Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tennis is taking over my life

Why am I telling you this? Because it means you probably won't get a new blog until next week. I am out of pictures that I have finagled off the external hard drive that does not like my computer, and I won't have time to get any more until Sunday or Monday. Because tennis is taking over my weekend. I have a match tonight, after fencing, and then I am in a tournament that means I will be playing Friday night and Saturday, at the least. If I am somehow incredibly lucky, I could be playing on Sunday (not likely).

So, here is an old picture of Kirby to tide you over.

He doesn't play tennis, and probably doesn't approve of me playing tennis, since it keeps me from sitting in his room feeding him papaya bits.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Independence Hall

Why is it that the historical buildings I want to visit are always under construction? Last year, when we were in Belgium, one cathedral in Brugge and the Palace of Justice in Brussels were both scaffolded. Anyway, that is what I could see of the outside of Independence Hall. I had to imagine the actual tower. At least the inside wasn't under renovation.

To visit the Hall and associated buildings, you have to get a ticket, which is free, that lets you in at a specific time for a tour. Our guide warned us all at the beginning that he was taking melatonin in preparation for a vacation, and that he might fall asleep mid presentation. He didn't, but I did think that was an odd way to start. He also had a bee in his bonnet about John Adams not having a statue in Philadelphia, even though he was instrumental in the Revolution and the creation of the Constitution. Being a (very) distant relative of John Adams, I too think he deserves a statue. But he wasn't particularly flashy or vocal, and somehow, I think he might not like a statue. Oh well.

I couldn't help but think this room would have been mighty uncomfortable in the depths of winter and the sweltering heat of summer, just like it is shown to be in the wonderful (ha ha) musical 1776. There were big fireplaces at the front, as you can see, but a big open space in the back (where we were standing) and plenty of gusts would have been blowing around in the winter. And there was no air conditioning or electric ceiling fans to stir the air in the summer. Phew.

While it was interesting to see the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed, I was a little disappointed that we couldn't visit any other part of the building. The upper floors were off limits, so it was only the two main rooms and the entryway. I guess since nothing of great national import was done upstairs, they prefer to keep potential tourist damage to a minimum. Bummer.

Right next door to Independence Hall, and open without a ticket (and also empty), was a building that was used for various purposes, including the state supreme court. I actually kind of liked it better.

Those are some big jugs. I wonder what was in them. Doubt it was just water.

Anyway, those were the only historical buildings I actually went into. I could have paid to go into Betsy Ross's house, or any other number of buildings related to George Washington or Benjamin Franklin, but I only had so much time, money, and interest. Besides, I had to go watch the Gay Pride Parade.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Liberty Bell, er State House Bell!

Just a short post today, so I can continue to milk the pictures from Philadelphia for a while longer. I have been too busy, and the weather has been too hot, to take anything decent since then!  Anyway - while in Philadelphia, I made sure to take time to see some of the historic sites, the ones you hear about in American History class in 5th grade. The best part about most of them, is that they are owned and operated by the National Park Service, so they are free (well, apart from paying taxes, but you don't have to pay an extra fee to see things at least). To see the Liberty Bell, all you have to do is stand in line, and that line is actually for the security screening - much like a screening at a major league baseball park.  You just show that you aren't carrying anything explosive or corrosive, and off you go.

To get to the Liberty Bell, you could wind your way through a nice set of exhibits about the history of the bell, which points out that the bell itself was not originally called the Liberty Bell, but rather the State House Bell. The name Liberty Bell was, according to the Park Service info sheet (and the exhibits), given to it by a group of abolitionists in the 1830s. Interesting. I did not know that. To be honest, I only gave most of the exhibits a cursory glance (I'm not in 5th grade history any longer, and I knew there wouldn't be a quiz - so sue me, I learn to the test sometimes!), because mostly I just wanted to see the bell.

And there it is. It is actually larger than I thought it would be - the opposite reaction than I have to most historical objects and buildings. Yes, the thing weighs 2000 pounds, and it looks like it. The bell itself (why didn't I try for an up-the-skirt picture of it?!) is quite thick, and that beam that holds it is massive. I didn't take a picture of the cracked side, apparently. Oh well. This is how it looked during the Revolutionary War period. Apart from the tourists, that is.

Next up, Independence Hall and the Old City Hall.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let's get medieval

There were so many cool things at the Philadelphia Art Museum and I know I only saw a fraction of them in my whirlwind trip. For one thing, there were three other locations with even more stuff, including the Rodin Museum, and the Perelman Building, which appears to have all sorts of modern collections, including costumes and clothes.

One of the coolest things I did get to see were all the little rooms that have been brought from actual castles and manors and temples and so on and reconstructed at the museum. This is the ceiling of a small chapel-like room (can't find the specific room in the collection database, but others are there). The rooms that are complete with furnishing give you a real sense of what it was like to live in a medieval manor house, or a German monastery.

I like this painting of St. Catherine of Alexandria for several reasons. First, she is reading a book; second, she is standing in front of Bruges, and it has a special place in my heart since we were there last year; and third, she is totally standing on the pagan emperor who killed her. Awesome. I didn't spend too much time in the medieval/Renaissance painting rooms because a lot of it was similar to all the art we saw last year in Europe. If I had been there longer I probably would have spent more time there. But I wanted to make sure I got to see the other cool stuff:

Like 14th and 15th century swords. While I was in Philadelphia (and for a month afterwards) I was listening to A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman's history of 14th century France, and was excited to see things that came from that time and place. I also saw later dueling-type swords, but these were true war swords.

And where there are swords, there must be shields and armor. I decided not to try your patience with the (many) pictures of horse armor I took (not sure what I was thinking at the time other than "horsies, in armor!"), but this shield is amazing. All that detail, all done by hand without any modern tools or computer renderings or anything. So. Much. Detail.

If you ever have a chance to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, do it. It definitely belongs in the same class as the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, and the Smithsonian, and the British Museum.

Next time, I will turn to the sights of Colonial America at Constitution Hall.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Poppies and Puppies

Here are some more pictures from my visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I love Rookwood Pottery, and I love poppies, so I would love to have this vase. My picture doesn't really do the colors justice. This one from the museum is much better.

Yes, another poppy vase. One thing I really like about Arts & Crafts era vases and lamps is that so much of the work was done by women artisans. Like this one. They didn't really get famous, like their male counterparts, but they were there, and they are documented, some of them at least, and they did lovely work.

This little guy was just about my favorite item in the entire museum. And he is really old - 3rd century CE - just goes to show that even the ancient Chinese liked their cute dogs.

And the Japanese, in the 18th century.

So did the Koreans. This adorable little puppy (who looks an awful lot like puppy Miikka) is from the 16th century.

Tomorrow - Medieval European art and artifacts.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Philadelphia Museum of Art

See the folks getting their wedding pictures done?

So, back to Philadelphia and the art museum. Not only does it have cool statues around it, it also has art inside - imagine that!  And even better, they allow photography, as long as you don't use a flash. So what follows are some of my pictures from inside the museum (well, after this one and the next one which are both outside). I had less than an hour and a half to see the museum, and the steep price of admission (which I was happy to pay to support art etc, just not more than once in a week) meant that I couldn't come back later to see what I had missed. And thus began a whirlwind journey through some of the treasures of the world.

OK, so we are still outside for this one. But isn't it cool? They have painted the frieze so that it looks much like architectural historians speculate Greek and Roman temples really would have looked like - not the plain white marble we are used to seeing. (I know, this escapes the column, and as much as I want to give you the best picture possible, I am not good at coloring outside the lines, so this makes me anxious. But art needs to be seen, so I am going to ignore that feeling. I think I need a wider column...)

I honestly have no idea who this is, since I didn't bother to take a picture of the identification. This is Mary Anne Heide Norris by Thomas Scully. I thought she had an interesting expression on her face. Look at the shine of the silk of her dress and the furriness of her stole. I am always blown away by the abilities of painters - there are very good reasons I stick to photography.

[Library-related Diversion for a moment: The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a really good example of a digital library for its art. You can search by artist, classification, origin of art etc. There are no limiters, so I couldn't search for Mary Anne by "painting NOT landscape," but that is sort of a minor quibble that probably doesn't come up for most scholars, since they would probably at least know the painter they are looking for. And they do have a social tagging feature, which allows casual visitors like me to help put more metadata on pictures. For instance, this painting did not come up under the social tag for "portrait," but when I found the painting through a more laborious search, I was then able to add "woman" and "portrait" to its list of social tags. Pretty cool. There are many examples of digital libraries that don't work all that well, so it is nice to find one that works. In all, I have been extremely impressed with the ease of searching for the art in Philadelphia and the information available. Okay, back to the art].

OK, coloring outside the lines for this one too.
This is Thomas Moran's Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. The play of light on the rocks is just right, what you actually do see when you are there. I have seen pictures of this painting in books before, and copies at art galleries in Sedona, so it was a little thrill to see the original in person.

I cannot find this armoire in the collection catalog, but I believe it is Pennsylvania German, since that was the group of furniture it was with. Sorry about the glare on the window in front. Anyway, there was quite a lot of interesting furniture, and apparently there was a lot more in one of the other branches of the museum. 

This jug made me laugh. I did manage to take a picture of the information about it (same as the info at the link), because I knew I would want to share it with you. And I have a friend who is a potter who used to live in Asheville, NC.

Next time - vases and ancient puppies - even 2000 years ago, people loved their puppy pictures!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Now That Harry is Done, Read Something Else

OK people - I like Harry Potter, as I think I demonstrated yesterday, but I am getting a little tired of all the stories on the radio and interwebs about how this is the end of childhood, the end of an era, oh noes whatever will we do?! The books aren't going to suddenly disappear from the earth, neither are the movies (I mean, it isn't like they are the instructions for how to get to the moon, which NASA got rid of at some point - true story, heard it from a college astronomy professor who had worked for NASA). Ypu can go back and re-read and re-watch them. Use them as your madeleine to remember childhood, instead of mourning its passing. And move on, find something else to read and love. Need some help in that department? Good thing I am a voracious, omnivorous bibliovore, and a librarian to boot. I have suggestions aplenty.
  • The Abhorson Trilogy (maybe one day to be more) by Garth Nix: It has magic (more clearly thought out and explained than the magic of HP), a couple of great female protagonists - both of whom have to grow into their roles as saviors much like HP, a talking magic cat (who is way more than he seems) and a talking magic dog (also way more than she seems), conflicts between good and evil with several very nasty big bads, and the juxtaposition of a a world where magic exists and one where it does not. One of my all-time favorite series. 
  • The Keys to the Kingdom series, also by Garth Nix: Written for a somewhat younger audience than the Abhorson Trilogy - Arthur in this series is 12, while Sabriel is 17 or 18 when Sabriel starts - the Keys to the Kingdom involve a sort of neo-Victorian alternate realm where certain kinds of magic work, but where things are falling apart and the decay is starting to affect Earth, or the Secondary Realm as it is called, and only Arthur can put things right. The problem? The more he manages to fix, the less human he will become.
  • The Pellinore Series by Alison Croggon: Magic is done by Bards who use their gifts to help the people and lands, but Bards are being attacked by the Nameless One. The main protagonist, Maerad, a slave at the beginning of the first book, is rescue by Cadvan, learns she is a Bard and finds that she must solve the riddle of the Tree-Song in order to save the world. Hilarity ensues (well, tribulations and adventures anyway). Another series with a well-thought out magic system, a complete backstory and  history, and an invented language. In some ways, a female version of the Lord of the Rings, but if you don't like Tolkein, don't let that keep you from this series.
  • The Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson: I have only read the first book in this series so far, but it was excellent. Benjamin has read everything by Sanderson (apart from the Wheel of Time books that he is finishing as Robert Jordan's appointed successor) and says that the rest of this series is awesome, especially if you like kick-ass women protagonists with magic powers. 
Had enough? Need more ideas? Sign up for Goodreads and take a look at my various bookshelves. I have 179 books on the Sci-Fi/Fantasy shelf alone that you might enjoy. I haven't even mentioned any of the steampunk series I love by Gail Carriger and Cherie Priest (her Southern Gothic series is pretty darn good too, as is her Cheshire Red Reports), or Shanna Swendson's Enchanted Inc series.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What the heck, my Harry Potter Memories

It seems that everyone else is doing it, so I might as well join in. Since this weekend is the premier of the final Harry Potter movie, the interwebs are aflame with stories of how Harry Potter and friends changed lives. There is a touching letter sent by a fan to J.K. Rowling; there are stories about how Hermione should be the real star of the series; there are stories about how today's young adults grew up alongside Harry and what it means now that both book series and movie series are finished.

My Harry memories start around the time I went to Scotland in 1999 to study for a semester at St.Andrews University.  The books were gaining buzz, and I, being perverse, decided that I was not interested in them, since everyone else seemed to thing they were the bees knees. Then, I reasoned, if I have to read them, at least I will wait until I read them properly - in the British editions, not the stupid American ones where they have to change all the slang and descriptions of jumpers to sweaters.  I finally read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (and yes, that is how is should be - sorcerer's stone my foot!) in a few hours while staying at the house of one of my flat mates for a weekend. I was staying in her little sister's room, and that sister had the first three books there. As soon as I finished the first one, I also devoured the second one - I am pretty sure I ignored the family and stayed up way too late. I didn't have time to read the third before it was time to leave, but I did managed to stop at a bookshop in Edinburgh on my way back to St. Andrews and buy all three. I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the bus ride back, in the dark and rain, crammed in like a sardine.

I was back at Whitman when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. Since I had the first three in the British edition, and can't stand it when things don't match, I ordered my copy from, which meant I had to wait a few extra days before I could read it. Benjamin took that copy on fire with him that summer, and when I got it back, the edges were stained with ash.

I don't have any particular memories about books 5 and 6, apart from again ordering them from Britain, to make sure my set was complete.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. By this point, Benjamin and I had agreed to read the final book together, as we do many other books. This one was painful though, in so many ways. I do most of the reading aloud, and there were certainly times I choked up. At some point, maybe half way, we were desperate to reach the end, so we sat down on the bed and started reading. Every time we reached a chapter end, we couldn't stop. We ended up reading for 5 hours straight. By the end, I could hardly talk, my voice was going, and we were both crying.  I haven't gone back to read it since then, but I am sure I will still cry whenever I do.

I never camped out or attended a release party, nor did I ever dress up as a character. And I have no feelings one way or the other about the movies, although I will certainly go see the final one, eventually. They are fun to see, if a little uninspired. But that is pretty much par for the course for me - I am not touched by pictures on a screen and special effects - it is the power of words and my own imagination working together that hit the hardest.  And that, for me, is the greatness of Harry Potter - no, the story isn't completely original (I mean, orphan boy struggles against great odds, where have you heard that before - everywhere), there are gaps in the world-building that leave a perfectionist like me irritated - but as a whole, it sucks you in. There are so many stories of kids who hated to read becoming readers just because of Harry Potter. And that is magic.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Statues of Philadelphia

On my first day in Philadelphia (I was there for the Special Library Association Annual Conference) I headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You know, the one where Rocky runs up the steps? Since visitors are allowed to take pictures inside the museum, I have some of those to share too, but today we are sticking with statues.

Where was I? Oh yes, Rocky. If you look closely, you can see where his knees have been rubbed shiny. When I first got to him, there was a gaggle of tourists having their picture taken with him. I was a little disappointed that it was in a little alcove-like space at the bottom of the steps, and not at the top. But I guess this is a better place - no steps for careless tourists to fall down while taking a picture.

Another statue of Washington - he's everywhere
This statue in front of the museum is also a fountain, and is another tribute to George Washington (other photos and info here). I like this one, mainly because of the fun and pretty darn accurate animals all around the base.

Like these moose. Rather casual pose there, for such a large and majestic animal - one hoof dangling over the side - but still well done.

Or this bear. I love the splayed back leg on him - just like Miikka.

This one, just a little to the side of Rocky, is The Lion Fighter.  And can I just say how grateful I am for the Philadelphia Public Art website that I have been linking to? It has 756 separate works of public art in Philadelphia cataloged, with metadata!

Around the side and to the back of the museum are other statues. Like this very shiny one of Joan of Arc. I don't remember if there was a sign explaining just why there is a statue of Joan of Arc outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but I am sure there was a good reason. I'm sort of surprised no-one has tried to steal her and strip off the gold to sell. Maybe they have and she is just too big.

This one is a memorial to the Armenian Genocide. You can read the accompanying inscription here.

And so we don't leave on too down a note, here is Puma.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Philadelphia Statues

On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania
OK, here we are - I got the Philadelphia trip pictures off of the camera, and even managed to get a bunch edited down. Since there were a lot of them, and they sort of fall into themes, that is how I will be presenting them to you. If you don't like it, and were expecting a chronological tour of my time in Philly, too bad. (Actually, if you do want such a thing, I'd be willing to show them to you after dinner some time, the way my father used to show slides to dinner guests when I was a kid. I promise not to get mad if you fall asleep, the way both my grandmothers used to do.)

One thing Philadelphia has a lot of is statues. They are everywhere - downtown, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania (the above statue actually has multiple copies - one downtown and one on the campus), in the historic district, and even above the entrance to a parking lot, like this one.

This guy was one of a pair in the Chinatown area, guarding a rather nondescript parking lot. Well, nondescript apart from the twin dragons. Our parking lots in Little Rock are rather less distinguished.

There are, of course, many statues of famous people, like Benjamin Franklin (who lived a good portion of his life there, and did lots of civic-minded things for the city):

Looking down on the students from a high pedestal
Both of these statues are on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, although I am sure there were others that I missed in the city itself. I rather like Benjamin Franklin (and it has nothing to do with the fact that my husband's grandfather is Benjamin Franklin Rider). He was intelligent, civic-minded, curious, and must have had a wicked sense of humor.

Franklin with pigeon (also a statue)
I'm sort of sorry I was alone when I took this picture, because it would have been neat to have a picture of me sitting with him (no, not in his lap! What kind of person do you take me for?)

And of course, what would a trip to Philadelphia, cradle of the Declaration of Independence et al, be without a statue of George Washington? Here he is outside of Independence Hall. The guide on that tour (you'll have to wait until I get to the "historical sightseeing" theme for those pictures) pointed out that there are no statues of John Adams (my distant relative) anywhere in Philadelphia, and sounded a little bitter about that. Hmm.

Tomorrow - more statues, and Rocky.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In which I beg pardon

Yes, I still have not done anything with my Philadelphia pictures, and I have not taken any other pictures in July. I have not done anything particularly interesting either. Tonight I do start a beginning fencing class - taught in part by Benjamin.  Maybe I will have a funny story about my incompetence to relate tomorrow.

Photo by Candace Donovan

Since I don't have any of my own pictures to post, I will post one of my mother's. She has recently acquired a new camera and is having fun playing with it - apparently my photographic tendencies come from both parents.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An Easy Weekend Recipe

Would you believe I was actually too busy over the three-day weekend to do anything with the pictures from my camera? I did get them off the camera, but did not have time to go through them or do any editing. Alas. But I did get the shower scrubbed and made baba ganoush with eggplants from our garden.

I also made up a very Italianate sort of lunch on Sunday that was so good I had it again on Monday. This lovely event came about because we had no left-overs available, although there was quite a bit of food around. Rather than going to the store to buy frozen pizza (my first inclination for any empty pantry problem), I decided to be creative. Don't know what came over me!  Anyway, I decided to combine cous cous with cherry tomatoes from the farmer's market, some sun-dried tomato pesto, a can of tuna, and some Parmesan cheese. After the cous cous cooked, I just threw everything together, added a little bit of salt and pepper, and voila! It was tasty, and thanks to the protein from the tuna, filling. Monday we had the same situation - plenty of food but no leftovers - so I made the dish again, only this time I used sardines in olive oil instead of tuna. Benjamin, with a bit of surprise in his voice, declared it quite palatable (not in those words, but close enough). Needless to say, I was quite proud of myself. I am, if I say so myself, a good cook, but I tend to rely on recipes for most of my dishes. To throw something together and have it not only not be disgusting but actually taste good was a nice little boost.