Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Marchin' along

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket! I hope you have had a great week; my week has whooshed by and now all of a sudden, it is Sunday again.
The sun is shining and actually warming everything; it feels like spring is around the corner – and my laundry is drying outside and not in the dryer! That I have been waiting for; the clothes become so much nicer and fresher, and I much prefer using the wind and sun rather than electricity.
Now that the big stuff is dealt with (lol), let’s get on to today’s business: we have a bit of literary history – no, don’t go away, it is quite interesting – and, of course, the knitting talk.

The Apple of the Week:

I am currently working with Jason and the Argonautika; hence the tale from last week, and hence this week’s offering, as well. ‘My’ version of the epos is the Hellenistic one, written by the scholarly poet Apollonius of Rhodes, who worked at the great Library in Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE.
The story of Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece is ancient, at least as old as the other big compendium of sailors’ yarns that we know of, the Odyssey. And like the stories in the Odyssey – and the Iliad, for that matter – this story was told orally, by professional story tellers, for centuries before ever being written down. In fact, the Greeks had no alphabet with which to write their stories until about the middle of the 8th century BCE; and the war with Troy depicted in the Iliad took place around 1200 BCE. Quite a gap, in which the story can unfold and be embellished.

To recap: the Iliad tells of a war in which a band of Greek kings and noblemen (and their soldiers, who are incidental to the story, if not the battle) lay siege to and finally, after ten years, conquer the city of Troy, situated by the Hellespont in modern-day Turkey. This is an epic tale of battle and loss, of the horrors of war to the civilian population and to the warriors themselves; there are good guys as well as bad guys on both sides of the conflict. And tragic love stories.
After the war, the Greek kings sail back to their homelands and their families; the Odyssey tells of Odysseus, whose voyage back to Ithaka ends up taking ten years – on top of the ten years he spent at Troy. So this story is of a boy trying to become a man without ever having known his illustrious father: Odysseus’ son who was newborn when he went away. And a wife who is deemed a widow and pressed to remarry. And a man who just wants to go home instead of spending eternity with a sexy goddess. For the fun of it, we get a bunch of tall tales about sea monsters and man-eating giants and whatnot; everything there to explain how Odysseus managed to lose the 600 men he had with him when he left Troy.
The Argonautika is the story of a boy who goes out to slay the dragon, win the treasure and the princess, and return home a man. And we get the sailors’ yarns as well: some of the same places are visited by both Jason and Odysseus. This story takes place about a generation before the war at Troy: the fathers of several of the heroes we know from the Iliad, are part of the crew on the Argo; among them Peleus, the father of Akhilles.

All of these stories were well-known to the Greeks, both audience, story tellers, writers, playwrights, and eventually readers. Parts of stories and back stories were utilised when the theatre was invented in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE; these tragedies worked much as modern day film versions of fairy tales: everybody knows the story and how it ends, and so the interesting part is how it is going to be told this time, what spin will be put on it.
And so, when Apollonius gets his hands on the story in the 3rd century BCE, he knows that his readers will know it well: everybody knows the Homeric epics and the tragedies and the other poems, including those that have since been lost. Everybody knows what happens after the events of the quest; when Medea is being all girly and weepy, it is supposed to creep you out, because you know that later, she will murder her own children to get back at Jason for dumping her.
It’s like with the Star Wars films: when Obi-Wan Kenobi casually says to Anakin ‘You’re going to be the death of me’ in film no. 2, Attack of the Clones, it works because everybody has known for decades that Anakin as Darth Vader will actually kill Obi-Wan in film no. 4, A New Hope.

So, Apollonius can put his own spin on a classic heroic tale, adapting it to the modern tastes. And Hellenistic tastes were surprisingly modern: this version of Jason is reluctant to be a straight-up hero and a leader, he is regularly assailed by doubts and fears, he prefers to charm and persuade and to use his sex appeal to further his cause.
Added to that, it is clear that the voyage and the quest is the result of a group effort rather than of one man directing his minions. Odysseus is without doubt the leader of his men, the one who thinks and comes up with solutions – and the only one who survives.

That approach doesn’t work anymore in the Hellenistic world: the Homeric heroes are all upper class, Bronze Age noblemen, and the common soldiers are largely ignored or at least unnamed. The 6th and 5th century tragedies performed in the young democracy of Athens feature kings and noblemen from ancient stories, much like our fairy tales; but the morale of the tragedies affects everybody, and they often deal with dilemmas faced by ordinary citizens, such as the conflict between loyalty to the state and loyalty to the family or, if you wish, clan.
In the time of Apollonius, people are no longer participants in the rule of a city state, a polis, they are subjects under a king who may be quite distant, both geographically and socially; and so, the ability to cooperate and function in a group is stressed. Jason could never have gone it alone; he relies on the skills and support of his crew – who even, at the outset, did not look to him as leader. They chose Herakles, the mighty hero, who politely declined the honour and effectively made the others accept Jason for the job.
So it goes.

The Knitting:

I feel like the Blues Riffs socks should be renamed the Forever Socks – or maybe, in keeping with the music theme, The End Socks after the (ironically) interminable song by The Doors.
It has taken me more than a month to complete the first sock, frogging or rather tinking back in three places: on the foot below the gusset, the entire heel, and a bit on the leg. And that was after I re-knit the toe on smaller needles to get my stitch gauge right.
Going through the project gallery for this pattern, the Riff Socks by Lise Brackbill, on Ravelry, I found that I am not the only one with problems here: many comments include phrases like ‘the heel is huge’, ‘turned out too big’, ‘had to rip back / pull out / frog’. So, apparently, the designer’s gauge, particularly the row gauge, is tighter than most knitters’. Something to be aware of: the row gauge is quite important with these socks.
Anyway, on Thursday I cast off the first sock and tried it on Victor’s foot – and it fits perfectly! Oh, the relief and joy. He didn’t want to take it off again. And it is a very handsome sock – which of course is why I am knitting them in the first place – the diamonds formed by the twisted stitches running up the sock are elegant, and the X on the back of the heel seems to hug his Achilles tendon (and it does need a bit of TLC right now: he just took up running).

Having been plugging along on the same three projects for what feels like weeks and weeks, I really need to finish something. And to start something new: I am getting fed up with my projects page on Ravelry looking the same every time I open it – which I do daily, as if it may have magically changed since yesterday ... like the new brilliant feature, the Patterns Highlights page with all the new stuff that you may enjoy. I love this – in the same way that I love a box of chocolates: sweet, sweet temptation combined with a severe test of my abilities to prioritise and restrain myself.

So I decided to focus on the Splendid Striped Cowl by the lovely Martine of the iMake podcast and get it off the needles. It is a good take-along knit: it takes next to no concentration and is quick to stuff back in the bag, sitting as it is on just a circular needle (not like a handful of dpns that need to be organised and secured), so a couple of waiting rooms and a couple of episodes of The Wire later, the knitting part was done. Unpicking the provisional cast-on, grafting the ends of the strip, and weaving in yarn ends got done in between other stuff. And voila! a lovely, warm cowl.

Of course, the weather is beginning to resemble spring right now; a lot of it is due to the light returning, which I always really feel around my birthday. This doesn’t mean, though, that it’s not still cold outside, and it may well stay cold for another month. So, woolly knits are still quite relevant to my quality of life.

After getting the Splendid Cowl out of the way (this is sounding like I don’t like the cowl, but I do!), I could return to the sleeve of the Juniper jumper (try saying – or typing – that ten times fast!), that was sitting around moping and feeling neglected.
A guitar café concert on Thursday evening got the sleeve moving along – and reminded me that I had been working on the body of that same jumper during the Wayne Siegel concert exactly two weeks previously. Yikes.
Tip of the Day: do not leave unfinished projects lying around for weeks, if you want to feel like you are accomplishing something.
Having nearly finished the first sleeve, I realised something that I should probably have thought of earlier: as I am working with a sport weight or light DK yarn (the Rowanspun DK) on a pattern that is written for a worsted weight, my row gauge obviously does not match the presumed gauge. So, my intervals between decreases down the sleeve (12 rounds, as stated) are smaller than they are supposed to be. I tried the jumper on at once – and luckily, it was okay. The sleeve fits nicely; it is a bit snug, but then, I find floppy sleeves annoying and impractical, so all is well on that front.
And I am now working on the second sleeve ... the end is in sight.

My Pomona, the pattern for which is now up on Ravelry.
Not surprisingly, I have a gazillion projects that I want to cast on, both winter stuff and summer stuff; this time of year it becomes really difficult to decide what to knit. The sunshine calls for lacy cotton or bamboo cardigans; the temperature says socks and that hat I was contemplating. Maybe I could do one of each in parallel ... hmm, that’s an idea. We’ll see.

So, that’s it for this week – I am going out for a walk in the lovely sunshine :o)
I hope you have a wonderful week, be it spring-like or not in your region. Keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

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