Sunday, December 26, 2010

Adventures in Millinery

Welcome to Les Chapeaux de Coq Mort, my atelier of inspired millinery creations. Doesn't that sound so top-drawer and modish?

I got a hat last summer that happened to be a bargain at under two dollars, since its value was over thirty-- but for various reasons that I'll relate in this post, I never wore it. Then, a couple weeks ago, I came to a startling realization:

I can alter hats the way I alter clothing.

Here is the original hat, as modeled by my stylish assistant, Héloïse Lait-Écrémé. She's a bit empty-headed and heartless, but she's not talkative, so I put up with her. And she has a lovely grecian nose.I'm not sure if it's supposed to be worn as pictured above, or if it's actually a cloche:Now, there was nothing wrong with it, stylistically, the way it was; I know of several people who wear hats with frames like this, and look perfectly elegant. I always wear my hair up when I go out, though, and it won't fit on over my hair. I can ram it on, but then I look like I have a swelled head, and I never like to help people prove their accusations. My hair is much too long altogether to wear a cloche. So it sat on my bookshelf (which is full of books, and hats on top of the books) for about half a year, where I looked at it and tried it on frequently, trying to decide what to do with it.

As a general rule, I don't wear small hats. I tried to wear a pillbox once, and the effect was decidedly underwhelming. My sister, on the other hand, wears small hats perfectly. Part of this is because I have knee-length hair that looks best swept up Gibson Girl-style under a huge brim; I revel in turn-of-the-century styles in general. For a while, though, I've wanted a hat that's not visible at 300 yards, for when I want to fly under certain radars, but hadn't been able to find one that suited me. Recently, while looking at a site of intriguing old photos, I noticed a couple hats from the 1880s that I rather liked, and looked up some fashion plates from that decade.These pages showed me exactly what I was looking for.

The result is not based on any of those hats; further research may reveal that it is a close match (which wouldn't surprise me, with the amount of pictures I've seen in the past), but it is not meant to be "historically accurate," and I'd like to say rather that it is inspired by the styles of the 1880s.

I went out to the craft store and selected some trimmings. This is probably why most hats are so expensive-- I used lower-quality trim, but even if I'd wanted a whole mess of it instead of just a bit, it would've cost me. I wish more places just sold untrimmed hats. I got a yard each of wide and narrow cream satin ribbon, some bronze stripedy pheasant feathers, and some olive-green feathers. Since most of my clothing is either brown, cream, or green, it will match just about anything.

The first thing to do was to alter the hat. After removing the original trim, I measured how much I wanted to lower the crown, and spaced pins around it at equal heights.Then I cut from pin to pin, to completely detach the crown from the brim. At this point, I felt quite daring, like anything could happen. After all, I had just cut a thirty-dollar hat in half.Here's Héloïse wearing the crown. Green eyes are lovely.After cutting down about an inch of the remnant of crown sticking up from the detached brim, I fit the brim back over the crown. For various aesthetic and practical reasons, I shouldn't have done this. Next time, I will put the brim under the crown, or match the ends to each other perfectly. Since I did it this way, though, the join is actually visible from beneath the brim, instead of looking less like a hat from a thrift store that got cut apart and tacked back together.Then, I reattached it, a little lower down. This makes the crown shallower, so I can wear it on the top of my head, above my hair. See the difference from the original?After I was sure the height of the crown was correct, I re-attached the fine-quality petersham ribbon around the inside of the crown. Actually, it was only an old piece of elastic. I also used blue thread, because I was too tired by this point to find anything that actually matched. This also made it look less professional.I could've even just put a ribbon around the crown to hide the new join, and left the hat just like this, but eccentricity got the better of me. Balancing non-symmetrical elements is not one of my strongest points, so this was the best I could come up with. I cocked the right side of the hat, and put in the bunch of green feathers and two pheasant feathers. Six pheasant feathers was overkill, or roadkill, or something. It took me over an hour to get the cream ribbon around the brim smooth; since it's on a curve, it kept coming out lumpish and warped, and every time I detached it, I managed to snag it again until I had only a very short bit to work with. I still might change that part, later. When I first planned the hat, I thought I would sew some thinner ribbon around the edge of the brim, but wasn't sure, because of the bias. Sure enough, the bias crumpled it, but fortunately an edging was a bit of an overload in the first place, and it ended up looking much better without.Here's the view from the other side.One more view. I'm not very handy with a camera, and the flash washed out all the other flash-pictures I tried to take, but this one shows what nice colors the feathers really are. The pheasant feathers are my favorite, and the wispy strands of peacock feathers that play with the light.This has been a demonstration of affordable eccentricity. Here are some reviews from family, friends, and innocent bystanders.
"That is the creepiest hat I have ever seen."
"Did you make that? It's... interesting. Not my style."
"Oh, what a cute hat!"
"It's very pretty."
"You look so handsome."
"You are one of the few people I know who might actually go around with a dead rooster on her head." (In answer to my gleeful declaration that I'd wear it even if it looked like I'd electrocuted a rooster and tied it to my head)
"Ok... that is seriously creepy. What kind of creep wears hats like that?"
"You have too many hats."

No, I don't. But I aspire to someday have too many hats. ^_^

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hungarian Christmas Treats, part II

Here's how to make beigli. I decided to make a web album on Picasa instead of an illustrated step-by-step blog post of unusual size. Here are the ingredients, and a picture of the result. I can make these in about two hours, but before I got good, it used to take me a lot longer.

Pastry:
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups butter
2 Tb. sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
sour cream or milk as needed
4 egg yolks + 3

For the filling (per roll; pastry makes 3 or 4):
1 can poppy seed filling
1/4 cup white raisins
1 Tb. grated lemon peel, or juice
OR
2 cups ground walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tb. melted butter
apricot preserves
oven at 375°F

The photo-directions are HERE.
(I like the poppy seed kind best.)

Boldog Karácsonyi Ünnepeket!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hungarian Christmas Treats, part I

Every Christmas Eve, we have Hungarian wine soup, and pastry, if one of us got around to baking (and it lasted an hour beyond that). Here's how to make borleves (approximately, "bore levesh").

Ingredients:
4 c. red or white wine
2 c. water
1 stick of cinnamon
8 10 cloves
3 egg yolks
3/4 c. sugar
a bit of lemon peel

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Here's the wine I used. The bottle says California 2009 White Zinfandel. It's pink, though. I guess that's one of those things like red clover really being purple, and likewise with cabbage. See, as soon as I got used to white wine being yellow, someone said it was pink, too. Oh well. It took me a while to gingerly screw the cork out, never having done that before-- but I managed.Put the wine and water in a pot with the lemon, cinnamon, and cloves. Then cover it and let it simmer for half an hour. I was later informed that this should be cooked in an enamel pot, since it's acidic. A lot of the alcohol ends up cooking out of it, so it's not quite as potent as it sounds like it might be. Also, I put in ten cloves, because that was more satisfactory to me than eight. Eight sounds funny because it's such a specifically random number. It's as if the recipe said to me, "Four shalt thou not add, neither shalt thou add seven, excepting that thou then proceed to eight," or something. It distracted me greatly.
When the wine is done simmering, take it off the burner. While it cools, separate the eggs and beat the yolks with the electric mixer to make them fluffy. Then add the sugar, a little bit at a time, so that it acquires the consistency of lava, thick and pasty.Stir the sugared yolk mixture into the wine slowly, a tiny bit at a time. Then move it back on the burner and heat it slightly. Do not let it boil, or all the egg will scramble, and it will be a slimy mess. As you can see from the picture below, the little flecks are egg-- I didn't even let it heat to a simmer, and it still did that. That's my luck when it comes to puddings, custards, and pie fillings. I'm sure if I tried to actually make an egg-drop soup, it would come out clear as tap-water.

Fortunately, my trusty mesh strainer rescued me again, and no one ever knew what it had looked like before.Serve the soup hot, in mugs. You can make it earlier in the day and let it mull in a crock pot, as long as it doesn't boil, and the house will smell wonderful; the soup will also absorb more of the cloves and cinnamon.
This bowl was for serving purposes only. It's probably a bad idea to have that much of it. Also, don't drink and drive; you might spill a drop.

Those festive things in front of the bowl are another Hungarian tradition-- candies wrapped in fringed tissue paper and aluminum foil. They're hung all over our Christmas tree. Some family member who shall not be named figured out how to cleverly extract the candy such that no one would ever suspect it was just a hollow exoskeleton hanging decoratively from a branch.

I'll follow up this post with a longer one detailing the process of baking one of my favorite Hungarian pastries.

Boldog Karácsonyi Ünnepeket!

Monday, December 20, 2010

God Bless Us, Every One!

Four years ago, I wrote this article for some friends, and am now reposting it for your amusement. It's from the latter years of my drama days, where the highlight of my existence was drafting friends and siblings into madcap garage performances of Shakespeare and other authors whose works I loved. The Sort-Of Shakespearean Players (S.O.S.Players, for short) have especially fond memories of A Christmas Carol; the fuzzy videotape of our production is as necessary a Christmas film to us as The Muppet Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life. I'm posting it as-is, resisting the rabid temptation to edit myself.

~*~

[In 2004], I directed a production of Charles Dickens's beloved story 'A Christmas Carol'. I was fifteen at the time. Over the summer I adapted a script, and recruited a group of my fun-loving friends to perform in it with me. Most of us agreed to play multiple roles in the show, and I myself took on all the left-overs. I stubbornly insisted on designing and constructing all costumes by myself, wanting to be sure that there was nothing anachronistic in the way my actors were dressed.

The rehearsals were highly stressful to the overworking and overpaying director that I was, and I kept a close record of who attended the Saturday morning rehearsals and what excuses the amateur Thespians who'd gone AWOL offered. My notebook is littered with notes concerning absences; I look back at some of the excuses just to make myself laugh:

In the shower
Still asleep
Strawberry picking
Cleaning up a graveyard
Just plain forgot

Fortunately, I could always depend on my sister Victoria, then 12, and my brothers Josh and Johnny, 10 and 6, to be there. They couldn't miss rehearsals if they wanted to.

The rehearsals were full of fun, and we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. However, by the last day I was getting decidedly nervous, especially when Ebenezer Scrooge skipped the dress rehearsal because he was feeling decidedly sick to his stomach after strenuous finals at school and was afraid he was coming down with the flu.

The day of the performance dawned brightly, and after prowling around until a proper hour of the morning, I called up Scrooge only to find that he was perfectly all right and never felt better, and I sighed with relief and slumped onto the sofa to bemoan my night of lost sleep.

This was to be a home production; we transformed our large, comfortable living room into a theatre. One doorway led into the kitchen, another into the garage, situated conveniently at stages right and left for easy entrances and exits. We were planning to have one final run-through of the show before the large family dinner we would have before the show, and I was trying to put together a large Victorian bed for Scrooge. This bed was made of PVC pipes and red curtains, originally intended to be a puppet theatre but easily converted into something that resembled an elaborate bed with nice curtains. Unfortunately, I could not get it to stay upright and was getting considerably frustrated with it when my brother Josh, who was ten at the time, sidled up to me.

"Hey Mar," he said.

"Get out of here," I grumbled irritably, trying to stuff one end of a PVC pipe into another.

"Mar, I was just wondering...whether you wanted any lighting for this show."

I looked up from where I was kneeling on the carpet. "Not really, Josh. I just wanted this to be a simple production. Nothing fancy." My brother is a technowhiz-electronics guy, and I had awful visions of my nice little production being overrun with lights, sirens, and fluorescent orange electrical cords.

"Oh, it won't be anything outrageous," Josh promised.

"Ok," I said, just to get rid of him.

The house was really, really quiet for a long time.

When I looked up, Josh had set up a stepladder just off stage, and crowded on and around it was every lamp in the house, with the lampshades reversed to make spotlights, looking for all the world like a garden of giant flowers turning their faces up as if to see the sun through the ceiling. Josh was standing proudly among them, a silly grin on his face, and already dressed in his fat Mr. Fezziwig costume just to pacify me.

I didn't say anything; I was afraid to.

Half an hour later, my troupe of faithful actors began arriving. The final dress rehearsal was- well, if the old actors' adage that "the worse the dress rehearsal is, the better the performance'll be" carried any grain of truth in it, we were destined for Hollywood. I walked around with a smile plastered on my face, trying not to cry. All the months and months of backbreaking work, and we were going to be the laughingstock of the town...

Somehow, we all sat down to dinner; we hadn't taken off our costumes, and "Fred" soon had enchilada sauce splattered all down the front of her white shirt. From there on, things started really going wrong. Somehow, we got all the parents and family members (a considerable crowd of around twenty) seated in the living room, and I herded all the actors off the stage. Then- but you know, I think I'm going to tell this from a different point of view, just so that you can see what really happened...

**************************

The lights go down. Or rather, off; the only way to reduce all spotlights being to unplug the entire extension cord from the wall, producing an effect of a complete blackout. Worried whisperings from the audience. Let us look backstage at the actors for this performance. They are all seated on the kitchen floor, as all the chairs are being occupied by the audience. Nervously looking out of the bed-sheet curtain is Ebenezer Scrooge, an extremely youthful old miser with thick, curly gold hair and blue eyes; the corners of his mouth are twitching as he tries to put a scowl on a face that normally communicates to the average observer that he wouldn't hurt a fly.

Next to him is sitting Bob Cratchit and Mrs. Cratchit, bearing an unusual family resemblance; sitting curled up in Mrs. Cratchit's lap is a little Cratchit daughter, looking very shy and sweet. Right beside them, Tiny Tim is randomly whacking at people with his crutch. Scrooge's good-natured nephew Fred is leaning against the wall in one corner, the enchilada splotch effectively hidden by a very tight, two-dimensional vest splitting at the sides.

A Lady and Gentleman are lounging around in the shadows, and a tall black figure moving suddenly in the darker corner of the kitchen might be recognized as the Ghost of Christmas Future if she would move a little more into the light. Mr. Fezziwig/Gentleman is perched up on the stepladder, ready to plug in the lights again. A small Lady and rather mischievous looking Little Scrooge are whispering in the opposite corner; Belle and Young Scrooge are sitting boredly by.

Ah, yes- not to forget the director. Her long hair is folded, tucked under, and pinned in a manner which not only makes it appear delusively short, but sticks out around her head giving her a rather odd, lumpy appearance. Long chains from a broken swingset dangle from her arms and neck, jingling loudly to make the only sound in the quiet House. She moves forward now and pushes Scrooge and Bob Cratchit out onto the dark stage, tripping over the properties and trying to orient themselves in the dark.

The lights come on suddenly.

Enter Fred, a smiling Fred unusual in this show for the only person wearing a genuine silk top hat.

"A Merry Christmas to you, Uncle!"

"Bah, humbug."

Poor Fred stumbles on a line but pulls through it heroically; she is one of the only ones who has completely memorized her lines for the show. Scrooge can be seen stealthily referring to a small blue notebook on his desk. His voice is husky, but he vehemently repeats his signature line with relish, trying not to smile each time.

Exit Fred. Enter a Lady and Gentleman; the Lady is at least two heads taller than the Gentleman. They ask if Scrooge would like to contribute to a fund to "buy the poor some meat and drink and means of warmth," and when that is refused, they look at each other and exit timidly. A church-bell strikes six o'clock, a bell whose sound strangely resembles that of a tin pan being beaten with a wooden spoon; but we must dismiss these outrageous fancies and concentrate on the scene before us. Bob Cratchit has risen from his nondescript desk and is putting on a ragged plaid coat and equally shabby gray top hat, a hat that appears to be made of strips of construction paper stapled together. It is obvious from his attire that he is not rich. The spotlight jumps to him and he flinches and puts a hand before his eyes. The directress can be heard shouting offstage to Mr. Fezziwig, who pokes his head out of the curtains and wiggles his eyebrows at the audience from on top of the stepladder. The lighting adjusted, Mr. Cratchit begs to have Christmas Day off from work, and when his employer grudgingly agrees, the scene blacks out in the midst of thunderous applause from the wings and gallery.

Scene two opens in darkness; by squinting hard the tall, straight figure of Ebenezer Scrooge can be seen sitting in an armchair before his bed. He is wearing a purple-and-blue-striped bathrobe and trying to look at his script in the dark. For this scene, he had been supposed to wear a nice white nightcap with the old grimy strings of a mop attached, to make it appear as if he has gray hair, but he has somehow conveniently lost this in the jumble of other stage properties. It will not appear in this show.

Scrooge looks worriedly offstage; the tin pan strikes midnight and a rattling of chains can be heard coming from somewhere behind his bed. Enter Marley's Ghost, rattling her chains, and brushing up against the solid-looking bed manages to send the whole flimsy structure of PVC pipes and nylon crashing on top of Ebenezer Scrooge. Some slight confusion ensues, and in the obscurity they manage to right it quickly and proceed with the scene. Marley strikes a pose and an eerie blue spotlight comes on suddenly; the change of color being effected by a clear plastic plate held in front of the lamp by the ever-obliging Mr. Fezziwig.

Marley is the only one who knows herself to be capable of memorizing any number of lines; therefore in writing the script she has not omitted a single one of that character's speeches, and the audience wonders how so airy a spirit can be such a windbag. The rather Shakespearean Ghost exits, and almost immediately the striking of the pan is heard again.

Enter the Ghost of Christmas Past, bearing a singular resemblance to the tall Charitable Lady of Scene One, dressed in filmy white gauze and bathed in white light. A look of overdone shock comes over Scrooge's face, and he takes the Spirit's hand as she leads him to a little desk on stage right. The spotlight shifts to a small boy sitting at the desk, of rather a mischievous countenance, whom Scrooge immediately identifies as himself in days gone by. The boy tries to seem dejected; enter his little sister Fan, who comes up to him and expresses a desire to take him home. (This same young lady has been rather long in entering, as a result of her wire-hanger hoopskirts getting stuck between the doorway and the stepladder, and her oatmeal-can bonnet sliding off her blonde head). The boy jumps up like a jack-in-the-box, and with an explosive "Home, dear sister?!" seems just as happy as any other boy would be at the prospect of going home on Christmas instead of staying at school.

Scrooge reaches out a hand to touch the boy, but the Spirit admonishes him not to do so, as these are but shadows of the past and have no consciousness of them. Scrooge obstinately does so, and finds that perhaps the boy is not so shadowy as the Spirit asserts, as with a loud "hey!" he exits the stage with Fan.

The lights snap off, and there is some confusion again. The lights snap on again, to normal lighting now, revealing an older Scrooge sitting at a card table counting pennies; she is wearing a tight tan corduroy vest that is much too short, and a black cardboard top hat which strangely contradicts its name by lacking a top. It slides over her face and Dick Wilkins, her friend, catches and rights it; this same Dick looking very much like the windbag ghost of the previous scene.

Enter a short Mr. Fezziwig, with a pillow in his shirt, who has with reluctance descended the brilliant stepladder. Dick Wilkins notices with chagrin that Mr. Fezziwig is not wearing any shoes. Mr. Fezziwig invites everyone to a large Christmas party, and the stage is instantly in a turmoil as the money is swept off the card table and replaced with a bag of apples and a pyramid of empty plastic cups. Mr. Fezziwig disappears offstage to adjust the lighting, and Dick Wilkins stoops to press the play button on a device that appears rather modern considering this takes place in the nineteenth century. Instantly music from The Nutcracker blares out, and guests begin arriving; some of them stand in a circle drinking and laughing, and others attempt to dance; Dick Wilkins dances with Fan, with a height difference of at least four feet between them, considering Dick's hat. Mr. Fezziwig hovers around with a benevolent grin on his face; his hat several times either loses its brim or its crown, and can be seen on his head in various states of decay; he finally casts it aside, flinging it behind him where it knocks over the pyramid of cups.

Exit the guests, with the exception of the Young Scrooge and Belle who immediately strike poses in center stage and burst out laughing. This is one of the most highly tragic scenes in the play; what is more heartbreaking than the failure of young love? Belle seems most bent on casting off this undesirable boyfriend, and reads her speech off some cue cards which have unfortunately been shuffled quite bewilderingly. She wanders about the stage squinting at the little cards until she steps on one corner of her sweeping dress, revealing the hoopskirts- a framework made of grapevines- underneath. Finally, managing to find the correct line, she tells poor Ebenezer sadly, but with a smile on her face, that she cannot accept him, and that when they had become engaged, he had been a different man. Ebenezer declares, "I was a boy," much to the amusement of the audience, and bursts out laughing herself. A grim Dick Wilkins can be seen surveying the scene from on top of the stepladder, shaking her head sorrowfully and prompting the two ex-lovers in their tragic rejections.

Somehow, amid the roars of the audience, that scene ends.

"Show me no more, Spirit, show me no more!" Scrooge implores, covering his face and shaking with either tears or laughter, most likely the latter but possibly both. The Ghost of Christmas Past insists that she must show Scrooge one more scene. Enter Belle again, this time with Marley's Ghost/Dick Wilkins, who now appears as her husband. The Husband remarks sadly that Scrooge is a lonely man, and then the lights go out.

The striking of the tin pan announces the coming of the Ghost of Christmas Present, in a teal bathrobe, a giant jingle bell around her neck, and a wreath of poinsettias in her strawberry blonde hair. She seems to have recovered sufficiently from being rejected in the former scene, and looks very happy and jolly indeed.

To Scrooge's surprise, she leads him to the Cratchit residence, where a flustered Mrs. C is welcoming home her daughter and setting the table. Enter Mr. C and Tiny Tim, who seat themselves at the table and, after a short grace, begin a very simple meal of pita bread and water.

Marley/DickWilkins/Husband, watching from offstage, watches this scene with the utmost satisfaction. Of all the people in the play, the Cratchits do their scene to perfection, and the way the little family huddles together eating their flat, meagre fare is very touching to behold. They have all memorized their lines, and this scene becomes one of the most special in the play. It is only marred by a certain young Peter Cratchit, looking like a thinner version of Mr. Fezziwig, who slurps all of his water out of his cup and flings it behind his back, causing Scrooge's bed to totter precariously once more. Holding up his crutch, Tiny Tim says, "God Bless us, every one!"to the delight of the audience, and the Ghost of Christmas Present turns on Scrooge, reminding him that it might be a good idea to reduce this surplus population. As if taking these words to heart, the Cratchits vanish from the stage.

The scene shifts to Fred's house; his Wife, a Lady, and two Gentlemen are with him. They have a dance, which turns out rather longer than the First Gentleman remembered from the dress rehearsal, and when the song ends, they all sit down dizzily to play twenty questions. Guessing from the clues that the gruff, unkind, London-dwelling animal is none other than Uncle Scrooge, the Wife wins the game. After proposing a toast, the good-natured nephew brings the scene to a close.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, after a little chat with Scrooge, exits the stage. The tin pan strikes again, and in a red light, the spooky Ghost of Christmas Future enters. This tall personage could not be persuaded to memorize any lines, and only with reluctance appeared on stage at all, but agreed to this role in which she only had to point her finger at various actors and properties. She is covered from head to foot in black drapery- old skirts, a blanket, some netting, and a dress- and on one hand wears a black glove with a skeleton's hand on it; a very dramatic effect when it comes to pointing at people and things. Scrooge, strangely enough, does not appear very frightened by this ghastly specter; perhaps he is used to them by the third round or perhaps again it is merely an effect of the infernal lighting.

In a monologue which is rather hard to read in the obscurity, and in answer to which the Ghost only points its skeletal hand randomly at the walls, floor, and ceiling, Scrooge finds himself at the Cratchits' house, where once again that family does a phenomenal job. The Cratchits, sans Tiny Tim, live their parts with a touching reality, and the audience is perfectly silent. The melancholy blue light goes down, and comes up again on two Gentlemen. One of them is our Marley/Dick/Husband/FirstGentleman who now appears as the Third Gentleman. The Fourth Gentleman is a broom with a smiley-face frisbee stuck to its head, wearing Fred's top hat and the remnants of someone else's costume. The two gentlemen begin to talk to each other, the one putting words into the other's mouth. (This was actually the continuation of a tradition from my production of The Comedy of Errors the year before- so many people were missing at the performance that I dressed up a broom as one of the characters and read its lines; it was so hilarious that we decided to do it again the next year and I "ventriloquated" the lines into the Broom's mouth.)

Scrooge gathers from this dialogue that someone has died, and that no one cares very much about it at all. The lights go down and come up again on two Rag-Women and Marley/Dick/Husband/FirstGentleman/ThirdGentleman, which last now appears as a plain old Man with a decided Cockney accent. They proceed to rummage through a sack of Scrooge's laundry and bed-curtains; the latter are not mentioned without a sidelong look at the rickety PVC structure to see if it still holds firm.

The lights go down again and the dark Ghost of Christmas Future points at a tombstone propped up on a chair, on which he reads his name from the script. He falls on his knees before the Ghost, pleading most eloquently to restore to him his life and that he will be a nice person again. The Ghost points at the tombstone yet again, almost as if she does not see Scrooge; perhaps she doesn't, for even if the black drapery had been pulled away from her face, there is still the blue cover of the script between his face and hers.

At this point the lights begin flashing dizzily from red to blue, to portray the inner turmoil in Ebenezer Scrooge's mind; much to the dismay of Marley/Dick/Husband/FirstGentleman/ThirdGentleman/CockneyAccentMan and the delight of the audience, Mr. Fezziwig wails out an imitation of a police siren and bangs on the tin pan as the Ghost of Christmas Future disappears.

Finally, all the lights are turned back on, albeit with some slight confusion about finding the extension cord in the dark. It is plugged in, and the forest of lamps turn their faces on Scrooge, who finds himself back in his bedroom and bursts into raptures of joy. He expresses this by kissing the armchair and bed, which last comes very near to tumbling onto his head again. A small, mischievous boy walks across the stage with hands in pockets; Scrooge accosts him and asks what day it is. The boy tells him loudly that it is Christmas Day, and Scrooge sends him to buy a prize turkey for the Cratchits.

"I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future! The spirits of all three shall strive within me! And as Tiny Tim says, God Bless Us Every One!"

The play ends. A rather disordered curtain call ensues; the audience gives a standing ovation, and all the characters bow and bow again. The small boy throws a fake turkey into the audience to see their reaction.

The play is a success.

Fortunately, no encore is called.

**********************************

I love to watch the video of this show with my friends. I know that even when we're all a hundred years old, we're always going to remember this very special performance. We all had such a good time at rehearsals and at the performance, and we still call each other by our "stage names." It was far from perfect, but somehow even in its imperfection it was an endearing, memorable performance, and I wouldn't change a bit of it- its quirkiness made it all the more lovable. I will always remember that Christmas Past, and I have a feeling that I haven't seen the last of directing and performing in that show- I will definitely make it a part of my Christmases Future. And in this Christmas Present, may God Bless Us Every One!

~*~

Merry Christmas, my dears. ^_^

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nature (being a book written 15 years ago)

Here is an informational science book I wrote when I was six.
MT. EVREST IS ThE TALLEST MOUNTAIN IN ThE WORLD MT. SINI IS A BIBLE MOUNTAIN MT. MICHL IS A hIh PEAK
[Mt. Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. Mt. Sinai is a Bible mountain. Mt. Mitchell is a high peak.]WILLO tREES HAVE mASCETOS BRANChES HANG LOW BRADFRT PARS HAVE FLOWERS BUT ThER SMELY
[Willow trees have mosquitoes. Branches hang low. Bradfort Pears have flowers, but they're smelly.]GOLD FISh LIVE IN SEAS ThEY LOOK GOLD SO ThRE GOLD FISh
[Goldfish life in seas. They look gold, so they're goldfish.]
ROCKS ARE CRESTALS ShELS ARE MINRALS ROCKS ARE DIFRINT
[Rocks are crystals. Shells are minerals. Rocks are different.]WATR CAN HAVE LIFE TO LIKE FISh AND SEA WEED AND ROCKS AND SAND
[Water can have life, too. Like fish and sea weed and rocks and sand.]ROSES HAVE ThORNS DASIYS HAVE POKY MIDlS PANSYS HAVE LOTS OF LAEFS
[Roses have thorns. Daisies have pokey middles. Pansies have lots of leaves.]SAND IS A MISTRY You FIND ShELS AND ROCKS You BILD SAND CASLS
[Sand is a mystery. You find shells and rocks. You build sand castles.]

Mt. Mitchell must've been the only mountain in America whose name I knew. I'm not sure what I meant by saying rocks were different. Or that rocks and sand are alive, for that matter. I wasn't sure exactly what sand was, though, so like a good little scientist I admitted it was a mystery, rather than make something up.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Take Notes, Part IV

Part four in a series.

Hispanic Civilization, Profesor C. Imagine a very small, soft-spoken Chilean man, with thin iron-grey hair combed over his head, and a mustache and goatee. He always wears khaki or olive pants and tan, olive, drab, or grey sweater-vests. He invariably enters the classroom carefully carrying coffee in a mug with a picture of a motorcycle on it. His favorite movie is The Motorcycle Diaries.

A sample of his very long lectures:
"Ehm...eh...ya know- it's a llama! Eh...it lives in, ya know, en Chile, y, eh, entonces... it is very, ehm, important to the economy, ya know, there en...en Chile."

*

On the Conquistadors and the Incas:
"They tried to consolidate the villages, and this created a cocktail of germs."

*

"Now, you ask what is a Gaucho- well, you did not ask, but I know, someone thought it."

*

On the Gauchos, with their rugged and otherwise uncivilized habits:
"Their skills did not make them... very accepted in society."

*

On the tendency of Gauchos to disaccept the law:
"They didn't like it when the Gauchos burned the countryside and drove the cattle away and killed them with bolos- and ate them."

*

To a tardy student:
"Oh, yes, come on in- this is just like Kinko's."

*

"They had to build a fence, or else, ya know, the cattle would, ehm, run away."

*

The class wasn't overly enthusiastic, either. It was 70% male, and lunch hour.
"Can anyone define hegemony? Hegemonic?"
*after a long pause*
student, with complacent helpfulness: "I believe it's a made-up word."
"It means dominance."
"And we couldn't just say... dominance?"

*

"I used to have a motorcycle. But my wife, she sold it, said it was too dangerous. So a few weeks ago I went to a course to ride, you know, dirt bikes? I fell in the mud, hurt my back. So, eheh, these kids, they all want to know why a grandpa is trying to ride the bike."

*

Due to the Profesor's soothing accent, I have only these quotes and a few pages of indecipherable notes.


***
More from Professor B, macroeconomics. There were a lot of other funny things he said, but mainly because of his thick Scottish accent- so they mightn't seem funny if I posted them here.

"I watch economists on tv, and you can almost see the demand and supply curves behind their eyes."

*

"So, Kool-Aid is $0.20- it used to be $0.12. So you're not going to buy 18 packets."
"I'm not?"

*

"So in that case, what do we do? Buy less coke. -This is coca-cola we're talking about."

*

"One of the most soul-destroyin' things to do is work for a textbook publisher. You write thousands of questions and get paid five dollars."

*

A student asks,
"So, what should I invest in? I mean, I'm asking you this personally. What would you suggest?"
"The best thing that a young person could invest in? $300 for an hour in Professor B's office for a consultation."

*

"So, put your names and email addresses down on the sign-up sheet for the Study-Budy-List. Also, put down what times you're available to study. Do not write down 'Any Time' unless you really are available at any time. Because if you do, be prepared to get a phone call at one in the morning and hear, 'Hey, huh-huh, want to study economics? Production possibility frontiers? Huh-huh.' Because it will probably be me."

*

"And on the index card, I want you to write-"
"Wait! Which side of the index card?"
"I want you to write it not on the front or the back, but on the little edge of it right there. No. Either side is fine. You guys are really neurotic, today."

*

"You've been trained to know things, whether you know them or not. You've been trained to bs. Sometimes the answer is, 'I don't know.'"

*

"When you get your exam back, it will have a face on it. It might be a happy face, like this-- :) Or it might be an implacable, noncomittal face, like this-- : Now, the face you don't want to see is this one-- :( And if you get this one, that looks like this-- :`( See, he's crying. He's in despair. Come to my office."

*

"You can bring a calculator for the exam; doesn't matter if it's scientific or graphing. Any kind. Except a human calculator that's trained in economics."

*

Two guys talking before class:
"When I was little, we didn't have the internet at home. I had to walk to the library to get it."
"Uphill both ways?"
"Yeah."
"But how did you know that without google maps?"

*

"Please put your information down on this paper if you're planning to graduate or transfer or escape from this place some way or another."

*

When his thick accent makes words or phrases unrecognizable:
"There. I've written it down and translated it into American for you."

*

About me:
"I chose her because she looks so intelligent. I expected a good answer."
(...sorry, Prof. $7000 out of $20,000 is an awful lot to invest. But I really believed in my imaginary venture. I had the entire scenario planned out in my head. Really.)

*

"You can choose any country for your project. Even a tiny little tinpot rubbishy little country like Greece."

*

"Keynes spent ten years explaining his theories, and then he dropped dead."

*

"Required reserve ratio is abbreviated RRR, but it sounds really stupid when you say it. Like a seal."

*

"So you finally decide you're going to spend your hundred dollars. You lift up the mattress and take it out, Benjamin Franklin blinks in the bright light..."

*

Close to finals, a student asks,
"Can you please repeat that?"
"Aggregate price levels."
"No, from the beginning."
"Good morning, welcome to Macroeconomics 251, we're going to have fun this semester-"


***
British Literature II, Professor C. A small, thin man, with thin grey hair, a big nose, and bright little eyes. He always wears khaki pants and a drab sweater over a polo shirt, except on St. Patrick's day, when he wears orange. He has a rather high-pitched voice, and when he needs voices for characters when reading he gives them squeaky voices. The first semester we were suspicious of each other, the second semester it was all-out war, and the third semester we decided we liked arguing.

Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss...
"It's easy to be bold when you're stuck on the outside of an urn."

*

"Ok, look at the third paragraph, second line. In case anyone doesn't know what a letter is, that's when in the old days people would write with a pen on a piece of paper and fold it up and put it in the mail. The person who received it would respond in sometimes three days, a week, a month, never..."

*

"And that, that is something we all strive for. -Not to be drunk, but to have dignity."

*

A concerned student asks,
"But doesn't Frankenstein put clothes on his monster?"
"He's a scientist. He's not playing with dolls!"

*

While drawing what could be an inverted toilet plunger on the markerboard:
"And this is South America- Oh, [Professor M of Western Civ] would be horrified! He's always telling me, 'They don't know where bloody anything is!'"

*

a note that I slipped under his door on 1 April:
KURTZ IS ALIVE

Friday, November 5, 2010

Seven Great Future Movies

During a conversation with a friend earlier this week, I mentioned two or three books that I think would naturally make wonderful movies, and later called to mind a few more. Each would present unique challenges to the filmmakers with regard to things like historical accuracy, special effects, and quality appropriate actors (as in, people with real acting ability), in order to remain faithful to the books.

They all feature tight, well-paced, gripping plots, original and enjoyable characters who develop inspiringly as the stories progress, interesting settings, and marvelous denouements and endings.

So, in no particular order:

1. Rifles for Watie
Harold Keith
This young adult historical fiction about the American Civil War was published in 1957. The author did extensive research for years beforehand which involved talking with actual veterans and visiting the places he planned to write about. It takes place in the western theater of the war, shifting the focus away from the better-known eastern theater battles like Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. The protagonist, a young man from Kansas Territory named Jefferson Davis Bussey, joins the Union Army at the beginning of the war. Initially mature but innocent and eager, Jeff's sincerity and love of justice are honed to fuller maturity and true manhood by his experiences in the war-- but this is so deftly woven into the plot that it could never be mistaken for a trite coming-of-age story.

(Has anyone else noticed that coming-of-age stories tend to be more about children becoming teenagers, as opposed to children becoming adults?)

Right from the start, Jeff meets good and bad people on both sides of the war and realizes that "the enemy" can't always be defined as "people on the other side"-- especially when he is chosen for a special mission to go undercover as a Confederate soldier. Other characters include the beautiful "rebel to the backbone" Lucy Washbourne, a spirited young Cherokee woman; Jeff's despicable commanding officer Asa Clardy; Heifer Hobbs, the deformed, nurturing cook of a Confederate cavalry unit; Jeff's fellow soldiers on both sides of the war; and several actual historical figures.

Rifles for Watie shows the ugliness and sadness of war without demonizing the courageous people who fight to defend their countries-- as opposed to so many of the movies made these days that are only too willing to settle for pacifism and condemn the armed forces.

2. The Princess and the Goblin
George McDonald
I think this would make an amazing live-action film (or maybe even stop-motion claymation). Great care would have to be taken to preserve the symbolism and not let the whole thing get psychedelically weird in places. With all the (mostly bad, or good gone bad) fantasy films coming out these days, it would be nice to see something with an actual meaning.

3. A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'Engle
I almost hesitate to list this one. It inspired much of my current writing today, and I have such vivid mental images of the Murrys and their house and actually everything in the entire book, that it would probably end up difficult for me to see. However, if a film director could give a faithful interpretation of the book, I might be able to enjoy it. The 2003 Disney one was abysmally bad (and I've only seen parts of it). Meg needs to look unattractive. Calvin needs red hair and freckles. Charles Wallace needs to be the polar opposite of the kid who played Anikin in Episode I. You know, maybe I'll just have to direct this one myself, someday. I'm almost as protective of it as I am of my own books. Still, I think that it does have the potential to make a really good movie.

4. When My Name was Keoko
Linda Sue Park
I read this one recently and really enjoyed it. It takes place in WWII Korea during the Japanese occupation, and is told alternately through the eyes of Sun Hee and Tae Yul, a young girl and her brother. Forced to change their names and forbidden to speak anything but Japanese, the Kim family struggles to retain their Korean traditions and identity in secret, but involvement with the resistance puts them in even greater danger. A variation on one of my favorite plot devices occurs at one point in the book. It is full of simple but poignant scenes of everyday life during wartime that would translate well to the screen, with just the right balance of realistic adventure and meditative showing (not telling). Also, little Korean kids are really cute.

5. The Singing Tree
Kate Seredy
This is the Newberry Honor sequel to the Newberry Medal winner The Good Master. It takes place on a ranch on the Hungarian plains during WWI. Every single time I read this book, I cry-- it is so moving and so powerful. I've never attempted to read it aloud. The title refers to a story that one character tells of traveling through a war zone in which everything was destroyed by bombs except one tree, on the branches of which sit all the birds that survived, both predator and prey, resting together and singing at the rising of the sun. This is an apt metaphor for the Catholic Nagy family, whose home becomes a refuge for many as the war progresses. Young Jancsi Nagy and his cousin and best friend Kate are fun-loving youngsters who come to accept adult responsibilities when the Great War turns everything upside-down.

In spite of the darkness of the premise and the sadness just outside the loving boundaries of the Nagy ranch, I'm not sure if I'd call The Singing Tree a sad book. Its portrayal of faith is immensely uplifting, as are its characters-- a beautiful family with a loving marriage between a strong and kind husband and a nurturing and capable wife. Positive pictures of manhood and womanhood are always so enjoyable. While I wouldn't call it a sad book, I wouldn't put it in the "heartwarming" category, either-- it is devoid of saccharine sentimentality, and too full of real thoughts and feelings to ever be reduced to just a "cute family movie." (The costumes would also be spectacular, especially during the wedding at the beginning, and I hope there would be gratuitous shots of Hungarian sausages hanging from rafters. In every scene.)

6. Johnny Tremain
by Esther Forbes
I have read this book so many times that I can't even remember how many it's been, and I don't think I could ever get tired of it. Everything about it is so fresh and colorful-- the characters and every detail of their world are realized to perfection, and the join between fiction and fact, the invented characters and the historical ones, is seamless. The high drama of the setting-- Boston, in the 1770s-- lends itself naturally to the screen, and familiar events such as the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's Ride, and the Battle of Lexington are interspersed with the more personal dramas of a young boy and his life.

Johnny himself begins as a cocksure, arrogant apprentice to a silversmith, but when an accident leaves him with a deformed hand, his eyes are slowly opened not only to his own internal changing, but to the changing of the times around him.

The characters are so clear-cut and so memorable that it would take very carefully-selected actors to capture their essence. The cool and perceptive but never-surrendering Rab Silsbee is one of my favorite characters in children's literature, and he along with Johnny, Cilla Lapham, Lavinia Lyte, and a host of historical figures from Paul Revere to John Hancock, have been so carefully described physically and characteristically that it would be both very difficult (reading the book) and very easy (ignoring it) for a director to get them wrong.
I have, unfortunately, seen the butchered rendition that Disney made of this in '57. Don't watch it unless you need a good laugh-- although what's been done to it is more depressing than amusing. Maybe if you need a good cynical laugh. And those songs... oh, those songs...

7. Journey to the Center of the Earth
Jules Verne
Here is where I rant.
Is it really that hard to follow a book? Seriously? I understand when attempts are made to adapt a book to the screen that does not lend itself well to adaptation either because of a disjointed storyline or other valid reasons, and some things must be changed a little. But the one and only thing that I could maybe justify changing in a film adaptation of Verne's original adventure story is making the account of the travels to and through Iceland slightly shorter.

What needs changing? Certainly not the characters. Axel is a fine protagonist that I liked immediately, with his thoughtful and studious personality, love of organizing collections, and good common sense, as well as his further responses to adventure. Professor Liedenbrock's eccentricity and enthusiasm make it easy to grow fond of him the same way Axel does, and Hans' perpetually passive stoicism balances out the mineralogist and his nephew. I see no sense in trying to "improve" on any of the characters or make them more "accessible" as past versions have by giving the Professor a love interest, or reducing Axel to a prepubescent boy (who is subsequently attracted to women ten years or more older). I won't even get into how much I hate it when women go along for the journey-- that's another can of worms. This is about a deep (get it?) love of science and discovery, not about distractingly clad love interests.

The plot doesn't need changing, either. Not every scene is a fast-paced action scene, nor does it need to be. They do not need to be attacked by Tyrannosaurus rexes. That's from a different movie. It's called Jurassic Park. It's not as good as Journey to the Center of the Earth. The only dinosaur-like creatures in the book are aquatic and seen from a distance. They also do not need to discover the lost city of Atlantis at the center of the earth. Hans does not need a pet goose that gets tragically murdered. They do not need to be pursued by rival scientists or goons. They do not need any adventures "greater" than the ones that Verne gives them. The world also does not need a steampunk version, in case any filmmaker is reading this and suddenly thought that might be a good idea. The plot is just fine the way it is, and so is the ending.

It makes me wonder if anyone bothers to read books before filming them, anymore.

Anyway-- I would love to see some of these books made into well-researched and faithful movies.



(On another note-- is it too much to ask for a version of The Last of the Mohicans in which the proper characters die in the proper ways? I can't feel sorry for David Gamut randomly getting shot, or fathom Alice jumping off a cliff. It discombobulates me.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Holy Bible and The Rotten Potato Book

Last year, my sister and I came across two big boxes in the attic packed full of the artwork we'd done as kids. Among the pictures of flowers, the Holy Family, and each other, I found the long-lost books I had written at the ages of 5 and 6. These books ranged from one end of my spectrum of interests to the other, including religion, science, poetry, day-to-day life, fiction, and absurd observational humor. I was always writing and illustrating; my dad would bring home enormous stacks of stripedy paper that the computers at work spit out, and my sister and I drew all over the blank sides.

I know I've told some of you about these books already, but this is the first time any of the original illustrations have been open to view. Today, in a special edition post, you can read two of them. After this, I'll only show one at a time.

So, without further ado, I give you The Holy Bible and The Rotten Potato Book.
~*~*~*~
The Holy Bible
JESUS CALMS ThE STORM
JESUS HAD BEN TEChING BY ThE SEA WENE ThEY HAD TECAT A LONG TIM JESUS SAID LET US GO TO ThE OThR SID oF ThE SEA AFTR A LONG TIM A StORM CAME PIACE BE STILL
[Jesus had been teaching by the sea. When they had taught a long time, Jesus said, "Let us go to the other side of the sea." After a long time, a storm came. "Peace. Be still."]
All my people had three fingers, until I was about ten. Then I realized that people generally have more than three fingers. Note that Jesus' lone disciple there doesn't look too fazed by the weather.
SACEUS
SACEUS WAS A tAx COLECTOR ONE DAY JESUS CAME SACEUS WAS TO SMAL TO SEE SO HE CLIMND IN A TREE JESUS CAME AND
This one's unfinished. Maybe I figured everyone knew what happened next. Also, Zaccheus is very obviously a gecko. How else could he stick to the side of a tree stump?
FIRST ESTAR
AFTR JESUS DEIAD ON thE CROS HE WAS BIRID IN A TOMB IN thRE DAYS HE ROSE ThAt WAS ThE FRIST ESTAR!
That guard on the left looks a little worried at the gigantic guy in orange long-johns hovering over a very small tomb and smiling menacingly. I think that the bumblebee suits were supposed to be lorica segmentata, hence the stripes.
ABRHAM AND LOT
ABRHAM WAS PAKING HE tooK HIS NEPHEW LOT WITh HIM THEY RODE CAMLS AWAY FROM HOME
I'm not sure why I drew a bactrian camel, as opposed to a dromedary. I love the implication that Abraham packed his nephew. And I didn't know camels could get dropsy.
JESUS ENTRS JURUSLUM
JESUS RODE A DONKY to thE TEMPL PEPLE WELCOMD JESUS AND ShOtED HOSANA
Not a donkey- a WILDEBEEST. Jesus very obviously rode a wildebeest into Jerusalem. Or maybe the wildebeest's name was Hosana, and the people of Jeruslum shot it. I can't say I blame them. But they welcomed Jesus, naturally. The worst thing is, if I tried to draw a donkey today, it'd still look like a wildebeest.


~*~*~*~
Now, in a slight departure from spirituality, I bring you the true story of:
ThE ROTIN POTATO BOOK
The cover of this one is a little faded, so I'll omit it.
VEGETABLS ROTE TO IN FACT TODAY MOM FOND ROTIN POTATOS IN ThE CLOSET
[Vegetables rot, too. In fact, today Mom found rotten potatoes in the closet.]
WhEN VEGIS ROtE thEY SMEL
ROTIN VEGIS CAN GET SMLYR AND SMELYR YOU WILL GET SICE FROM thE SMEL
SOMTIMS VEGIS CAN GROW MOLD
The last page is also too faded to show up well in a picture, but it proclaims emphatically,
ROTIN VEGIS STINK!

~*~*~*~

Have I changed much, my dears?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I take notes, part III

Here's the next round of Professor Quotes, mostly leftover from last semester. There may be a couple repeats in the history section, but- I'm sure no one will mind.

***

The great Professor M., Western Civ I and II. He retired. I'm tragified. Every time I walk by his empty office, I try to imagine him traveling around the world making waspish comments, and it makes me feel a little better.

*

"Shut your book and listen. And take notes. Don't even bring your books to class. This is not grade-school. There aren't pictures to color in there, anymore."

*

"No leaving the classroom to go to the bathroom. I'm an old man. If I can hold it for an hour and fifteen, so can you. Most of the time you don't really have to go to the bathroom. You have to answer a call from your girlfriend or your drug dealer or someone."

*

"So, I've had a few people ask what year we're starting this course from. We're going by a timeline rather than specific dates. So no more, 'Do we study from what, year zero?'"

*

On the importance of the discoveries in the Iron Age:
"I mean, just think of the importance of these discoveries. We use roughly the same techniques to smelt iron ore, today. Think about it. What are our tanks made of- paper?"
"Actually, a lot of stuff gets made out of plastic, these days."
"I haven't heard of plastic internal combustion engines, and I wouldn't want one in my vehicle."

*

"So, what kind of natural resources did the ancient Mesopotamians and their surrounding neighbors have? I do not want to hear anyone say oil."

*

Chariot wheels were revolutionary in that they had spokes and were lightweight, as opposed to circles cut out of wood. He was trying to get us to guess this.
"What would the wheels need to be like?"
"Round?"
-.-

*

"So, the Hyksos attacked Egypt around 1650 B.C. and established an elite military aristocracy. Do they throw out priests and useful people? No. Only communists are that stupid."

*

"Now, I'm not going to ask you to memorize dates, generally speaking. There will be one or two. I do want you to remember general time frames, though, without getting bogged down. I do not want to hear, 'They're only 500 years apart!' That's like Christopher Columbus sailing across the ocean and introducing himeself to Bill Clinton!"

*

"While this ancient culture on Crete is fascinating, no one can decipher their writing. This creates problems even about naming them. Archaeologists call them the Minoans. We have no bloody idea what they called themselves."
"Cretins?"

*

"Now, Crete has a very different environment than Egypt and Mesopotamia. The island is about 2/3 mountains. It's easier to trade for grown food. There are, though, two things that they did have an abundance of."
"Christmas trees?" "Goats?"
"Grapes and olives, which were considered exotic. Exotic in the sense that you can't live totally off wine and olive oil."

*

"If you haven't looked at the clarifications of the definitions I posted online, you might want to do so before... December."

*

"Most people don't learn from anybody's mistakes, including their own."

*

"In 336, someone murdered Philip of Macedonia. Some Hollywood experts suggest Angelina Jolie did it."

*

handing back an exam:
"Some people didn't realize England is an island. Sometimes I wonder- is anything getting through?!"

*

"So, how do you keep a palaceful of aristocrats happy? You give them special privileges. You allow them to give you your shirt in the morning when you get dressed. You allow some of them to be in your presence. Or sit in your presence. On a stool, or a chair with a back, or a chair with a back and arms. -You think that's funny? You're exactly the same way. People these days will do anything for status. Who the hell is Tommy Hilfiger? I bet his shirts are made out of the same stuff, maybe at the same factories, as the ones that say Family Dollar Store. Or Ralph Lauren. His name used to be Ralph Lifshitz. Why doesn't he put that on his shirts? You think I'm making it up? The last class did. I'm not. Go look it up yourself. People will do anything these days for status."

*

while sketching a rough model of the solar system, a student asked,
"Will we have to know this for the test?"
"Well, if you don't know if Saturn or the Moon is closer to the Earth..."

*

"If your head was the size of a planet, and I threw this marker at it, the marker would fall under the forces of gravity exerted by your head. No offense, but your head doesn't have much mass."

*

on the development of constitutions:
"Obviously, no one would sign a contract that says, 'Make me a slave!' Well, maybe a few kinky people- but we're not talking about them."

*

on the paying of debts:
"But that's the way our country operates. Maybe the money will come from the moon!"

*

on mercantilism:
"Imagine what would happen if we didn't allow imports. What would I be driving? A Chevy Vega? A Ford Pinto with an exploding gas tank?"

*

"--I don't know why I'm writing PETER on the board. You should know how to spell it."

*

"Louis XVI was not a mean tyrant- he was a famously nice person. Not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Not interested in politics. He really liked hunting and locksmithing. He would've happily spent his life killing animals and picking locks."

*

"You're not ignorant peasants, but you behave surprisingly like them sometimes."

*

"So, how did the aristocrats try to control the peasants?"
"By sending soldiers after them?"
"No. We're talking about all of France, here. That's like trying to kill mosquitoes with your car!"

*

"Now, by fraternity they didn't mean Greek organizations on college campuses."

*

"When the Habsburgs weren't fighting, they would intermarry."

*

"You don't just replace a king like a lightbulb."

*

"So, the Church was often a target of the enlightenment. The Church, they thought, got in the way of 'equality.' So they came up with something that they called the Church of the Supreme Being. Catholicism is outlawed. You have to believe that there's a Supreme Being and a soul that survives after death. And, the Supreme Being is a Jacobin. That's it. This is exactly what you could expect of a religion invented by a government committee."

*

"The 1801 Concordat with the Pope finally ended all the **** that had been going on about forcing people to choose between the Church and the government."

*

"So, Napoleon escapes from Elba in March of 1815. An army is sent to arrest him, and he stands up and tells them that if any of them want to kill him, to just go right on ahead. Now, one of them could've said, 'D--- right! You froze my butt at Moscow BAM!!!' But no one does."

*

"Napoleon comes to the conclusion that he won the battle of Waterloo. That's what politicians do, when they write their memoirs."

*

"Today, no one in Texas picks cotton by hand, unless you have a pet cotton plant in your backyard."

*

"The steam engine is first developed to pump out water from flooded coal mines. Unless you want to go snorkeling with a pickaxe."

*

on materialism:
"Nowadays, people have walk-in closets the size of my living room!"

*

"The way people talk about globalization, you'd think it started only 15 years ago."

*

a student doublechecks,
"There's no Prussia today... right?"

*

"As part of the bargain, the British get Malta, Crete, and Gibraltar. The British love islands!"

*

on Bessarabia:
"I'm somewhat reluctant to even mention it, because people will imagine it's somewhere near Mecca."

*

"William II does something else dangerous. He reads a book. Which is dangerous for some people to do."

*

"If you think terrorism was invented on September 11..."

*

the prof asks,
"Now, what would we do, if we were given an ultimatum like that?"
"We would scoff."

*

"If you even want to use thinking to describe the mental processes of William II."

*

"So, where will the French go if war is declared?"
"Paris?"
"The French are already in Paris."

*

"When people are being stupid, the hardest thing to do in the world is to make them be smart!"

*

"As a matter of fact, there is still a large amount of unexploded WWII ordnance in Belgium today. Their government has to collect it before it maims people. A lot of it is on their beaches. This tends to blow up tourists and teenagers who don't think history matters."

*

"They're not about to just go up and say, 'Hello, ve are de Germans, ve are going to sink you.'"

*

"Eric, would you get the door? Sam isn't here to perform the usual... duties."
"He never misses."
"Yeah- this is the first time."
"He must have a deadly illness."
"Ok, let's get started."

*

"I mean, the Mexican government does not take this seriously. The Germans can't even get to Paris. How are they going to get to El Paso?"

*

"Marxism is adhering to the ideas of not Groucho, but Karl, Marx.

*

"Now, Marx does not believe in utopian ideas. He does not think everyone will live happily with the Easter Bunny providing everything we want."

*

"I will tell you right off, I'm not a Marxist. There's a lot of moonshine in his appeal."

*

"Do you think that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer? If you believe that, you're halfway to being a Marxist, whether you know it or not."

*

"The Bolsheviks aren't really about to let just anyone in on the government. You don't want every Tom, Dick, and Ivan making decisions."

*

on Leon Trotsky:
"And who do you think was the leader of the Red Army?"
student in the back: "TOLSTOY!"
[This is the only time I ever heard the Prof genuinely laugh. I thought I was going to die, it was so funny...]

*

on the Versailles Peace Conference:
"Obviously they're not going to come up with a solution that actually works. That's the delusion of diplomats-- they think they can write something on a piece of paper."

*

on Hitler during WWI:
"He suffers just like everyone else. Well, he doesn't get killed, obviously, but..."

*

"Now, Nazi was just a nickname, something the newspapers used. Like Democrats and Dems. What self-respecting Democrat goes around saying, 'Hi, I'm a Dem.' No Nazi ever called himself a Nazi. Except American Nazis; they're too stupid."

*

"All human beings do dumb things; some just do dumber things on a bigger level than others."

*

to a tardy student who's a fan of the defeated ACC team:
"You're not late. You didn't lose the NIT, either."

*

"Most conspiracy theories are nonsense, but there's not always a way to prove them wrong. Just like the Da Vinci Code and other 'historical' books. There's not an iota of evidence to prove it. And that's why some people want to believe it."

*

"Now, don't imagine that the Germans were all appalled and shocked when Hitler came into power. No. They think Hitler is a Savior."

***

Statistics, Mr. M. Imagine a very tall man, so skeletally thin that he looks two-dimensional. Rawboned, gaunt, lefthanded, always wears either black, dead-blood red, gray, or shades of charcoal. His chin juts and nose is sharp and straight, making him almost Greco-Roman, which is helped by his close-cut, thin brown hair that curls slightly on his forehead. He would look natural in a tunic or toga.

*

"Don't move to Estonia; it's the least happy country in the world."

*

"So we have two- oh, I gave it away. How many samples do we have?"
"Two."
"At least you're listening."

*

"If that's a cellphone, turn it off. If it's just ambient music- that's fine."

*

at the school's fall festival, the professors and instructors had to stand on top of posts and beat each other off with padded foam sticks. This is jousting, apparently.
"So, come on this afternoon, watch me get... jousted. -Is that a word?"

*

"All right, so: quiz, attendance, homework, jousting..."

*

"So, why is this sample of happy and sad people not a very good one?"
"It doesn't have everyone in it?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"I dunno... some people might just be angry."

*

"Now I'm going to make up some numbers because I don't remember what the actual results were."

*

"It's much easier to catch mistakes when there's 30 people looking over your shoulder. You don't have that benefit on the test, though."

*

"Sometimes outliers can be disregarded. Like if I took a poll about how many first-cousins someone had and they said 263, you'd think oh, maybe they thought you meant second and third and fourth cousins. Or maybe just misheard and thought you wanted their weight."

*

"This is pretty obviously a left-skewed curve. It'd be more obvious if it was more even. Of course, you can't just randomly draw in higher bars where you need them."

*

"Problem 15? Ok. So we're going to draw a frequency distribution, here. In this column we're going to put the dead guys... and over here, the dead ladies... By the way, if any of you have ancestors who died on the Titanic, I apologize for my... cavalier treatment."

*

"So, looking at this data from the Titanic, about 25% of the female passengers die, and 80% of the male. What phrase comes to mind?"
"Learn How To Swim?"
"Um... actually, I was thinking of 'women and children first.' Apparently, that's really what they did."
"You could've just watched the movie."

*

a student asks,
"What if you were off by one percentage?"
"Well, you would fail the course, for one thing. -Just kidding."

*

"The mode isn't used as much, but it can come in handy when you're working with non-numerical data. Like if you were to ask a roomful of people what their favorite ethnic food was. I'd hate to think what the average of Mexican and Chinese food would be."

*

"61 was a record for homeruns for decades, until people started using steroids. Now the record is 73."

*

"First, turn on your calculator. Is everyone still with me?"

*

"Now, at this point, you have a lot of choices on the screen. If you're not sure, if you're staring at your calculator, and your calculator is staring back at you..."

*

"All right, let's have a quiz!"
[everyone panics]
"But not now..."
[he looks at the clock thoughtfully, and people relax a little]
"...in the last fifteen minutes of class."
[resigned sighs, muttered complaints]
"Next Monday."
[outrage at the cruelty of his little tactic. He did find out which people had studied and which hadn't. Except for me; I hadn't studied, but kept a stony face anyway. Of course, he probably remembers my record from last year, too.]

*

"Ok, so any more questions? Questions about the syllabus, homework, attendance? All right. We don't have anything else to talk about. Except, [with glee] statistics."

*

"This funky E-looking thing is a capital sigma."

*

"You might want to use the graphing calculator to do basic arithmetic as well, but you can probably figure that out for yourself."

***

More statistics, the rest of macroeconomics, and old music classes, coming soon...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Womanly Clothing, Part I

This is not a post in which I will rant about the state of women's clothing "fashion," but in which I will relate how I took action yesterday, for $3.39 and a couple hours.

The local Goodwill is the source of most of my clothing which I don't sew myself. Even with a good selection, it's not always easy to find things that will fit me- and lately I've taken to altering clothes to fit my particular shape.

I needed a plain white button-down blouse for summertime- without superfluous and useless pockets smack-dab in the middle, a constricting and wrinkly-tight bodice, or indecent neckline- to wear with skirts or beneath jumpers, and saved myself some time by not looking for something I knew I'd never find. Blouses are not difficult to sew, but between collars and buttonholing, they can take a while. I purchased a very generic long-sleeved white cotton dress shirt, and transformed it by hand into a modest, charming, and feminine summer blouse.
~*~*~*~
Figure 1. In which is shown the very generic long-sleeved white cotton dress shirt before alteration. Well, slightly after; the cuff is obviously removed. It was stuck back together to show its original aspect.Figure 2. In which the sleeve is removed from the bodice using a seam-ripper or manicure scissors, and the cuff is cut off carefully as close to its edge as possible.Figure 3. In which the seam down the sleeve is undone, and the material spread open.Figure 4. In which the material is ironed to ensure accurate measurements in Figure 5 (see Fig. 5).Figure 5. In which a desirable sleeve pattern is pinned to the old sleeve, taking note of the bias.Figure 6. Which shows the resulting pieces cut from the old sleeves.Figure 7. In which the scraps are displayed, from which shall be cut two sleeve bands, one of which is shown at bottom. The remnants may be used to cover buttons if desired. The cuffs are useless to this project, being the one part of the buffalo we do not end up using. They may be saved for the occasions in which one feels the urge to tear off one's shirt-cuffs and project them at an offender.Figure 8. In which a running-stitch is put at the top and bottom of the sleeve.Figure 9. In which the bottom of the sleeve is gathered to the length of the sleeveband and pinned accordingly.Figure 10. Which shows the sleeveband sewn firmly to the gathered sleeve.Figure 11. In which the bottom edge of the sleeveband is turned under and ironed.Figure 12. In which the ironed edge of the sleeveband is turned up and fastened with a whip-stitch, taking care to remain invisible to the right side of the garment.Figure 13. In which the two sides of the sleeve are sewn together. (N.B.- the seam at far right is the running-stitch from Fig. 8.)Figure 14. In which the sleeve is gathered, pinned to the armhole of the bodice, and fastened in place.Figure 15. Which shows the completed blouse against a rustic backdrop, with specimens of Rudbeckia and Leucanthemum. (N.B. The author wonders why undergarments cannot be advertised in like manner.)
~*~*~*~
I will post more picture-guides of affordable alterations and ideas. It is always nice for college students to have clothing options that cost only 1/38 of a single textbook's price. Someday I hope to be able to offer sewing classes to young women who would like to learn the simple techniques requisite for altering and constructing their own clothing.