – for better and for worse.

I don’t know how soon I will return to more regular posts, so the irregularity shall be maintained for the foreseeable future.

© rq, all rights reserved

Dance Dance Snowball!

It’s been hitting other media sites as well, but I first caught the news of Snowball the dancing parrot at The Atlantic:

His owner had realized that he couldn’t care for the sulfur-crested cockatoo any longer. So in August 2007, he dropped Snowball off at the Bird Lovers Only rescue center in Dyer, Indiana—along with a Backstreet Boys CD, and a tip that the bird loved to dance. Sure enough, when the center’s director, Irena Schulz, played “Everybody,” Snowball “immediately broke out into his headbanging, bad-boy dance,” she recalls. She took a grainy video, uploaded it to YouTube, and sent a link to some bird-enthusiast friends. Within a month, Snowball became a celebrity.

What’s unusual about Snowball is his choreographic development:

Snowball wasn’t copying Schulz. When she danced with him, she’d only ever sway or wave her arms. He, meanwhile, kept innovating. In 2008, Patel’s undergraduate student R. Joanne Jao Keehn filmed these moves, while Snowball danced to “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” And recently, after a long delay caused by various life events, she combed through the muted footage and cataloged 14 individual moves (plus two combinations). Snowball strikes poses. He body rolls, and swings his head through half circles, and headbangs with a raised foot. To the extent that a parrot can, he vogues.

See?

The article explains more about how his rhythmic ability was noticed and tested, but I will say this: he’s quite the talented bird, I definitely cannot lift my leg like that and still keep headbanging.

What’s interesting is the conclusions being drawn from Snowball’s dancing ability:

“Parrots are more closely related to dinosaurs than to us,” Patel says, and yet they are the only other animals known to show both spontaneous and diverse dancing to music. “This suggests to me that dancing in human cultures isn’t a purely arbitrary invention,” Patel says. Instead, he suggests that it arises when animals have a particular quintet of mental skills and predilections:

  1. They must be complex vocal learners, with the accompanying ability to connect sound and movement.
  2. They must be able to imitate movements.
  3. They must be able to learn complex sequences of actions.
  4. They must be attentive to the movements of others.
  5. They must form long-term social bonds.

A brain that checks off all five traits is “the kind of brain that has the impulse to move to music,” Patel says. “In our own evolution, when these five things came together, we were primed to become dancers.” If he’s right, that settles the eternal question posed by The KillersAre we human, or are we dancer? We’re both.

Parrots also tick off all five traits, as do elephants and dolphins. But outside of trained performances, “do you ever see a dolphin do anything to music spontaneously, creatively, and diversely?” Patel asks. “I don’t know if it’s been studied.” He wonders whether animals need not only five traits that create an impulse to dance, but also a lot of exposure to humans and our music. Captive dolphins don’t get much musical experience, and even though they interact with trainers, their main social bonds are still with other dolphins. But Snowball, from an early age, lived with humans. He seemingly dances for attention, rather than for food or other rewards. And he appears to dance more continuously when Schulz dances with him—something that Patel will formally analyze in a future study.

More fascinating information in the article, also here’s the CBC link.

I say, keep dancing, Snowball! And here’s two dancing songs for the rest of us:

 

Badger Magic

(I am currently again in Macedonia, having not even posted all the photos from my last trip, and it is extremely hot and stressful, so here is something short and full of personal pride.)

It’s been a while since the last time I shared some of my art, and this time around, I must say I am disgustingly proud of myself. Because when Inspiration came, it was inspiration for an image quite outside my comfort zone (not the usual cats and horses, is what I mean) and it really felt like a challenge to complete the project as I imagined it.

The initial sketch happened at work, and came quite easily:

© rq, all rights reserved.

And as big a fan as I am of black-and-white ink sketches, I knew this one needed more. It took another two months (I think?) to turn that drawing into the final painting (not that it took two months of painting, but it took two months to finally have enough guts and enough time to do it; some procrastination may have been involved):

© rq, all rights reserved. Acrylic, size A5.

Like I said, I am disgustingly proud of this painting, and yes, I keep using that word, because it almost feels undeserved that it should feel so properly done. I think it’s a bit of imposter syndrome at work, but I also have it on good authority that the painting has been well-received and shall be accordingly framed.

I sent it off with a small story about the official title of the painting, but I will admit that I am still extremely shy about sharing my (fiction) writing. Caine did once share a poem of mine here, and for some reason, that felt very nerve-wracking.

Most of you can probably guess the owner, incidentally – he runs a blog on this network that goes by the title of St Derr (I know, I know, don’t shoot me!), which also happens to be the name of that badger. In a striking case of coincidence, there actually exists a Temple of Derr, most possibly dedicated to the god Ptah, who also happens to be the patron deity of metalworkers.

And I do owe mail to my co-bloggers as well, just don’t expect it within the next 6 months. You all deserve something at least as nice as this.

Once Upon A Time in Madrid

Or should I say “madrid”? ;D

Second week of May, I spent a full workweek in Madrid for a working group meeting, and it was a fantastic time (as always). Besides the science-y, political-y days (there’s a lot of discussion about legislation and quality standards, not just the fun research and applications stuff), the organizers had planned out a couple of very interesting cultural evenings, and I found myself quite pleasantly surprised by the city in general. It had a very different feel from Rome (last year) – much cleaner, much more organized, more expansive – which I liked, but the organized part works mostly if you’re not driving a car – never mind the six lanes and wide roads, vehicle traffic in Madrid is atrocious (in my opinion!).

Anyway, the weather held out, the people were wonderful, and my first night the lovely hotel staff pointed me towards (what felt like a) very local cafe-restaurant, where, despite the language barrier and despite clearly being not local, I felt very welcome and extremely well-fed (I had octopus). I went back a second time prior to leaving, which I usually don’t do, but it had that perfect mix of being taken care of and being left alone, which was exactly what I needed.

I have a series on chandeliers in the Royal Palace, but for now, here’s just some small details from that particular cultural visit:

Just a small house… © rq, all rights reserved.

If I was a moth… © rq, all rights reserved.

… there would be so much to love. © rq, all rights reserved.

Secret lions peeking out everywhere! © rq, all rights reserved.

To be honest, they look a little sad. © rq, all rights reserved.

It’s all fun and games. © rq, all rights reserved.

And maybe some more serious faces. © rq, all rights reserved.

One thing that did leave an impression was the collection of Stradivarius instruments – it’s true that brands are often over-rated, and I’m not too big on the detailed decorations on my instruments, but as a former violinist, it still left an impact to see these famous instruments in one room. I’d have to hear them to judge their quality, but the craftspersonship of the construction (and the artistry of the detail) is undoubtedly something else.

© rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

Today’s music selection, which felt like it suits the historical theme, is from Latvian Voices – I found this particular performance of theirs via a post answering the question “what is it like to be a woman in the music business?” (that’s a link to their FB page, I don’t know how to link to that post specifically):

As a female group, we’ve been questioned many times about the topic of “how it is to be a woman in the music business?!” We took it very seriously and made research in music history looking on our female colleagues back in the day. As a result, we found ourselves willing to perform more music written by female composers or music which is dedicated to strong and powerful women all over the world.
Please, enjoy our contribution to Frau Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn – the song “Die Mainacht”, poem by Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty.

Video: Kaspars Teilāns
Sound: Andris Ūze
Make-up: Ilona Zariņa
Style Cita Rota

Dog Days

We seem to have got our summer early, although next week is supposed to cool down significantly. I am using this time to try not to melt and to gather materials for a few posts – still have the Skopje Aqueduct to present, then some things from Madrid (basically a series on fancy chandeliers), and a couple other things.

For the moment, though, I’m trying to get back into something like a routine after being sick and after the frequent travel – the good news is I have one more trip to Skopje during the second half of June, and then I get to not go anywhere for a couple of months at least. Looking forward to that, because I can’t get anything done in the summer anyway. Which seems to have arrived with a blast of hot air (30 in May, I’m sorry, too much!).

The heat also discourages Ronja from her usual energetic antics, so I got some nice poses, for your enjoyment. She’s a beauty. And she still hasn’t shed all her winter coat, no matter how much we brush her.

© rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia – Part 2: Other Shiny Things

Coins is nice, but the Museum has a few other exhibits – it’s not a large museum or particularly stunning in its collection, but I liked the feel of it. I do have some commentary about the art depicting life in the Stone Ages, though. About half the population seemed to be missing in most paintings, and you can probably guess which half.

But the exhibit design was, as with the coins, quite interesting:

© rq, all rights reserved.

I did not take photos of everything, as it was mostly different kinds of pottery and metalwork, but allow me to present a few of my favourites:

Looking altogether too happy, if you ask me! © rq, all rights reserved.

An absolutely stunning piece of glasswork. © rq, all rights reserved.

The design of these cloakpins seemed oddly familiar. © rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

And this! Was a piece of musical notation from a few hundred years ago. Religious music, if I recall correctly, and I find it fascinating. And I’m curious as to how it should be interpreted. © rq, all rights reserved.

You can read more about the museum itself here.

Archaeological Museum of Macedonia – Part 1: Little Shiny Things

Also known as a coin collection. I don’t have much to comment here, except that they really know how to set the mood for learning about history:

© rq, all rights reserved.

While there was quite a bit to learn, the focus was on coins. So here we go: be as amazed as I was at the variety of designs, the visible cultural influences, the intricacy and the detail, the mastery and the metalwork.

[Read more…]

Natural Dyes

Since a few years ago, when I read a very intriguing article, Eastertime has become a time for experimentation – for experimenting with natural dyes! For the eggs, obviously.

Now, tradition has it that you use onion skins – gives a nice warm reddish-brown tone, and if you stick little leaves and shoots and spring flowers around the surface of the egg and wrap it in some extra onion skin and gauze (or old pantyhose), you can get some wonderful imprinting and marbling on your egg, in tones of yellow and green.

My original break with tradition occurred about 5 years ago, when I read about red cabbage – apparently, using boiled red cabbage produces a lovely shade of blue, plus you can also do the usual addition of shoots-and-flowers, and also get marbling effects.

It works.

Also with snowdrops and an onionskin direct on the shell. One of this year’s efforts – and boy is it difficult to get some good focus on eggs! © rq, all rights reserved.

That blue tone at the bottom? If you use red cabbage correctly, it gets even more vivid.

However! In subsequent years I have read about other plant-based materials that can be used as dyes: beets (for raspberry red), turmeric (for deep yellow), blueberries (for dark blue/black), etc. This year I decided to experiment a little again, since I have transferred my knowledge of red cabbage to the immediate family, and it’s time to try something new (the blue colour is no longer original once everyone is doing it).

Meet this year’s subjects:

From left to right: curry and chamomile; red cabbage; beets; hibiscus tea; onion skin. © rq, all rights reserved.

To review the results:

  1. I expected more from the turmeric, but this just proves you can’t trust online blog posts raving about the wonderful shades of golden-yellow, even if you follow their instructions word for word;
  2. Red cabbage is both a stable value and also quite versatile with the patterning, adding an onion skin for colour will not ruin the dye;
  3. Beets are fakers – I tried beets a few years ago with similar results but was willing to give them a second chance, but alas, if this is raspberry red, then someone needs to review their colour wheel;
  4. Hibiscus tea is a keeper and shall be repeated because it has a wonderful deep shade of blue-black and also holds up well with patterning for some very interesting colouring;
  5. Onion skins is old reliable onion skins and to ensure at least a few good-looking eggs should be used every year.

A few close-ups:

Hibiscus tea with dandelion and a few other new leaves. © rq, all rights reserved.

Curry and chamomile, plus some directly applied onion skin, which is what provides the brilliant colour; probably will not repeat this shade in future. © rq, all rights reserved.

Raspbery red, tplrplrplr. The applied botanicals is what saves this one. © rq, all rights reserved.

Paired red cabbage with onion skin again – this colour pairing, along with hibiscus with onion skin, are my favourites for the contrasts it provides. © rq, all rights reserved.

Onion skins with new leaves of goutweed and dandelion blossom. Classic. © rq, all rights reserved.

The family portrait: a nice spectrum of naturally produced colours. © rq, all rights reserved.

So there you have it – low effort and high quality coloured eggs from ordinary things you can find in your kitchen (or get for cheap). If I don’t forget, I might do a tutorial post for next year, because the whole process is ridiculously easy.

(Choir Juventus  cover, original here.)

Canyon Matka – Part 7: Miscellaneous and Odd

This is the final post from Canyon Matka, a couple of views of the dam, and some random items I saw along the way.

As mentioned before, never believe anyone if they tell you there is nothing to see: I was thoroughly impressed with my visit to this canyon, and I would certainly plan to see other parts of the country (especially the mountains!) if I had the chance. Maybe I’m just easily pleased, but the sheer beauty of Macedonian nature – so different from the one up here – is enough to keep me satisfied.

Looking back towards Skopje (or at least an edge of it). © rq, all rights reserved.

The hydroelectric dam – it’s hard to get it all in one photo! © rq, all rights reserved.

Tangles. © rq, all rights reserved.

Some mountaintops with a mysterious trail… © rq, all rights reserved.

And that trail leads down to what apparently is locally known as the American Embassy… © rq, all rights reserved.

It was there. © rq, all rights reserved.

Living over the edge… © rq, all rights reserved.

… And a look upcliff. © rq, all rights reserved.

Maybe he assumed it was too dark for me to take a good photo, but this little feller spent a good ten minutes singing right about my head, giving me a chance to adjust the camera to get at least this one decent shot! © rq, all rights reserved.

Farewell to this adventure, and here’s to the next one!

A Beautiful G R E E N Morning

Over the weekend, everything exploded into that fresh, new shade of green that is among my favourite colours – it’s not that I’m partial to green (it’s actually among my less favourite colours), it’s that this particular shade always looks so clean and bright and only lasts a very short while. In other words, it is extremely transient, but it means that winter is over (never mind the possible frosts, life has returned). I love it. And to celebrate, here is some bad phone photography:

But just look at that colour! © rq, all rights reserved.

 

(The Green Song by Pērkons. Same vocalist as previously, lyrics below in somewhat literal translation.)

Touch the earth, the earth is white.
The earth is white, a moment before it was green.
Give your warmth, it will be green again.
Remember, remember, remember – your part is green.
Remember, remember – everything is in your hands.
Hail is hail, frost is frost,
Most is mist above all things until now.
On which hill will we light our fire,
Where shall we winter this summer?
How important, do you think,
How important is a single fire?
What will you, icicle, icicle, do when
When the awl of the sun pierces you?
When the awl of the sun pierces you?
Hail is hail, frost is frost,
Mist is mist above all things until now.
As many fires as will be lit on each hill,
So long shall we live.

Canyon Matka – Part 6: Rocks

Yes, just a close look at a small (seriously, not sarcasm this time) selection of rocks – and some rock formations that were especially interesting.

Rock slices everywhere! © rq, all rights reserved.

My all-time favourite quartz, popping up in the most unexpected of places! © rq, all rights reserved.

A look at the rock face itself – in this part, all the layers were vertical. © rq, all rights reserved.

A look straight up the rock face – those trees and shrubs are quite impressive. © rq, all rights reserved.

And this, probably my favourite – just look at those strata bending ’round, how much power and how much time is behind that shape. © rq, all rights reserved.

It may be that nothing breaks like a heart, but certainly nothing breaks like a rock. Take it away, Miley.