Sunday, March 25, 2018

WAXWORK by charles dickens

While researching Madame Tussaud, I came upon this piece in Charles Dickens’ weekly journal “All the Year Round.”

Wax once played a more important part in the history of every-day life than it does now. The busy bee made wax and honey centuries ago as at present, neither less nor more cleverly; but there were reasons why those products were more valued in the days of Queen Elizabeth, or of Queen Matilda, than in those of Queen Victoria. When gas-lighting was unknown, when petroleum, paraffine, kerosene, camphine, stearine, and ozokerit had not yet been discovered, society depended on wax for the best lights, and coarse tallow, coarse oil, and torches for common purposes. Then again, mead or honey wine was a favourite beverage in old days, whereas a modern Londoner would scarcely deem it a good substitute for Barclay or Bass: we may approve or disapprove the change of taste, but it certainly leaves us now very little dependent on the bee.

Every one knows what wax is. The bee does not really form or originate this substance. Wax enters into the composition of the pollen of flowers, covers the envelope of the plum and other fruits, and forms a sort of varnish on the surface of many kinds of leaves. Myrtle wax is obtained from the berries of the Myrica cerifica, an American plant; when the berries are boiled in water, the wax exudes, floats on the water, is skimmed off, and remelted. The wax-palm of the Andes, the Ceroxylon Andicola, is a lofty tree yielding a mixture of wax and resin, of which the natives make candles. The wax-tree of Guiana and Brazil yields a resinous juice which is called wax, although it scarcely deserves that name. What we generally know as wax, however, is the product of the bee; whether the insect elaborates it from the pollen of flowers, or from an animal secretion, we may leave naturalists to determine. The wax is used by the bee to construct the honeycomb. When separated by pressure, melting in hot water, subsidence, and cooling, it presents itself as a softish yellow substance. By subsequent melting, stretching out into a kind of ribbon, and exposure to bleaching agents, it becomes white or bleached wax, more pure than the yellow, and having a somewhat higher melting point. In making this substance into wax candles, several prepared wicks are suspended over a vessel of melted wax, the wax is poured to a sufficient thickness on the wicks by a ladle, and the candles when cooled are made cylindrical and polished by rolling on a smooth table.

Wax lights were indispensable accompaniments to the other adornments of the royal palace, the feudal castle, and the baronial mansion of the olden time. In the Wardrobe Accounts of Edward the Fourth, somewhat less than four centuries ago, there is a curious entry to the following effect: “William Whyte, tallough-chaundeller, for iij dosen and ix lb. of p’s candell, for to light when the king’s highness and goode grace on a nyght come unto his sayd grete warderobe, and at other divers tymes.” From other entries it appears that p’s was sometimes spelled peris, sometimes pares, sometimes parys; it is believed that the lights so used were called Paris candles. In that singular forerunner of our modern books of etiquette, called the Boke of Curtasye, written about the same period as the Wardrobe Accounts above adverted to, there is distinct mention of wax candles and Paris candles, but without any notification as to the materials whereof the latter were made:
In chambre no lyght ther shalle be brent
But of wax, thereto yf ye take tent:
In halle at soper schalle candels brenne
Of Parys, therein that alle men kenne.
Here we are told of wax candles in the chamber and Paris candles in the hall, the former probably more delicate and costly than the latter.

The use of lighted wax candles in cathedrals, churches, and religious processions, and in connection with funerals, can be traced back through a long series of ages. There is an old Welsh legend to the effect that wax lights are used on the altar because bees derive their origin from Paradise, and are especially blessed by the Almighty; therefore mass ought not to be performed without the aid of the wax derived from those favoured insects. There are some indications of such a use of wax as far back as the third century; throughout the whole history of the Roman Catholic Church the usage has been maintained. There was at one time in England a due called wax-shot or wax-scot, a gift of wax candles presented to churches three times a year. What were called wax-rolls were pieces or cakes of wax, flat circular discs, presented to churches, for the use of which they were made into candles or tapers, and some other sacred things. It is known that in the Anglo-Saxon times, under Ælfric and Edgar, lights were used on the altar during mass, while others were held in the hands of attendants during the reading of the gospel; and at all times since, the gift of candles, or of wax to make them, was deemed an acceptable religious service.

Several illustrations of this subject are to be met with in Mr. Toulmin Smith’s recently published work, an antiquarian book almost as pleasant as a romance. We mean the Original Ordinances of more than One Hundred Early English Gilds. There is a dispute as to whether we should say gild or guild; but this need not detain us here. Very nearly five hundred years ago, a parliament held at Cambridge in the time of Richard the Second ordered that returns should be made to the king in council as to the ordinances, usages, and properties of the English gilds. The returns seem to have been duly made and forwarded; and the original parchments on which many of them were written still remain in the Record Office, where Mr. Toulmin Smith has ferreted them out by dint of great industry and care. Wax candles, or wax to make into candles, are frequently mentioned in the records, sometimes as presentations to churches, abbeys, and convents, sometimes as forfeits or penalties. The Guild of Garlekhith (near the present Garlick-hill) had a rule that all the members should meet four times a year, on pain of forfeiting a pound of wax; and the same forfeiture was imposed on any member who neglected to attend the funeral of a brother or sister of the guild. Many of the guilds, of which this was an example, partook of the nature of our modern friendly societies, but with a marked attention to the inculcation and encouragement of piety and morality. So singularly was the purpose carried out in the Guild of St. Katherine, Aldersgate, that each brother and sister on admittance was to kiss all present, in token of love, charity, and fellowship. Five round tapers of wax, of the weight of twenty pounds, were to burn on high feast days to the honour of God, of the Virgin Mary, of St. Katherine, and all saints, and to be used to light round the body of a dead brother, and in his funeral procession. The wardens of St. Botolph’s Guild, Norwich, stated in their return that they had in hand twenty-six shillings and eightpence for the maintenance of a light. The Guild of St. George, in the same city, had in hand forty shillings for the support of a light and the making of an image. In relation to St. Katherine’s Guild, another in old Norwich, “of the chattel of the guild shall there be two candles of wax, of sixteen pounds weight, about the body of the dead,” whenever any brother or sister departed this life. The Guild of Young Scholars at Lynn was established chiefly to maintain an image of St. William, standing in a tabernacle in the church of St. Margaret, with six tapers of wax burning on festival days. The Guild of St. Elene at Beverley kept three wax lights burning every Sunday and feast day, in honour of St. Elene; while at the morning mass of Christmas Day thirteen wax lights were burned. There must have been a goodly amount of wax consumed on the Feast of the Purification by the Guild of St. Mary at Beverley; for the brethren got up a pageant, in which two youths representing angels carried a chandelier or compound candlestick, containing twenty-four thick wax lights; and the other members each carried a wax light. In the Guild of the Resurrection of our Lord, at Lincoln, at the funeral rites of a brother, thirteen wax lights were burned in four stands. In the Guild of the Fullers of Lincoln, no member was permitted to teach the craft to a learner unless the latter contributed “twopence to the wax,” that is, to the fund for buying wax lights. The Guild of Tailors, of the same city, imposed a fine of a stone of wax for infringement of one of the rules. As wax was sevenpence per pound in those days, representing a manifold higher price now, this fine was certainly a heavy one. In the Guild of St. Katherine, at Stamford, a fine of one pound of wax, plus twopence, was imposed on any member absent from the guild feast; and as the feast itself was valued at twopence per head, the absentee paid for a dinner which he did not eat, besides losing a pound of wax.

The altar use of candles is mentioned by Wordsworth in one of his stanzas:
Our ancestors within the still domain
Of vast cathedral or conventual gloom,
Their vigils kept: where tapers day and night
On the dim alter burned continuously.
And the Christmas candles, which our boys and girls still delight in, are they not relics of religious usages of old days?

The usages and traditions connected with Candlemas Day are associated with wax through the medium of the candles into which it was fashioned. There is an old Latin proverb to the effect that if the sun shines brilliantly on Candlemas Day, hard frost is coming. It got into English form as a couplet, that after Candlemas Day the frost will be more, if the sun then shines bright, than it has been before. A Norfolk saying tells us that:
As far as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow blow in afore May.
Another is couched in very strong language, stronger, we will hope, than any countryman would really use:
When Candlemas Day is fine and clear,
A shepherd would rather see his wife on the bier.
Another, in four-line stanza, goes a little further into the weather-predicting line:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight;
But if it be dark, with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again.
Another version, somewhat different in its philosophy, is to the effect that whatever wind blows on Candlemas Day, will continue to blow for the next forty days. Candlemas Day, our almanacks tell us, comes on the 2nd of February, and is the anniversary of the Purification of the Virgin. On this day the Church of Rome directs the blessing of candles by the clergy, the distribution of them among the people, and the carrying of the lighted candles in solemn procession. The pope presides at a great ceremonial of this kind in the chapel of the Quirinal, on Candlemas Day; and minor celebrations take place at other churches. The candle is used symbolically in reference to a passage in the Song of Simeon. Very little notice of Candlemas, or of its origin, is now taken in England, beyond a few country customs and proverbs.

As far as possible removed from the use of wax as a light-giving material, is its employment as an impressionable substance, a material that can be cast into moulds when melted, and impressed with a die or seal when in a semi-molten state. The Greeks were familiar with this use of wax; they adorned their rooms with statuettes, branches, fruit, flowers, and wreaths, made of this substance. We are told that that very unrespectable gentleman, Heliogabalus, liked to tantalise his guests by setting before them dishes of waxen luxuries, so cleverly imitative of the originals as to deceive all but the initiated. Wax is largely employed in producing imitations of anatomical specimens. One of the palaces at Florence contains thirty rooms filled with coloured wax imitations of parts of the human body, and of vegetable productions. This anatomical use of wax is said to have originated as follows: Nones, of Genoa, a hospital physician, in the seventeenth century, wished to preserve a human body by embalming it; but not being able entirely to prevent putrefaction, he considered whether he could imitate the body in wax. The Abbate Zumbo, of Sicily, imitated the head so perfectly, under the direction of Nones, that many persons believed the coloured wax to be the real head; and this led to the further cultivation of the art by a Frenchman named Delacroix. Anatomical wax preparations were exhibited at Hamburg, by Courège, in 1721; and in 1737 others were publicly sold in London.

Wax images and effigies have been more or less in favour for ages past. The wax effigies of the kings of England were at one time borne in procession at their funerals. There were wax effigies in Westminster Abbey, and at St. Denis, in Paris. There is a curious paper in the Tatler, by Steele, purporting to be an account of a waxwork exhibition in Germany, representing the religions of Christendom. Seven figures were placed in a row, some decked out fantastically; while behind them were other figures moved by clockwork, representing Persecution and Moderation, and so arranged as to play a kind of ecclesiastical drama. Steele describes it as having been a show carried about Germany, but names and places are not mentioned, and we are left to put our own interpretation upon it. The date would correspond very well with the time of Courège just mentioned. Mrs. Salmon’s waxwork exhibition was a famous attraction in those days. In Italy beautiful figures in wax were made by Ercole Celli, and by Giovanni and Anna Manzolini. Many fine specimens by these artists are preserved in the museums at Bologna, Turin, Paris, and St. Petersburg. Other famous Italian artists were Calzi, Phillippo, Balugani, Terrini, and Fontana, the last-named of whom employed quite a staff of anatomists, model-cutters, wax-moulders, and painters.

Pinson and Laumonier in France, and Vogt in Germany, were accustomed to illustrate their anatomical lectures by means of wax casts; and the plan has since been extensively followed. Not the least celebrated among artists in wax was MadameTussaud, who, in the exercise of her art eighty years ago, lived and worked during the terrible scenes of the great French Revolution. She prepared waxen effigies of the half-savage Marat, of his murderess Charlotte Corday, of the beautiful Princess of Lamballe, of the arch-terrorist Robespierre; and was herself, on one occasion, in imminent peril of the guillotine. After many trials and struggles she settled in London early in the present century, and here she made waxen celebrities for forty or fifty years. The old lady used to sit near the entrance of her exhibition-room to receive her visitors, until at length she died, about twenty years ago, at the advanced age of ninety. Her name is still given to the establishment over which her descendants or representatives now preside; but that is no more than we see in other cases; for who can tell us whether there is still a Day or a Martin at the blacking factory, or a Pickford at Pickford’s ?

Some of the waxen effigies produced and exhibited are made by modelling, some by casting. In the former case the wax is mixed with white turpentine and lard, forming a substance easily cut and modelled with tools. In making the figures by casting, molten wax is poured into a plaster-of-paris mould; and the mould being then taken to pieces, the wax cast is easily extricated. Sculptors sometimes form their first models in a composition of wax, Burgundy pitch, and lard; it works easily, and is convenient under many circumstances.

Taking an impression in wax is another mode again of using this remarkable substance. Lapidaries, gem cutters, and seal engravers often want to ascertain how their work, whether in intaglio or in cameo, is progressing; they mix some very fine wax with sugar-candy, burnt soot, and turpentine; they warm this mixture, and press the stone or gem upon it, by which a reversed copy of the device is produced. Sealing-wax of the best kind is a misnomer; it is not wax at all, being made of shellac, Venice turpentine, and cinnabar or vermilion: in the black sticks ivory black is substituted for cinnabar. The cheaper kinds are equally without wax, common resin being used instead of shellac, common turpentine instead of Venice turpentine, red lead instead of cinnabar, and lampblack instead of ivory black. How beautifully defined are the impressions carefully taken in good sealing-wax most persons know.

Those who have occasion to pass through that busy hive of lawyers, law stationers, and law writers, Southampton-buildings, Chancery-lane, may once now and then see a covered cart drawn up at a particular doorway, and hundreds of bright tin boxes removed from the cart into the building to which the doorway leads. The boxes are flat and circular, larger than snuff-boxes, smaller than gentlemen’s collar-boxes, say about as large as muffins. These boxes are to contain wax seals, and they are being delivered into the Patent Office, where so much money is spent every year by inventors of new machines and new processes. In the accounts submitted annually to parliament by the Commissioners of Patents is an item of expenditure for seals for letters patent, and another item for boxes to contain the seals. Every letter patent, as the official record of a patented invention is called, is obliged to carry about with it a large yellowish seal three or four inches in diameter, enclosed in a flat circular tin box to prevent it from breaking, and fastened to the parchment by tapes or ribbons. The impression is taken in yellow wax from the Great Seal, and without this impression the patentee’s claim would be invalid.

The seals here spoken of are really made of wax, though somewhat coarse in quality, mixed with Venice turpentine or some similar substance. This soft wax for legal seals was formerly used for sealing letters, until the introduction of the harder (miscalled) sealing-wax. At a time when sealing-wax was very costly in England, and before gummed envelopes were in use, an elderly lady, widow of a military officer, eked out a scanty income by begging the seals of old letters from friends and every one she knew, removing fragments, &c,, by warm water, melting the wax, and re-making it into sticks.

Thank you, Mr. Dickens.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

candle studies 12: distraction & relativity: soy wax, Madame Tussaud, and more candles that clean the air

Madame Tussaud’s
self-portrait in wax.
Every time I think I’ll finally write about soy wax—and I fully intend to get to it—I get distracted. For the past several days it’s been Madame Tussaud and the centuries-old art of creating wax figures. As a young girl, Tussaud learned this art from Philippe Curtius. (After Tussaud’s father disappeared, Curtius became her mother’s employer, then companion. Tussaud called him “uncle.”) Two hundred and some years later, Madame Tussaud’s wax museums—filled with wax replicas of kings and thieves, monsters and celebrities—are well-established and still opening in major cities across the globe. And to this day at Madame Tussauds of London, Curtius’ Madame du Barry reclines on a chaise lounge, seemingly breathing. She was created in 1763. Madame Tussaud herself is there, a self-portrait in wax, created in 1842 when Tussaud was 81.
· Timeline from Madame Tussauds
· Is it Madame du Barry or … ?
All visible body parts of the figures Curtius and Tussaud created were made from wax, specifically beeswax mixed with vegetable tallow, at least according to the book I am reading, which we’ll get to in a minute, and I cannot fathom how this marvelous example of beeswax’s capabilities, history and resilience escaped my notice, especially as it so easily relates to the candles I make, the different detailed figures, the owl, the frog, the bear, though I do not, of course, employ the artistry of first sketching and studying a figure; sculpting a detailed figure from clay; creating a plaster mold from this sculpture into which to pour the wax; painting and adding fine details to the resulting wax head, hand, neck, ears, including adding hair, teeth, eyeballs, clothing; … How on earth has Madame Tussaud not previously come to mind? How has she not once entered into my farmers market spiel and conversation? Every time someone said
Oh! But I’m afraid it will melt!
and I could have said
My dear woman, s’il vous plaît, but if Madame Tussaud’s death mask of Marie Antoinette survived the French Revolution and Reign of Terror and crossing the English Channel to London … perhaps mon petit bear can find his way home safe with you?
Wax heads (aka death masks) by Madame Tussaud. Marie Antoinette is far right, next to her husband, King Louis XVI. This is a photo of my computer screen tuned to page 51 of Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks by Pamela Pilbeam, which is embedded, via Google Books, at the end of this post.

Wax heads (aka candles) by Pea Pickle Farm.

The process of making wax figures has hardly changed over the centuries, though some of the materials have. But at the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, South Dakota, beeswax is still the preferred wax, mixed with a bit of Japan wax. There is a description of the creation process on their website as well as a video.
· National Presidential Wax Museum
· Video: Sculpting a Wax Figure
But, honestly, I began with the intent to write about soy wax and what does any of this have to do with that? How did I get like quicksand from soy wax to wax heads of the French Revolution and a possible road trip to South Dakota?

A while back I read about the history of soy wax online but before writing about it I wanted some background on man-made waxes, so I embarked on Chapter 6, “Synthetic Waxes and Wax Compounds,” in The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes. Warth divides the synthetic waxes of the time (1947) into eleven groups based on a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, and soy wax is mentioned in passing in the section “Hydrogenation of Oils,” where we learn, for one, about hydrogenated cottonseed oil. Known as Coto Flakes. Which sounds like a breakfast cereal. But Coto Flakes was used as a substitute “for palm oil when coating the pickled steel sheets in the manufacture of tin plate.” (According to Warth, it was far less likely to become rancid.) We also learn about Opalwax, which was the brand name for a DuPont product produced by hydrogenating castor bean oil. Opalwax had many applications, including “ … impregnating and coating papers, fiber board, leather, cork and textiles to make them grease, oil, and waterproof, [and] as a lubricant for electrical insulation.” It was also “claimed to be of value in the manufacture of candles, rubber-coated fabrics, polishes and finishes, carbon paper, inks, cutting oils, and for waterproofing and air breaking of air plane wings.” But we learn no such details about soy wax, perhaps because at the time there was no marketable use or need for it, even though soybean oil was, apparently, being hydrogenated then as it is now.
· The Chemistry and Technology and Waxes
· My first post about this book
Anyway, at this point I went online to see if Opalwax and Coto Flakes were still around. It seems they are not, but while noodling around I found a 1905 patent for a formaldehyde candle.

I decided, for the time being, not to pursue that track but, as long as I was online, I searched my local library for a couple of specific titles and authors as I had been needing a fresh book to delve into, nothing to do with wax. Then, as a lark, I searched on subject: wax. One and only one book popped up, Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran, historical fiction, not usually what I read. But later that day I picked it up and cracked it open and boy, did it capture my imagination. I was absolutely loving it. Not only the wax works stuff but the whole French Revolution and Reign of Terror which is ghastly, but. That figures made of beeswax survived the French Revolution. That Tussaud survived the French Revolution. That she survived by making wax figures of severed heads. Which she did to ensure that she was thought of as a patriot, a friend to the revolution and not a royalist. In a way you could say that she kept her head … and thus kept her head. She avoided the guillotine. But. Still. A close shave.
· Subject: wax (library search introducing Madame Tussaud)
In the book, prior to the revolution, as a woman in her twenties living and working with her uncle and mother at their Salon de Cire in Paris, Tussaud visits Thomas Jefferson, then ambassador to France, at his Paris residence. She sketches and measures both him and Lafayette in order to create their wax figures—wait! Jefferson and Lafayette!? After the American Revolution? Whoa. Synapse. “Hamilton.”

Tussaud also visits the Marquis de Sade, in prison, for the same purpose, to study and sketch him to make his likeness in wax. (Fortunately, this brings no Great American Musical to mind.) And that’s the thing—in order to draw people into her family’s wax museum, the wax figures and tableaus have to be notable. Have to be worth it. People are starving, yet hungry for “news,” which, in a way, the Salon de Cire is providing. What will the people pay to see? Tussaud and her uncle are in the thick of revolutionary events and create in wax accordingly.

I remind myself this is historical fiction, but Tussaud was real, the French Revolution was real, and that it turns so macabre once the beheadings roll—who can put this story down? From pages 205-206:
I cradle the back of his head so I don’t have to touch the bloody stump of his neck. As I place it between my knees, it stains my apron. … I expect the crowd to be silent, but they chat among themselves as if this were an open-air show. … Without the need to sculpt a clay head first, the entire process is swift. … I remove the plaster and pour beeswax into the hardened mold. … When I am finished, I pass Hulin his wax models. With a theatrical flourish, he impales the heads on the ends of separate bayonets and lifts them above the crowd. … there are wild cheers.
But, and with all due apology, I began with the intent to write the story of soy wax, which was invented in the 1990s when a chain of retail stores perceived a need for a line of candles made of a wax that could rival paraffin in price but that fit the store’s image and philosophy of being environment- and health-conscious. In short, The Body Shop wanted mass-produced “natural” candles. In response, the man who was The Shop’s beeswax candle supplier got into a lab in Iowa, where he lived, and started working on creating a wax from vegetable oils. At the same time, in Indiana, soybean producers were looking to increase the number of products that could be made from their crop, so people in lab coats in Indiana were working on that. Soon, with a little hydrogenation, we got soy candles and various vegetable-based waxes which go by various brand names such as eco-this, eco-that. All these waxes are produced via different formulations and ingredients resulting in physical properties designed to serve the particular needs and demands of the commercial wax market.
· History of Industrial Uses of Soybeans. Page 1738, as well as preceding and subsequent pages. Soyinfo Center, 2017.
· Soy wax development getting new attention. August 10, 2012,, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
So the soy story is interesting, but I see the story of soy wax, in the context of wax in general and as well in context of the growth of “natural” products and maybe in context of soybeans and their proliferation, not to mention the whole genetic modification thing, as a great article yet to be written by someone else, probably for the “The New Yorker,” and I will someday read this story and find it fascinating. And a hundred years from now it will be interesting to see if soy wax is still around, being made, sold and used, and if soybeans are still being turned into everything from milk to wax, soup to nuts. Will soy last? Will it last as long as Madame du Barry in a swoon at Madame Tussauds? Will it last as long as Madame Tussaud herself?

Madame Tussaud forever making death masks. Photo by Herb Neufeld via Wikimedia Commons. Location: Royal London Wax Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Until two weeks ago, my strongest association with the French Revolution was the movie “Start the Revolution Without Me.” Now there is much to explore, including a woman named Olympe de Gouges who wrote in response to the revolution’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the the Female Citizen.” She was beheaded. And of course there are biographies of Madame Tussaud and histories of waxworks to read.

But first—I should return to those formaldehyde candles. These “so-called candles” were used in the early 1900s to disinfectant rooms in hospitals and sanatoriums. It was claimed that when lit they cleaned the air.
· U.S. Patent No. 676.814. Formaldehyde Fumigator.
· U.S. Patent No. 794,771. Formaldehyde Candle.
· Formaldehyde Disinfection in Tuberculosis. Pages 224-229, particularly page 225, Paraform Candle Method. The American Journal of Nursing, December 1911.
· Review of Formaldehyde Fumigation. Wm. Dreyfus, American Journal of Public Health, November 1914. In particular, see so-called last paragraph page 1048.
Just going to show, I suppose, that it’s all relative.

And now, two minutes of business, or, and, pleasure.

And here is the source for the photo of death masks: Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks, by Pamela Pilbeam. I have yet to read this book, but a good used copy is in the mail.

And a slice from Madame Tussaud and Sons’ Exhibition Catalogue, 1876. Hebert is the fourth head from the left in the page 51 photo directly above.

La Fin.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


This begins with an icicle named Frederick. Frederick because he is long, and Frederick is a long name. Especially when you say it slowly, drag it out, like Frrre · derrr · rick. Also, it rhymes with rhetoric, which at times is long, also drawn out.

But Frederick is just an icicle. One day he will snap off and be gone, maybe just drip away. So we move on, to something more impressive. More impressive is this unnamed thing, this vast plane of snow that for the past several weeks has been sliding off the roof of the building that I use for storing wood, parking the car, and stuff.

This side of the building is 30, maybe 40 feet long, and the edge of the roof is a bit more than six feet off the ground. It is a metal roof with a gradual slope, not unlike the roof Frederick hangs from, and the building is open to the elements, not heated or insulated in any way, so similar to Frederick’s porch. But one roof’s slope faces north and the other west and the snow that over the winter has piled atop the north-facing slope has slowly, en masse, been sliding off while the other roof has been dropping its load on any slightly warm, sunny day throughout the winter and, lately, has been developing individual icicles, like Frederick. Some of the snow on the north-facing slope has evaporated, I’m sure, on those sunny, warmer days—you can almost see the steam rising—but much has not. I look at this thick drooping plane and do not know how or when it ends. Or what to name it. Is it Otis? Othello?

I thought I might walk under it, take a peek, but as I said, who knows. Who knows when Otis will crash. Josie appears to be more brave, perhaps more foolish.

So I just look through where I fear to tread. First through one end.

Then the other.

The inside of the curve, the underside of the plane, is icy, and it is interesting what you can see in this ice. For instance, here I see a bird in flight.

So off we go, and there it ends.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

candle studies 11: the case of the snuggly sweater (a scented candle mystery)

“Snuggly Sweater.”

Hot dog candles, who knows what’s in ’em.

“simplicity + hope.”

The pop candles of the early twenty-first century.

“Natural candle with wooden wick.”


Having gone looking for candles at Hallmark, Bath & Body Works, Michaels, Pier 1, Walmart, a local gift shop, and Target, what I find are candles made of paraffin and “soy wax” mostly with a plethora of scents mixed in. “Paraffin” is not listed on any label but, as one store worker put it, the candles were “regular wax.” “Soy wax” is on a few labels. Whatever the scents consist of materially and how they are created remains a mystery. I suppose scenting a candle is an art form, like creating perfume or scents for dryer sheets. Some labels claim the scent is a mixture of essential oils, but mostly the labels offer no specific information as to what the candles contain.

Left alone with my thoughts.
Most candles are jarred, lidded, wrapped up tight.
Thank goodness.

“Snuggly Sweater” makes me think of body odor.

“weathered wood.” A splinter, discomfort, a hat pin, hydrogen peroxide, a bandage.

“dare to be different.” Or, dare to live without platitudes.

Natural? Nonsense. Now there’s a good name for a candle of no-name wax that is artificially scented and wicked with a wick so fancy it’s patented.

“simplicity + hope” draws a big blank [           ], then makes me wonder if we are being encouraged to crave, or to create, or to envision, or to evoke simplicity plus (+) hope, for something more – ? – & I ponder much too much what “mint basil” might have to do with it – ? – or might be, is it a thing? am I out of it – but it sounds neither simple nor (+) hopeful [        ] maybe more like a cup of tea to soothe the intestines + spaghetti sauce and garlic bread – ? – [              ]

I started many times on this post about popular scented candles and have spent many good hours trying to get it right, feeling like a candle flickering slowly to the tune of “Wasted Days & Wasted Nights,” occasionally getting blown out, for I always balk and return to an internal debate: should I or shouldn’t I? Despite their vapidity—though they are hardly innocuous—I am not against pop candles. Live and let live. Be and let be. From many wells do we drink. But these candles are just so easy to mock and too easy on which to take out a certain aggression. At one point I wrote:
Is this a candle or a con job?

Then: Laidlaw’s Law.

And then the murders began.