La Gata Encantada

La Gata Encantada is the name of a pub in a novel by John Varley. It means 'the enchanted cat'. I like cats, so I stole the sign (it just needed some revarnishing and - Look! Good as new!). The door is open, to an amber glow and the sound of music and good fellowship. Come on in.


Pure as a virgin and cunning as a rabbit!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Historical Data

I found a rather fascinating description of period underwear and hair and such, from I leap over the wall (1949) by Monica Baldwin, a British nun who left her convent to go out into the world near the end of World War II. The titles are mine, as are any spelling mistakes:

Ancient Underwear

The garments to which I was accustomed had been contrived by thorough-going ascetics in the fourteenth century, who considered that a nice, thick, long-sleeved 'shift' of rough, scratchy serge was the right thing to wear next [to] your skin. My shifts, when new, had reached almost to my ankles. However, hard washing and much indiscriminate patching soon stiffened and shrank them until they all but stood up by themselves. Stays, shoulder-strapped and severly boned, concealed one's outline; over them, two long serge petticoats were lashed securely round one's waist. Last came the ample habit-coat of heavy cloth, topped by a linen rochet and a stiffly starched barbette(*) of cambric, folded into a score of tiny tucks and pleats at the neck.

Slightly More Modern Underwear (With a Digression Into Slightly Less)

So, when my sister handed me a wisp of gossamer, about the size and substance of a spider's web, I was startled.

she said, "Here's your foundation garment. Actually, most people only wear pants and a brassiere, but it's cold to-day, so I thought we'd better start you with a vest."

I examined the object, remembering 1914. In those days a 'nice' girl 'started' with long, woolly combinations, neck-high and elbow-sleeved, decorated with a row of neat pearl buttons down the front...

Next came the modern version of the corset. It was the merest strip of elastic brocade from which suspenders, in a surprising number, dangled. I thought it a great improvement on the fourteenth-century idea. The only drawback was that you had to insert your person into it serpent-fashion, as it had no fastenings.

What bothered me most were the stockings. The kind I was used to were enormous things, fat thicker than those men wear for tramping the moors and shrunk by repeathed boiling to the shape and consistency of a Wellington boot. The pair with which Freda had provided me were of silk, skin-coloured and so transparent that I wondered why anyone bothered to wear the things at all.

I said firmly, "Freda, I can't possibly go out in these. They make my legs look naked."

She smiled patiently.

"Nonsense," she said. "Everyone wears them. If you went about in anything else you'd collect a crowd."

By this time it had become clear to me that the generation which affected the transparencies in which I now was shivering must long ago have scrapped the kind of garments I had worn as a girl. I wondered what they had done about the neck-high camisoles with their fussy trimmings of lace and insertion and those incredibly ample, long-legged white cotton drawers.

The answer turned out to be an airy nothing called 'cami-knickers', made, apparently, of cobweb. I felt my teeth beginning to chatter as I put it - or should one say 'them'? - on.

One further shock awaited me.

An object was handed to me which I can only describe as a very realistically modelled bust-bodice. That its purpose was to emphasize contours which, in my girlhood, were always decorously concealed was but too evident.

"This," said my sister cheerfully, "is a brassiere. And it's no use looking so horrified, because fashions to-day go out of their way to stress that part of one's anatomy. These things are supposed to fix one's chest at the classic angle. Like this-" she adjusted the object with expert fingers. "There - you see the idea?"


The worst problem was my hair.

For twenty-eight years it had been cropped convict-wise beneath the incredible system of headgear exacted by the Order to which I belonged. As a foundation, a 'snood'*, or long narrow strip of linen, was wound two or three times round the head. Over this, a close-fitting cap - rather like those worn by bathers - was pulled down to the ears. A piece of fine cambric, call a 'tip', was then bound tightly across the forehead and tied at the back with strings. Next came the 'head' - a kind of wimple - which covered the head and ears. It was gathered in closely at the neck and then frilled out as far as the shoulders beneath the starched barbette. Over this was pinned an erection of black cashmere which fell, gable-wise, on either side of the head to just above the elbows. Between this and its lining of starched white linen was a double cardboard stiffening with strips of cotton, fortified with yet more starch. Finally, the veil proper - of thin, black material, rather like ninon* - was mounted on the underveil and firmly secured with pins. Eight thicknesses in all! In summer it was apt to give one a headache. The wonder, of course, was that, having worn it for so many years, I had any hair left at all.

Barbette - she probably means a strip of cloth that passes under the chin. For a picture, go here.

Snood - I've never, ever, seen this definition of a snood before. For another version of head-gear attached to the same name, try this website: (It's nifty.) I have seen that strip of cloth called a 'fillet'. Remember that terminology for clothing changes drastically, and without warning.

Serge - Serge is a type of twill fabric that has diagonal lines or ridges on both sides, made with a two-up, two-down weave. The worsted variety is used in making military uniforms, suits, great and trench coats. Its counterpart, silk serge, is used for linings. French serge is a softer, finer variety. The word is also used for a high quality woolen woven.

Etymology and History
The name is derived from French serge, itself from Latin serica, from Greek σηρικος (serikos), meaning "silken". The early association of silk serge, Greece, and France is shown by the discovery in Charlemagne's tomb of a piece of silk serge dyed with Byzantine motifs, evidently a gift from the Byzantine Imperial Court in the 8th or 9th century AD. (WK) (Cat adds: 'serge' comes from 'silk'!? Gosh - think of Serge de Nimes or 'denim')

Ninon - a fine strong sheer silky fabric made of silk or rayon or nylon (FD)

FD = The Free Dictionary (
WK = The wikipedia (

Monday, May 22, 2006

La, La, La

Just made a paper witch's hat, la la la. Oh, and sticky-tape. It's for a hat for a friend - instead of chopping up fabric to start, I did a mock-up on paper. The technical term is toile, by the way (me study sewing terms good-good!).

The tail of the assignment was handed in okay, albeit with plenty of fun and games when I couldn't print it (ten cents short on the printing budget). Had a nice chat with the poetry lecturer - I got to tell him about Journey to the West and the gift of pumpkins!

And now I'm very sleepy. There is not a chance in hell that I'm opening out my paper hat-toile onto the felt and cutting tonight.


Past Two O'Clock, On A Cold And Frosty Morning

As of five minutes past two, I have finished the last bit of the assignment that was due last Friday.

It took a while to drag meaningful, balanced criticism out of my head. I'm very distractible (lots of common feeling with Monkey!).

I'll take it in tomorrow - I mean, later this morning, and stick it to the back of the rest of the assignment, if possible, or give it a seperate cover-sheet.

The sad thing, if I look at it one way, is that this block of five hundred words represents five percent of my final grade.

If I look at it rather more appropriately, I realise that I had to have a jolly hard think about that other student's work, and why I liked some bits and didn't like others, and my feelings on the construction of poetry. In other words, it was an education. It will also be of use to that other student: even if she disagrees totally with what I had written, articulating why will be good for her. I hope that she doesn't have to disagree, though.

Yeesh, some people learn the hard way. Ah well, G'night. Or possibly, Ohayou.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Am I, at Present, Dreaming of Birthdays?

Or will I, on my birthday, be dreaming of presents? What with the whole Buddhist-education-disguised-as-an-adventure-story thing, I thought I'd better keep my end up with a brain twister.

Last week, my flatmates disappeared and came back with a wrapped box, not bigger or smaller than but exactly the same size as a bread box and left it, in view, for me to wonder about. Grrrr.

Fortunately, I'm an old hand at working out presents by fondling them through the paper (ah, Christmas) and, then, Michael crumbled under stern questioning.

They're giving me a pony.

It has ribbons in its mane, and jewel-coloured hooves. Doesn't have a name yet. I enquired a few days ago as to whether it might be getting a bit hungry in the box, but Michael informed me gravely that it was a Vampire Pony, and every night, after we go to sleep, it leaves the box and flits around the house gaining appropriate sustenance.

I can't wait for my birthday.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Progress Report

It's this book I've been reading, Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng-En (circa 1500). To give context, there was a real-life Chinese monk who travelled to India, stayed there twenty years, and came back with a great stack of Buddhist texts. He was celebrated for a long time. Some folk tales arose about him, including some about his adventures with some helpful demon-types: Friar Sand, Friar Pig, and Friar Monkey.

Then Wu Cheng-En came along and developed the tales into a serial.

I'll skip the first seven chapters, which deal entirely with Monkey - how he was hatched from a stone egg on a mountain; called himself, variously, Little Stone Monkey, Handsome Monkey King, Monkey Who Understands Nothing (technically, 'Nothingness', or the Void, but it's funnier my way), and Great Sage Equalling Heaven; really pissed off Heaven; tried to piss off Buddha; and was trapped under a mountain for his naughtiness.

I'll also skip Chapter Eight, wherein Buddha asks the goddess Kuan-Yin to recruit a monk for a pilgramage to India, with permission to recruit three demon-helpers, and she does this and inhabits a temple in Chang-An (the capital) for a week while she finds just the right guy, and Chapter Nine, which is a blood-and-thunder with lust, murder, and babies sent down the river to grow up and achieve vengeance, and get on to Chapters Ten and Eleven.

See, a woodcutter and fisherman are walking home from work one evening having an informal poetry contest to pass the time (five pages), and then the fisherman mentions that he's always had wonderful catches since he started patronising this one fortune-teller, who is never wrong. A passing demon hears this, and tells the Dragon King of the local river, who gets very angry - doesn't want his home fished out, and decides to teach the fortune-teller a lesson or two. He manages to violate one of the dictates of Heaven while doing this, and ends up tied on the Dragon-Beheading Scaffold in Chang-An, where the Earthly Emperor Taizong is to arrange for his execution, which job goes to the Emperor's best minister Wei Zheng.

Well. The dragon, who is a bit scared, comes to the Emperor in a dream, and begs him to have mercy. The Emperor agrees to call Wei Zheng off. However, while Emperor Taizong and Wei Zheng are playing chess, Wei Zheng drifts off (at the time of the intended execution), dreams that he's at the Dragon-Beheading Scaffold, and does his job. Then he wakes up, but it wasn't only a dream because the staff come in with the dragon's head dripping ichor over the Emperor's parquet floor. Oh dear - the Emperor has become foresworn - against his will, but still.

The ghost of the dragon wants vengeance, and brings a case against the Emperor in Hell. The Emperor begins to get sick, so that he can die and his spirit can go to Hell and stand the trial. Before he pops off, however, Wei Zheng, who knows a thing or two, gives the Emperor a letter of introduction to an old friend of his who died and made something of himself in Hell, becoming a judge.

To cut a long story short, the case against the Emperor is dismissed. The judge is also extremely helpful, and secretly alters the Register of Births and Deaths (which records these things before they happen) to give Emperor Taizong twenty more years of life.

However. The Emperor wanted to give the guys in the underworld a thank you present, and they said, "We have gourds, eastern melons and western melons, or water-melons, here, but no pumpkins, no southern melons" (Wu, ca. 1500, p. 199) When he comes back to life, then, Taizong declares a great party, and releases some condemned prisoners and all sorts of nice things, and he also has to find someone to deliver the pumpkins. This means someone has to agree to die while carrying the relevant fruit.

A man called Liu Quan comes forward. He had accused his wife, wrongly, of being a loose woman and she had killed herself out of the shame. He regretted this deeply, and wanted to join her in Hell to make amends. So they put a couple of pumpkins on his head, and gold in his pocket, and Liu Quan drinks poison.

He finds himself in court, where they thank him very kindly for delivering the Emperor's present. Then they look up the names of Liu Quan and his wife in the Register of Births and Deaths, and exclaim that they are fated to become immortals. Well. They can bring Liu Quan back to life easily enough, but Miss Li's body is a bit manky by now. However, they know that the Emperor's kid sister is due to die soon, so they decide to borrow the body for her use.

And if you want to find out what happens next, read the next chapter.

Except I didn't, just then - I'd had so much fun with this one, that I wanted to savour it for a while. As I read it, my sides hurt from laughing.

Wu, C. E. (ca. 1500) Journey to the West. (W. J. F. Jenner, trans.) Beijing: Foreign Language Press.