Ireland: Part 2

On our second day in Dublin, we were going to visit a plethora of museums. We accidentally overslept and missed breakfast at the hotel so we ended up at a tea shop called Queen of Tarts. We had delicious chocolate chip scones and breakfast tea, the best way to wake up in the morning.

Our first stop of the day was the National Leprechaun Museum. We couldn’t help ourselves. On our honeymoon, we ended up at the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition, which was delightful. So naturally, we had to go to this one. It’s less scientifically based than the former; it really was a museum about stories of leprechauns. But it’s delightfully silly at times. At one point, we had to walk through a tunnel that would shrink us to the size of a leprechaun. When we emerged from the tunnel, we found ourselves in a room with oversized chairs and tables. It was fun climbing up on the oversized furniture. Later, we even had a chance to try to steal some gold. Alas, we failed. Some of the stories we were told were really dark. Leprechauns are apparently cobblers who like to force fairies to dance to wear out their shoes. Sounds silly but those stories can be really something. All in all, we enjoyed ourselves. It wasn’t the most substantive museum but it was worth a visit.

Our next stop was the Dublin Writers Museum. It goes into a little detail about a lot of the Dublin based writers. I never knew that Playboy of the Western World had originally caused riots. What a world! You really get a sense of Dublin’s literary scene beyond James Joyce. It’s where I first learned of Brendan Behan who called himself “a drinker with a writing problem.”  It’s not the most state of the art museum but it definitely has some worthwhile things to see and learn.

The final museum of the day was the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology. One of it’s most noted objects is the beautiful Tara brooch, a golden treasure. They had a lovely exhibit on the Battle of Clontarf, a battle between the Irish and Viking. It’s told as a tale of Ireland ridding itself of Viking rule but it’s waaaay more complicated than that. There were alliances between both sides that make it hard to divide it in such black and white terms. I didn’t know a great deal about the relationship between the Vikings and the Irish, aside from tales of monasteries being burned and looted by the Vikings. However, the museum did make the point that a lot of these monasteries were likely burned by the local Irish as much or even more than by roving invaders. Ah, who writes the history…

20507023_10101277518185140_200663245358209270_o

Because the wicked never rest, we then did a Guinness tour. I’m not a Guinness fan at all but I was curious to see their headquarters. It’s really a giant building of steel and glass. They’ve shaped the interior of the building like the biggest Guinness glass in the world. You start from the bottom and learn about the ingredients of Guinness, through the science of making the beer, the tales of the barrel making, and even how to properly drink a Guinness. That part was one of the more Willy Wonka aspects of the factory. We were brought into a white room with four pedestals that had different smelling smoke emanating from each of them. Each represented the core components of a Guinness. We were given a tiny shot glass and asked to go into another room to discuss the proper tasting technique. Unfortunately, there was a stag party that wouldn’t leave and kept taking shots of Guinness. The woman behind the counter was trying to patiently but firmly move them along. At one point, my husband said to her, “So they’ll be the first to go into the river.” She smiled.

20507876_10101277520400700_8640621675537131658_o

The next room was a recreation of a 19th century parlor room with dark wall paper, elegant paintings and a chandelier. Again, there were pedestals where you could sit your glass. It was all a little surreal. My favorite part of the tour was the gallery of old Guinness Advertisements. I love the branding they’ve put together. The ostriches, the running man, etc. It’s rather delightful. We capped our visit with drinking a Guinness in their glass rotunda, the tallest point in Dublin. It made me realize how different Dublin was from London; I didn’t see skyscrapers!

We then hurried back to central Dublin for our Irish Writer’s Pub Crawl. I had done this when I was 19 with my parents. I loved it then and loved it now. We started in a pub near some key places in James Joyce’s Ulysses where our tour guides did a lovely scene from Waiting for Godot. We wandered from location to location where we heard incredible stories or small segments of amazing works of literature. Highly recommend it.

That’s all for now!

 

Top Books of 2016

Every year, I like to come up with a list of the top books I’ve read for the year. Every year, it’s a mix of fiction and nonfiction, recently published books and older works, and comics. I don’t try to limit it to ten books because I may have read many more amazing works. Below I’ll note the best books I’ve read this year. I’m going to exclude anything by JK Rowling since she’s the best.

  1. The Magician King, Lev Grossman
    1. This is last book of the Magicians trilogy. Imagine Hogwarts but with sex, drugs, and teenage angst. I really enjoyed reading the series but the last book was my favorite. Magical worlds, bravery, did I mention teenage angst?
  2. The Underground Abductor, Nathan Hale
    1. This is YA graphic novel is one of many in the Hazardous Tales series. Each book is a story in US history (occasionally European history) that you may not know. It’s clever, informative, and worth checking out. The Underground Abductor is the story of Harriet Tubman. I had learned about her in school but somehow didn’t learn her entire history. Well worth checking out.
  3. The Word Exchange, Alena Graedon
    1. This work was astonishing. Imagine a world where print media is the past (hmm) and smartphone like technology reigns supreme. Editor Doug Johnson is publishing the last edition of the English Dictionary but he goes missing. His daughter Anana has only the word ALICE to uncover the truth. And there’s a word plague.
  4. H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
    1. This memoir is about Helen MacDonald’s attempt to train a goshawk while dealing with her father’s sudden death. It’s a very heartfelt book about death, our relationship to animals. I saw her speak earlier this year. She’s got an amazing dry wit. I can’t wait to read what she has next.
  5. Unicorn V. Goblins, Dana Simpson
    1. I know I’ve talked about Dana Simpson before. This work is another published comics of Phoebe and Her Unicorn. It’s like a Calvin and Hobbes of today.
  6. Nimona, Noelle Stevenson
    1. The title character decides to become the sidekick of super villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. But good and evil aren’t quite what they seem. Nor is Nimona.
  7. The Unseen City, Nathanael Johnson
    1. This nonfiction book explores the life in the urban world in a clever way. It starts with his baby daughter being fascinated by the world around her. Each chapter looks at a different organism: pigeons, snails, and much more. See amazing things in our own backyard.
  8. Two Years, Eight months and 28 Days, Salman Rushdie
    1. This work is a modern telling of 1001 Arabian nights with a large touch of the apocalypse. It’s got good and evil Djinns, new wondrous and terrifying worlds.
  9. Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, Dianne Hales
    1. This nonfiction work is about Dianne Hales’ working to uncover as much as possible about the woman behind the famous painting. You learn about the status and role of women in Leonardo’s time plus a bit about the famous artist himself.
  10. Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
    1. It’s scary how this relevant this series is now. Imagine a dystopia where misogyny wins the day. If you are a noncompliant woman, you are sent to a prison floating in space. Very on point series.
  11. Umbrella Academy Volumes 1 and 2, Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá
    1. Holy cow. These graphic novels blew me away. 43 superpowered children are suddenly born to women who weren’t pregnant. Sir Reginald Hargreaves adopts 7 of the surviving children and turns them into a crime fighting superhero team. But it doesn’t go well at all and they all disband.
  12. A Darker Shade of Magic/The Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab
    1. This trilogy (book 3 is coming out in February) centers on Kell, a special magician who can travel between three Londons. Each London has a different relationship with magic. His London “Red London” is full of magic. Grey London has long since forgotten magic. White London is losing magic violently. But there are rumors of fourth London: Black London where magic went untamed and ruined everything.
  13. Ragseed, Margaret Atwood
    1. This is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This time, it centers around a theater director unceremoniously kicked out of his own festival who ends up teaching Shakespeare at a correctional facility.
  14. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volumes 1-4, Ryan North and Erica Henderson
    1. What a delight! I never thought I’d go for the superhero comics but here we are. Ryan North is one of the writers. Squirrel Girls is hilarious and heartfelt. Pure joy in reading these comics.
  15. March Volume 1, John Lewis
    1. This first in a graphic novel trilogy looks at the history of civil rights in America. It’s thoughtful, informative, and compelling. The critics are likening it to Persepolis. Well worth checking out.

NYC Spring 2016: Part 2

The next day started with a trip to the Union Square Green Market. It’s a favorite of my parents and we always try to go when the weather is nice. It was a little brisk and early in the season so they weren’t many vendors out. But there were waves of beautiful fragrant flowers. Goodness, winter makes me miss nature so much! We had breakfast nearby at the Coffee Shop where I had delicious omelette. I love the entry walls to the place are covered in crushed up chinaware. Very cute.

I spent sometime wandering around the Strand bookstore, one of my favorites in NYC. Not only does it have a fantastic collection of books, it always has an amazing literary/nerdy selection of socks. There I said it.

Afterwards, we decided to walk up from Union Square to Macy’s. We briefly stopped into Rizzoli, a fancy bookstore, on the way. There used to be Rizzoli in Chicago but the chain contracted. Now it’s got a lovely bookstore near 26th street but it’s high end with lots of beautiful books. We continued our walk, watching as the neighborhood changed over and over. There were fancy boutique shops, then costume jewelry shops, and then to giant stores like Macy’s. The Flower Show was going on, which is one of my favorite retail events each year. While I prefer Chicago’s Macy’s Flower show, the one at Macy’s flagship was nice. The windows were fine but the interior is exciting. Throughout the first floor, there are flower displays that are out of this world. The theme this year was America so there were displays for the Midwest, the Pacific, NYC, and more. One display had mannequins modeling hats that I wanted to steal. Alas! There were some very patriotic flower displays as well. Good times.

12799398_10100806112361190_6188276309099444052_n.jpg

Macy’s. I want the hats.

12417738_10100806112316280_6285844818168021599_n.jpg

Macy’s

I continued my walk back to the hotel in midtown. I had a special mission to go to a coffee/chocolate shop on Park Avenue called 2bean. It was one of the few shops carrying a new spectacular chocolate bar called Marou, which was written about in the NYTimesThe bars are colored coded due to the color of the beans! They had just gotten a shipment the day before (I called) and were already out of two or three bar types by the time I got there. I was getting a birthday present for my best friend. The shop reminded me a lot of Hannah’s Bretzel because it is covered in different kinds of fancy candy bars. But it has even more than Hannah’s Bretzel. So cool.

I then walked up to Momofuku for my favorite truffle balls. There was a fairly healthy line but the balls are totally worth it. I got three packs of “Birthday Cake,” “Dulce de Leche,” and “Mint Chocolate.” I didn’t love the “Dulce de Leche” ones but they are still good.

Then I ran off to meet my husband who had just arrived in NYC. We decided to walk through Central Park to the Museum of Natural History and have tea at Alice’s, an Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop. I’ve been in Alice’s before but I had never stayed. It’s near the museum. We got there just in time as we were the top of a long line to get seats. The place was charming but not overwhelming in Alice in Wonderland mania. That was a bit of a disappointment. There were murals (especially in the bathroom) that made me very pleased. There were doors to the kitchen with keyhole windows in them, which was cool. But it could have upped the theme. We decided to keep it simple with tea and scones. (High tea seems to be too much for me these days). We had the Alice tea and I had the pumpkin scone. Both were delicious. So that was nice. It’s a tad pricey for tea and scones but it was nice to do once.

12294685_10100806111762390_1717615211824393266_n.jpg

Alice’s

I was excited about taking my husband to the museum since he had never been before. The last time I went was in graduate school when I was visiting my best friend who worked at school nearby. I had spent the entire time in the Ancient Americas’ rooms. When we got there, there was a line. Thankfully, it moved quickly so we were in the ticket line inside within about 10 minutes. Once in, we wandered accidentally into the Carl Akeley Hall, which was amazing. I had read a biography about him. He’s basically the man that made taxidermy into what we think of today. Many of the dioramas and specimens at the Field are his work. (The two elephants in the entryway were shot by him and his wife. She shot the larger of the two). So the hall at the NYC museum was wonderful. There was a herd of elephants in the middle (Possibly all shot by him though). Around the first floor were beautiful scenes of animals in the wild. Magnificent.

Then we made a beeline for the dinosaurs, both of our favorites. There was a dinosaur, titanosaur, that was so big that it couldn’t be kept in a single room. It kinda looks like a giant brontosaurus. Very neat. They had a good collection of dinosaurs including many triceratops skulls.

1936989_10100806159262200_5063378344406936279_n.jpg

We imagined this dino was a lot like my husband

We also wandered into the Ancient Americas to say hello to old friends. They have a giant Olmec head, which most would recognize as Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple. Of course, the people who made the head are actually the Olmecs…but anyway, it was nice to check out their collection. It’s smaller than the Field but I love checking out the pottery and stone carvings.

10408698_10100806937058490_6585444746633930124_n.jpg

Possibly Moche pottery

Before we left, we did check out the famous blue whale, which freaked me out as a kid. It’s still kinda insane. The museum has moved away whatever used to be beneath it and now you can lie down and stare up at it.

On our way back to the hotel, we strolled through Central Park. It was a really wonderful walk as nature was beginning to wake up. Budding trees, tiny daffodils pushing their heads up through the dirt. There were plenty of rocks to climb (though I never seem to wear the right kind of shoe for that kind of thing). We even shared a pretzel while walking through the Poet’s Corner. So classic NYC movie, I feel. But fun to do, nonetheless.

That night, we ate Italian food in a nearby restaurant named Teodora, that had food from Reggio Emilia. It feels like they took someone’s home and converted it into a restaurant. I had a wonderful plate of gnocchi, my favorite. Afterwards, we met a friend in Union Square for a drink. The place kinda had a speakeasy feel since there weren’t any signs. Inside, it was richly furnished with deep wood and low lighting. The cocktails were wonderful; I had champagne with raspberries, which made me happy. My husband got a wonderful drink of prosecco, sorbet and a third ingredient that I have forgotten. Very tasty. It was a lovely place to end the day.

That’s all for now!

 

Top Books of 2015

Since it is nearing the end of the year, I’m going to spend a few blog posts talking about the best media I’ve read/seen this year. It won’t be a top ten list because some media will have more than 10 and some will have fewer.

From these lists, I will exclude movies and books that I’ve read or seen before. I just finished my rereading the Harry Potter series and watched most of the original Star Wars. I don’t think I have to convince people to read/watch those. And yes, Harry Potter  is still as great (maybe even greater) than when I read it several years ago. Star Wars is also still good but not in the same way that HP is.

This year, I decided to keep track of all the books that I’ve read and grade each one. So the following is a list of the books that received an A or A+.

Best Books (chronologically ordered by when I read them)

  1. The Magicians, Lev Grossman – This is the first book of a trilogy that is about a world of magic where teenagers deal with sex, drugs, ennui, etc. in a way Harry Potter doesn’t. Very well constructed world that riffs off other magical worlds in clever ways.
  2. Department of Speculation, Jenny Offill – This book is one of those most heartbreaking and beautifully written books I’ve read all year. It’s about a woman trying to understand her life and art as her marriage begins to crumble. It was hard for me to read at times, and reduced me to tears, but it is so worth it.
  3. The Elephant Whisperer, Lawrence Anthony – This nonfiction book records Lawrence Anthony’s adventures with a pack of rogue elephants on his reserve in South Africa. One day out of the blue, he got a call asking if he wanted about a dozen elephants. However, if he didn’t take them, they’d be shot. It’s an incredible story about elephant and man.
  4. Phoebe and her Unicorn  and Unicorn on a Roll, Dana Simpson – This YA comic and its sequel is about a young girl who meets a unicorn, named Heavenly Nostrils, and befriends it. The book is described as a new take of Calvin and Hobbes and I think it is fair. It’s a charming series that anyone, young and old, either gender, can get into.
  5. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Karen Abbott – Karen Abbott is one of my favorite history writers. She focuses on incredible women in US history that have been lost to the main narrative of American history. Previously, she wrote on the Everleigh Sisters, madams of the Levee district in the Chicago, and Gypsy Rose Lee. This current book deals with four women in the Civil War who act as spies and other roles. Two women are from the North and two are from the South. It’s a wonderful story of bravery and daring-do in the time of war.
  6. The Penelopiad,

    Margaret Atwood – Another book that was beautiful and painful to read. It tells Penelope’s story from the

    Odyssey and Iliad from her perspective. Alternating chapters are in Penelope’s voice and her doomed 12 maidens. Stunning.

  7. A Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith – So yes, a J.K. Rowling book snuck on. When I read Harry Potter, I knew that she had the making of an incredible murder mystery writer. A Cuckoo’s Calling showed that. It’s a great detective series start with Cormoran Strike, an Afghanistan vet who lost his leg in the war. In this case, he attempts to understand the possible suicide of a star model.
  8. The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, Sharma Shields – This book begins with a young boy watching his mother walk out on his father and him with a man he thinks is Sasquatch. The book beautifully interweaves his lifelong obsession with Sasquatch and his family, all dealing with sometimes nefarious magic.
  9. Consider the ForkBee Wilson – Since I like reading books about history of objects, I devoured this book about cooking utensils. The book looks at tools in the kitchen: pots, spoons, fire, knives and forks. It’s a fascinating way to look at history through these objects.
  10. Heads or Tales, Lilli Carré – This is an exquisite set of short stories in graphic novel form. The graphics are simply astonishing and the stories are full of magic and gravitas.
  11. Wild Seed, Octavia Butler. – This was my first book of Octavia Butler’s, known for her incredible science fiction. It’s an incredible story about Anyanwu, a woman who is a shapeshifter, who encounters a powerful vicious spirit named Domo who is trying to breed his magical race of humans. It’s a beautiful consideration of slavery, love and death, family and duty.
  12. Champagne, Don Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup – This book is a great and fascinating history of champagne. It’s a tale of invention, daring-do, and much more. The authors wrote Wine and War that looked at the wine industry under the Nazis in WWII. Champagne is a great addition to their history works.
  13. Step Aside Pops, Kate Beaton – Web cartoonist Kate Beaton published her third (second) collection of her comics. These are full of history, literature, philosophy. Extremely silly and erudite. Everything I could have wanted!

That’s all for now!

Part 1: Namibia

After many weeks of anticipation… I’m going to talk about our amazing African Safari. Yes, back in January, my fiance and I went with two of our friends to Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia.

It was one of the best things that I’ve done. Seriously. I can’t think about much else these days but going back and going on safari again. So for the next couple of weeks, I going to talk about our wondrous adventures there and hope that maybe one of you Readers will be inspired to go.
Because it’s a thing that can be done. And there is no time like the present. And seeing an elephant in the wild is one of the best things.
So off we go!
The first step was getting to Namibia, which is on the Southwest coast of Africa. It required three flights to get there; it took about 46 hours including our layovers. We flew to London with a 12 hour layover, flew to Johannesburg, SA with a 5 hour layover. And then a 1.5 hour flight to Windhoek, Namibia. Then we had a 3 hour car ride to Erindi, mostly on unpaved roads. It was worth every second of it. Misadventures and all.
We were lucky that we were able to leave Chicago in our first leg. Predictions of a few inches of snow were wrong; there was a mini-blizzard going on outside. We knew there was trouble when ground crew were taking photos of their plane being de-iced at our gate. And it wasn’t our plane. To give BA tremendous credit, they were extremely forthright about the delays. They told us step by step what was wrong and how long it might take to fix it. So after a delayed crew, a mechanical issue, two plane de-icings, we took off three hours late. We were relieved to go. All the later flights to London were cancelled.
So instead of 12 hours, we had 9 hours. So what did we do? Naturally, we went to the British Library and the British Museum. For those of you keeping track, we went to the British Museum four times in two and half weeks.
We first went to the British Library since we were keen to see “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination.” It traced the development of terror and gothic literature through the ages.The curators identified that The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole as the first Gothic novel. Horace Walpole applied the term Gothic in the subtitle to his story “A Gothic Story.” The story involves elements that we associate with Gothic stories: supernatural and “unnatural love.”
The exhibition went on to explore various eras of Gothic literature including the Northanger Horrids. In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, one character is obsessed with reading gothic novels. Several were mentioned but not in a particularly good light. The books have known become known as the Northanger Horrids.
One thing that I found super interesting was how the setting of Gothic novels changed. The first Gothic novels were located in the countryside. But over decades, the focus changed to the city, reflecting anxieties and changing demographics. Never thought about it. Overall, a neat exhibition.
Then we decided to take a short tour of the British Museum. We decided to check out some of the objects that we didn’t really know very well. Scott had never seen the Easter Island sculpture so we made a beeline for that. Then I was keen to look at the Mesoamerican collection. It’s very small; it’s all in one room. But they have some splendid pieces including a turquoise covered snake. I had seen pictures of it in the gift shop for years but I realized that I had never seen it in person. It’s huge!
Turquoise Snake

Turquoise Snake

Then we spent some time in the old British Museum galleries that tried to give visitors a sense of the old Museum. The cases had pieces from the original collection like works owned by Sir John Sloane. I love how they brought together pieces from different ages and areas centered around a common theme. Also, there was a secret door in the bookcases.
I think this was a piece brought by Captain James Cook.

I think this was a piece brought by Captain James Cook.

Then it was time to return to the airport. The flight to Johannesburg was twelve hours. Africa! It was so cool to wake up on a new continent. Sadly, we had about five hours in the airport, just enough time that we couldn’t go anywhere. But we met up with our friends’ friends and had a nice breakfast.
That’s all for now! Hah! Couldn’t help to put in some literature love. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about our trip to Erindi.

 

Best Books of 2014

The end of 2014 is approaching! That means its time for lists of the best stuff of the year. Not top ten lists, but lists of indeterminate length. Yay! I’ll be spending this week going over my list of best books, best concerts, best theater shows, and a really short one on movies of 2014.

Today let’s talk about the top nine books of the year. These are not books that have been published in 2014; they are books that I have in 2014. I rarely read books that come out in the same year. I’m allergic to hardbacks. Well, my back is.
In no particular order:
1. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This is the story of Achilles told through the eyes of Patroclus. It’s fantastic to see the Trojan War from another perspective. It’s engrossing, beautiful, and haunting. It makes Achilles into a sympathetic character.
2. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
This is a Victorian comic novel written in 1889. Three adult friends decided to take a holiday by floating down the Thames on a boat. Humor doesn’t always translate in time but this book had me laughing aloud. It’s silly and delightful. It’s also the book that Connie Willis references in To Say Nothing of the Dog. There is a sequel to the Victorian novel but I’d give it a pass.
3. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
This is a story about two hired assassins who are brothers in Oregon and Washington in 1851. They are brutal men who rarely show mercy to their victims or anyone. It’s an interesting character study that is very engrossing especially for someone who doesn’t lean towards the cowboy genre.
4. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
This book blew me away. It’s told from the perspective of three women who all have been befriended and betrayed by the illusive and dangerous Zenia. It’s a wonderful example of point of view narration.
5. Invisible Beasts by Sharona Muir
This is a series of short vignettes linked together by the narrator who has the gift of seeing invisible animals. She writes the book in order to catalog them before they go extinct. Each story centers around a different animal but also focuses on a facet of her life, like a white lie or a one night stand. Well written and delightful.
6. Havana Real by Yoani Sanchez
Yoani Sanchez is the heart of the blog Generation Y about her experiences living in today’s Cuba. She writes about how she is going to do something illegal: she’s going to be a citizen. She talks about the day to day difficulties of living in Cuba and the ways that she and other Cubans try to get by. Havana Real is a selection of her blogs from the late 2000s. Some of her blogs are simply chilling. For instance, when she visits a friend in the hospital, she brings her surgical thread to ensure her friend has it for her surgery.
7. In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwick
This is a strange travelogue of a man who goes Patagonia to find dinosaur remains. He ends up hitchhiking and traveling all across Patagonia, meeting all the communities throughout. There are colonies of Welsh folks, Boers, Germans and more that still speak their native languages. It’s not the most politically correct work; he’s not terribly sympathetic to non-European Argentines but it’s a interesting work well worth a read.
8. Red Shirts by John Scalzi
This is for people familiar with Star Trek. Several new recruits, “Red Shirts”, are assigned a space ship and discover a unnatural rate of death for the recruits. It’s delightful and fun look at fate.
9. Pastoralia by George Saunders
I don’t know if I love this book but it haunts me. It’s a series of short stories starting with a story about a theme park where they recreate historical scenes (or imagined historical scenes). The narrator is a man playing a caveman whose fellow cavewoman is deteriorating. The stories seem to be about people with failed dreams who either raise themselves out of the muck by thoroughly compromising themselves or falling deeper into the void.
That’s all for now!

Seance at the Chicago Poetry Bordello

This past weekend, we attended and performed at the Día de los Muertos edition of the Chicago Poetry Bordello. For those of you unfamiliar with the Chicago Poetry Bordello, the basic premise is that it is a bordello with amazing entertainments, but instead of tricks, you get poetry. So there are a couple Poetry Whores who give teases of poems throughout the night. If you like one Poetry Whore in particular, you go to the Good Doctor or a Regular who will provide you with a token in exchange for cash. You then ask the Poetry Whore for a private reading in a backroom. She or he will give you options and provide you with your very own personal reading. You can also ask questions, etc. When the reading is done, you give him or her the token. Voila!

In addition to the poetry, there are other entertainments. Usually it is a combination of live musical guests, burlesque dancing, and some good historical fun. This session had the wonderful artist Gaea Lady performing an amazing burlesque dance. Her act reminded me of a whirling dervish; she spun a cloth around in a masterful way while removing  her clothing. Then the Windy City Rippers performed a few sets, using a combination of accordion and theremins. Man, I love theremins; they are so freaking sweet!

And then there was us. We were asked to put on a séance for the event. It was a lot of fun. I did a bit of research to learn about possible ways to fake spirits during our séance. It was interesting to read about the old tricks that 19th and early 20th century mediums used. One of the most famous spiritualists were the Fox Sisters and they used the bones in their feet to make knocking noises! There were other techniques like floating instruments and body parts. I really liked one bit where there was a violin on display that would start “playing” by spiritual hand. Either there was a second violin that was played off stage or a tiny string on the violin that would be moved discretely by a helper. Very interesting stuff.

The basic premise of this séance was that the Duke of Chartreuse was here to bring back loved ones from the dead. I played a skeptic who is won over by his knowledge of my tragic past. We wanted to do the bell trick. We had a curio case with a bell inside of it that was supposed to ring in response to questions put to my old fiancé. We agonized all week about how to have a second bell ring covertly. Do we attach it to the table and knock it with my knee? Will it be too muffled under my skirts and tablecloth? Do we have someone off stage play it, etc? And then the solution was simple:a  bell sound on an electric keyboard. It worked rather well. The audience started to get into the grove of it when our amazing pianist played timely bell sounds.

After I am won over by the Duke, he started to feel a presence of someone horribly murdered. This part included knocking, a nod to the Fox Sisters. The mechanics of the tapping was another dilemma for us. I had actually taped percussion instruments to my legs. I was going to rap them together at the appropriate times. However, somehow the noise was too muffled (we had practiced in my long skirts too!) and sticky taped sounded. It’s really hard work faking ghosts for people.

Thankfully, we had pounding from the backroom that worked better. Then Madam Black-Eyed Susan burst from the back, speaking of something unnatural there. Then the ghost of Catherine came out with revenge on her mind. The Duke was gratified that in all of his years, he finally summoned a spirit…except it was the one he killed. So they ran around the room, while the Duke tried to convince her that they should take the show on the road. But the ghost would have nothing but revenge.

So yeah, good times. Next time, I’m going to bring more electronics into the bit. Bwahahahahhaha!

So definitely check out the Chicago Poetry Bordello the next time there is an event.

That’s all!