Monday, November 30, 2009

The Beauty of Bouguereau

Magnet # 105: William-Adolphe Bouguereau's Le repos

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

Painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau was born on this day in 1825 in France. From an early age, his family intended for him to join their business of producing wines and, later, olive oil, but this was never realized. Encouraged by his uncle, a curate, Bouguereau attended high school and discovered his artistic ability. He painted portraits of his parishioners and labels for bottles of preserves. He went onto Paris to study at some of its most prestigious art schools, where he earned accolades with his paintings depicting historical and classical subjects. His ascent to becoming one of the most popular artists of his day was almost completely unhindered.  He won many of the great art awards given in his day and was a president of prestigious art societies.  During his life, he was perhaps the most famous French painter.

Bouguereau's artistic preferences of painting highly realistic, idealized figures, often women, and his talent in doing so made him a darling at the Paris Salon all of his life, as well as a favorite of wealthy art collectors, but it also put him at odds with a new group of avant garde painters that was emerging in France at that time - the Impressionists. He did not care for the unfinished, unpolished nature of their art and they accused him of blindly following outdated artistic traditions.  Some even called his work too perfect.  Degas and his circle even had a term for artwork that they deemed to be too slick and overly done - Bouguereaute.  But Bouguereau had far worse to deal with in his life - over the course of his life, he lost both his wife and four of his children.  In fact, only one of his children outlived him.  But through it all, he painted constantly, claiming it was the only time he was truly happy and that when he stopped each night, he could barely wait to continue the next day.

One of Bouguereau's lesser-known accomplishments was helping to open the French art academies to female artists. Because of his acceptance toward them, he was able to meet the student that would become his second wife later in life - American artist Elizabeth Gardner. She was a talented painter and some of the work she left behind often closely resembles that of her husband's. The pair were forced to have a lengthy engagement, however, because his mother and his daughter opposed the union. After his mother's death in 1896, the pair were able to enjoy a happy, although somewhat short, marriage. In 1905, Bouguereau passed away from heart disease. He left over 700 completed paintings behind. Unfortunately, by the 1920's, these became pretty unpopular. For a time, the art world spurned him as best they could, exalting the Impressionists he opposed, and omitting his name and works from encyclopedias. But, nowadays, his work is experiencing a resurgence. Major showings of his art in the 1980's spurred an interest in his work that the Internet has managed to grow on websites like http://www.artrenewal.org/.  Illustrators like Larry Elmore are highly influenced by his work, which now hangs in over one hundred museums around the world. I even noticed a Bouguereau image featured in an advertisement for the in New Orleans Museum of Art in a AAA Tour Book. They only had enough room for two images - I guess Bouguereau brings in visitors. Thank goodness the prejudice shown to Bouguereau by the art world seems to be coming to an end - he produced some of the most beautiful works of any artist, and he has earned a reputation both as one of the finest artists in history and as one of the greatest France has ever produced.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Family Tradition

Magnet #104:  Great Smoky Mountains' 75th Anniversary

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Me

Well, I mentioned on my post on the Great Smoky Mountains'  75th Anniversary back in September that I intended to make more trips there.  But at the time, I didn't know I would be making one before the year was up.  Well, earlier this month, I went up with my family and spent a week in the area.  We rented a cabin just outside of the main strip in Pigeon Forge and it was wonderful.  The drive up the mountain upon which it was situated was a bit perilous, but once up there, the views were amazing.  It was named "Above the Clouds" and it definitely lived up to it.  One day, the clouds were moving in and we could actually watch the mountains below us become like islands in the fog.  It was pretty neat.  The location was also great, as we were able to spend a few hours after dinner each night shopping at the outlet malls below, which would have been impossible at some of the cabins we've stayed at before, which are much further out.  We all agreed this is a cabin we'd return to on subsequent trips, although I'm not sure I'd ever want to drive up to it myself.

One point that was made on Ken Burn's recent television miniseries, The National Parks: America's Best Idea is that so many families have a National Park they are tied to and have gone to, sometimes for generations.  In my family, that would definitely be the Great Smoky Mountains.  Both my Mom and my Dad visited the park when they were growing up with their respective families, and I've gone to it about four times with them.  Considering this is the most visited National Park, I imagine there are quite a few families out there that can say that about the Smokies.  For us, this trip differed from previous ones in that we drove through the park on U.S, Route 441, a road which takes travelers high into the mountains of the park and past Newfound Gap at the park's center.  It was necessary to travel this way because of a rock slide blocking the route we wanted to take, but I was kind of glad we did.  I had never seen how the road twists and turns that high up, and there were so many streams of water rushing down the mountains beside us.  It was a gorgeous drive, and I was glad to have a new experience in the park.

I would have posted about our trip earlier, but I was going nuts looking for this magnet, because it was the best one for this post.  When I bought it, it was actually an ornament, so I had to convert it into a magnet.  That was a little weird - while it's no big deal changing a pin or a keychain, I felt odd butchering an ornament, which is also something I collect, to make a magnet.  Oh well, it's done, and now I have this beautiful magnet for my kitchen.  It was handmade by Tim Weberding, a third generation woodworker with a shop in Gatlinburg.  I sure wish I'd known it was there at the time of our visit, because I would have liked to see it!  His work was sold in several shops around the area, and I bought this at one of them.  If you want to see more of his work, his website is http://www.timweberding.com/.  Oh well, I'm sure there is another trip to the Great Smoky Mountains in store for our family, and I should get my chance then.  I'm glad we know the Smokies will always be there for us to take another trip, and perhaps even introduce a new generation to its spectacular beauty.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ready, Set, Shop

Magnet # 103:  Running Pictograph

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  N/A - given to me, free

Well, now that Thanksgiving has passed, the Christmas season is upon us, and it's officially kicking off today with Black Friday.  The name for this day originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, where police officers and bus drivers, sick of the mobs of crowds that flooded downtown stores on this day, creating all sorts of traffic nightmares, dubbed it this as a disparagement.  It really began to catch on in the the 1970s, and eventually, retailers wanted to put a positive spin on the day that brought in so many customers and put a new spin on the name.  They said during the rest of the year, their sales were in the red, or negative, terms, but on Black Friday, they were able to get profits, and use black ink on receipts to report their earnings.  This positive use of the term surfaced around 1981, when retailers were beginning to realize the importance of the day and offering enticing specials to draw in customers.  Nowadays, in some places the day has almost gone out of control, with mobs causing injuries and sometimes even death, as they swarm into retailers.  But even that hasn't dampened the popularity of this day.  Just last night, local stations all over the country were reporting on people lined outside of countless retail stores, most to buy, but some just for bragging rights.

While I tend to go out and shop on Black Friday, I have never camped out in front of a store, or even gotten there before opening.  I just don't think it's worth it.  But there are plenty of special deals that are worth going by stores to get, even if they are a little crowded.  I usually wait until today to buy some DVD seasons of my favorite TV shows, because the price can drop pretty low, especially on the ones that have just been released in September.  Having checked out some prices online, it looks like I might be able to get some good deals tomorrow.  Some hit DVDs are even down to two bucks - not bad.  I may go by Best Buy and Target to see what I can find - I've gotten some good deals there on this day before.  And I don't think I've ever had to wait in a really long line.

As far as this magnet goes, I was over at a friend's for a party and, as I often do, droned on all about my magnet collection to her daughter, Zoe.  She showed me her pretty cool collection of bottle caps, and a couple of magnets she had.  Before I left, she gave me this one, which was so sweet of her.  She even has her own blog, although the name escapes me. But thanks again, Zoe- you're the best!  

Well, I hope you all take advantage of some of the great offers that are out there today.  And, if you've never tried shopping on Black Friday, it might not be as bad as you think.  Even if you don't want to leave the house, there are plenty of online specials.  One thing's for sure - it's better to shop for Christmas now than to wait until the last minute.  So go out there and give the economy a boost - it's the American way (or so they say).  Now, excuse me while I shop...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

We Gather Together

Magnet # 101:  Plymouth Pilgrim Hat

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Turkey Day!  I'm fortunate enough to have the day off from work and my family here to celebrate with me, and I hope this is the same for all of you.  This year's Thanksgiving celebration is special in that it is a true anniversary of the day George Washington proclaimed as the first official day of thanksgiving - Thursday, November 26, 1789.  It was the first presidential proclamation ever made in the United States.  After that, some presidents declared Thanksgivings, while others did not.  Sometimes the holiday was even celebrated outside of autumn.  Finally, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln established it as a national celebration to be held on the last Thursday in November.  Ever since, it has been an annual holiday, and the only change to it occurred in 1939, when there were five Thursdays, and Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday.  This actually upset quite a few Americans, considering he did it in October and it disrupted many holiday plans.  Around half the states refused to change the date, and some, like Texas, celebrated it both weeks.  But nowadays, it's simply another characteristic of the holiday.

My family is here in Savannah with me today and we went to the Mulberry Inn for our Thanksgiving meal.  It's a beautiful historic location and it's hard to believe that it started out in the 1860's as a livery stable and cotton warehouse, then became a Coca-Cola bottling facility.  You could never tell that today - it's one of the nicest hotels Savannah has offer, located in historic downtown.  The Courtyard Cafe is located right next to the courtyard with large windows overlooking its idyllic setting.  We sat near the fountain and it was nice to see the water tricking down it.  A buffet was served and, in addition to turkey and stuffing, there were lamb chops, shrimp newberg, prime rib, and ham.  There were also plenty of sides like squash casserole, macaroni and cheese, and my favorite, sweet potato casserole.  The food was delicious, the service was prompt and friendly, and there was even a trio of live musicians playing the drums, the piano, and the bass.  Their songs were mainly mood music, and even a few numbers by Savannah native Johnny Mercer.  Afterwards, we strolled around a few squares before heading home to nap.  All in all, we've had been a pretty perfect day.

In a bizarre twist of irony, today is also National Cake Day.  It's celebrated every November 26, so I imagine the two holidays overlap from time to time.  So, if you're like me and prefer cake to pie (it's all about the icing), you have just cause to demand your loved ones return to the kitchen and whip up a cake to top off the rest of the indulgences you've already enjoyed.  Or maybe not.  Try as I might, I was unable to find out the roots of this holiday, but I was lucky enough to celebrate it properly. The Mulberry has about five different desserts to choose from, including cheesecake and carrot cake, and I had some of both.  Of course, my Mom did point out that there was no chocolate on the dessert table, and we chocoholics do need our fix.  But the food there was wonderful, and we all agreed that every dish was delicious.  If you're bummed that you missed out on it, check out their site, http://www.savannahhotel.com/.  They also offer lunch buffets and Sunday brunch, so you can see for yourself what a lovely spot it is if you're ever in the area.  As for today, I hope you've all had a tasty meal (or will soon) and have as good Thanksgiving as I'm having.  We're all truly fortunate to have a day set aside to spend time with our families and appreciate all that we have.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The First Cut

Magnet # 101: Unmasked Wolverine

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

Comic book favorite Wolverine arguably made his first appearance this month in 1974's Incredible Hulk # 181. Technically, he popped up in the last panel of # 180 in October, but people tend to count this one as his first true appearance. He fought the Hulk in a battle that created a fierce, lasting rivalry. After this, and a brief appearance in the next issue, he'd remain dormant until May of 1975 when he popped up in the comic series that made him a star - The X-Men.

It's interesting to note that Wolverine wasn't immediately the fan - or creator - favorite that he is today. Both writer Chris Claremont and penciler Dave Cockrum weren't exactly sure what to do with the character, besides creating a love triangle between him, Jean Grey, and Cyclops. At one point, they were even considering dropping him from the series. Luckily, artist John Byrne came onto the book and was determined to save Wolverine, as they are both Canadians.  He developed the character's backstory and made him older than the rest of the X-Men.  He began to evolve into the darker anti-hero we know and love.  His willingness to engage in violence and kill when necessary helped popularize the anti-hero genre of comics that includes characters such as John Constantine, Batman, the Punisher, and the Sin City protagonists.  Fans can't seem to get enough of these characters, or Wolverine, who has had both his own comic book series that lasted almost 200 issues, his own video games, and his own movie just this year.  He consistently tops lists of the most popular comic book characters, often at #1.

I definitely like Wolverine, even though he's not my favorite character in the X-Men.  Personally, I think his popularity stems from a few sources.  First, unlike many comic book characters, he's not completely gorgeous.  He's not physically perfect like Superman or suave like Batman.  He's actually short - only 5'3" - and pretty darn hairy.  And if you take a look at him in the comics, you know he's no sexiest man of the year like Hugh Jackman, even if he has portrayed Wolverine onscreen.  I think readers like that he's not another comic book pretty boy.  And he's also willing to get very messy.  Action junkies can get their fixes from Wolverine, who's built for tough fights.  His adamantium claws and skeleton allow him to do maximum damage while his healing power allows him to sustain it.  He's had years of training in all sorts of combat, so he knows how to face his opponents.  And this is a guy who refuses to loose - he will fight until he wins, even if he has to fight dirty.  After all, his slogan is "I'm the best there is at what I do, but what I do isn't very nice."  And yet, for all of his tough guy bravado, Wolverine is a loyal teammate and can be a nice guy, too.  He's taken young girls like Kitty Prude and Jubilee under his wing, becoming their mentor and father figure at times.  And he has formed friendships with some of his teammates like Storm and Jean Grey.  Personally, I like his friendship with Nightcrawler best.  He lightens up Wolverine and the two have fun engaging in male bonding acts like bar hopping and playing pranks on each other.  Every Han Solo should have his Chewbacca and I'm certainly glad Wolverine has this brother-like connection to make him more accessible.  Really, there are so many reasons to like Wolverine, and it's easy to see why he has so many fans.

For decades now, Wolverine has been a favorite of comic fans around the world and his popularity shows no signs of ever slowing.  His movie was a hit this year, and Hugh Jackman seems up for a sequel.  He's also heading up the X-Men on television in the animated series Wolverine and the X-Men.  And, of course, he also appears in numerous X-Men comic books each month.  Wolverine may be an underdog, but he proves that with enough bite (or clawing) he's tough -and nice - enough to win just about anyone over.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trading Post

Magnet # 100: Balinese Girl With Offering

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Shinta

Wow - I'm up to 100 - already? Boy, that seemed to happen pretty quickly. Well, in honor of moving up to the triple digits in my blog, I've decided to post one of my favorites today - this pretty awesome looking one from Indonesia. When I saw it in another person's magnet blog, it gave me total magnet envy. Not only is it purple, my absolute favorite color, but it's also rubber, one of my favorite magnet materials, and it has a person on it - I love it when magnets feature natives of their respective countries! Add to that the colorful nature of this one, and the interesting overall design, and I was smitten. But I figured I pretty much had no shot of ever getting it - after all, how the heck was I going to get one from Bali? And then I ran across another magnet collection - one from a gal in Indonesia who does a lot of magnet swaps with folks from all over the world, and it shows. Of all the magnet collections I've seen online, hers is the most impressive. I guess she's able to amass such an amazing collection because she trades pretty often, is from an exotic location not easy to get magnets from, and has a large amount of them available to trade. And yes, this magnet that I wanted so badly is one of them. So, I contacted her and we ended up trading two magnets, including this one - yay, success! I definitely enjoyed doing a trade with her, and hope to do one again sometime.

That's the only trade I've done so far, but I'm open to trying more. I'm still not completely sure how it all works, especially gathering ones to trade. How many is enough, for example? And I know there are groups you can join to do trades, but I'm not sure exactly which ones are out there. And then there's the possibility of sending out a magnet, but never getting one in return. I imagine that happens from time to time with the girl I traded with. Well, there's so much to consider, but I think I will definitely try more trades. I do think I'd like to keep them to a minimum, though. I imagine they can become overwhelming if I tried too many, too often. But it's pretty cool to think of some of the exotic magnets I could get through trading that I might not have a shot at otherwise.

Well, I guess this post is a bit magnet-centric, but I think it's okay, given the occasion. I hope you've all had fun reading these first 100 posts, no matter when you joined in. And, trust me, there's plenty more magnets where these came from - getting in another 100 won't be hard.  Hope the next round is as much fun as this one has been!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Not-So Well Behaved Woman

Magnet # 99: Westminster Abbey

Material: Metal

Purchased By: Debbie

Just what is it about famous people with the name of George or some variation thereof born in November? The lady born on this day in 1819 started off as Mary Anne Evans, but later chose to be known to the world as George Eliot, one of the most beloved writers of the Victorian Era. She caused a stir of scandals her entire life, and when she died, her legitimate request to be buried in the Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey alongside some of the greatest authors in British history, such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spencer, was cruely denied. Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster at the time, felt that her division with the church was more important than either her wishes or her accomplishments as a writer. It was the final insult in a life filled with rejections and hard-won triumphs.

To best understand Mary Anne Evans, one must be aware of the four qualities and ambitions that shaped her entire life: first, she was brilliant in mind, and second, she was, unfortunately, extremely unattractive, even repellant by some accounts. She also was unwilling to follow the rules of her time, and, finally, was desperate for the love of a man. Her father was not rich, but he farmed and managed land for an upper class family in Warwickshire, England. Because of this, Mary Anne was exposed to literature from an early age and later sent to boarding schools, where she excelled. When she had grown older and her mother had passed away, Mary Anne began to question the faith that had been so important to her over the course of her life. Finally, she decided to do something that was almost unheard of at the time - she stopped going to church. This created a rift between Mary Anne and her father, as well as the rest of her family, but it allowed her to grow closer to a circle of intellectuals and free thinkers in the area. She also pursed some of her male acquaintances, but to no avail. When her father passed away, Mary Anne traveled with two of these individuals to Switzerland and Italy. When she finally returned to England, she was determined to become a writer. She began boarding at the home of John Chapman, owner of The Westminster Review, and secretly became his assistant editor and a frequent contributor to the publication. The two began spending more time together, and, in doing so, ran afoul of Chapman's wife and his mistress. The pair ganged up and had Mary Anne kicked out, but soon she met another married man - George Henry Lewes. Lewes was both a highly intelligent man and considered to be pretty unattractive himself. His marriage was an open one, however, and his wife had children fathered by other men during it course, although Lewes had always treated them as his own. Although Lewes could not divorce his wife, their marriage was all but over, and Mary Anne moved in with him before long, calling herself Marian Evans Lewes. The behavior she had been demonstrating before - having a job and associating with men as a young, unmarried woman - had been considered pretty bad, but this simply shocked Victorian society. The pair were ostracized from nearly everyone - very few friends came to call on them at their new home. This upset Mary Anne, but she continued to write, and soon had finished her first book, a collection of stories called Scenes of a Clerical Life. She chose to publish under the name of George Eliot, both so she could be taken seriously as a male writer, and because she didn't want her scandalous life to taint her work.

The writings of George Eliot became a sensation. Her first full-length novel, Adam Bede, made Victorian society desperate to know just who this writer was. Eliot kept her silence for sometime, until a man posing to be George Eliot finally forced her hand. Those who had shunned Eliot were shocked by this revelation, as were her readers when they heard about her private life. But Eliot kept writing her novels, and they were successes. More friends began calling on them and eventually, they were even introduced to Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Louise, a fan of Eliot's novels. Both she and her mother read them. However, Lewes passed away, leaving mary Eliot alone again. But, at the age of 61, she finally was married to a man twenty years her junior, a banker that she initially refused. She suffered the final scandal of her life during their Venetian honeymoon, when he either jumped or fell from the balcony of their room into the canal. But he was unharmed and the couple returned to England. But before the year was over, Eliot had died of an illness.

Because she was not allowed to be buried at Westminster Abbey, Eliot was laid to rest at Highgate Cemetary beside her beloved Lewes. The seven novels she left behind, though they suffered a temporary setback, have persisted to this day. Eliot had an insightful view of society, particularly its hypocrisies and what it meant to be alienated from it. Her novel Silas Marner is a personal favorite. If you've never read this story of how a man cast out by society finds hope again, I highly recommend it. Even watching the film adaptation with Ben Kingsley or its modern update, A Simple Twist of Fate with Steve Martin, will do if you don't feel like reading. Nowadays, Eliot has finally received the respect she earned. On the centenary of her death, a memorial stone to her was placed in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. The only Victorian writer who ever gave her a run for her money in the scandal department, Ocsar Wilde, has also been memorialized there. I'm glad that we are finally able to look beyond Eliot's flaws and recognize her contribution to literature, and I hope her wonderful books are enjoyed for many years to come.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More Than Just Tar Heels

Magnet # 98:  Map of North Carolina

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Me

North Carolina became the 12th state to join the United States on this day back in 1789.  Prior to then, it had experienced some of the most interesting moments of any of the original thirteen states. The Spanish were the first Europeans to try to settle the area, but they left for good after Native Americans destroyed the six forts they had built there and killed off most of their soldiers.  Before long, Sir Walter Raleigh had secured Elizabeth I's permission to establish English settlements there and built two - although both would end in failure.  One was the notorious disappearance of the entire "Lost Colony" on Roanoke Island, with only the word "Croatoan" carved on a tree.  To this day, what happened to these settlers is one of our country's greatest mysteries, and it has inspired both latter-day DNA testing and numerous fiction writers to search for an explanation (personally, I like Dean Koontz's take on the subject in Phantoms).  Regardless of these setbacks, settlers kept streaming into the Carolina colony, often moving south from Virginia.  Eventually, the area split into northern and southern colonies in 1710.  When the time came to fight for independence from Britain, North Carolina was first to order its delegates at the Second Continental Congress to vote for separation, but it was actually more divided than most of the colonies.  The eastern side, settled mostly settled by those from England and the Scottish Highlands, remained loyal to the Crown, while the settlers that came from Germany and Ireland and occupied western areas of the colony, wanted freedom.  When the Revolutionary War erupted, these two groups engaged in guerrilla warfare until its conclusion, and the Americans won a major victory over the British at King's Mountain in the southern area of the state near the South Carolina border.  Another battle took place in North Carolina in 1781, when the British managed to win the Battle of Guilford Court House, but it cost them dearly.  The ramifications of this conflict helped ensure American victory, allowing North Carolina to eventually claim its hard-earned statehood.

Present-day North Carolina, known as the "Tar Hill State" perhaps for the abundance of the material to be found there, is one state that can boast a great deal of beauty in fairly diverse settings.  It has flat, picturesque beaches on the shores of the Atlantic that eventually stretch into hills in Piedmont cities like Charlotte and Raleigh before they grow into the Great Smoky Mountains not far from Asheville.  Really, how many states can claim tourist destinations as diverse as the Outer Banks and the Blue Ridge Parkway?  The beauty throughout this state has inspired accomplishments as varied as the Wright Brother's first flight near Kitty Hawk and George Vanderbilt's construction of the Biltmore mansion, the largest private home in America.  And in the center of the state, large metropolitan areas have grown up in Charlotte, its largest city, and its Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, which have more than a million residents when combined.  Clearly, people are drawn to all this state has to offer, as a 2008 study showed its population is growing faster than any other east of the Mississippi River.  It's currently the tenth most populated state in the Nation.

While I have spent time in North Carolina, I've never really had an extended stay to check out all it has to offer.  But I've found a few places in the state I'm curious to check out.  When I drove through on I-95 on my way to Virginia in October, I saw billboards for an Ava Gardner Museum that is just off the interstate that sounds pretty interesting.  From there, it wouldn't be too far of a trip to Raleigh, where I could tour yet another state capitol building and a few nearby museums.  I'm also a bit intrigued by the Outer Banks.  Near Corolla, on the Currituck beaches, there is a herd of Wild Spanish Mustangs that have roamed the area for hundreds of years.  It would be pretty awesome to see them running across the sands.  There are also a number of lighthouses there, including the one at Cape Hatteras, which is the largest in the country and is open for tours.  There is also some dark history to be found in the Outer Banks, as the area was favored by pirates, most notably Blackbeard, who tended to favor Ocracoke Island.  Of course, Roanoke Island is also there, and visitors can take in a performance of "The Lost Colony," a play which offers an account of the settlement and has been showing since 1937.  Whatever one chooses to do during a stay in the state, there's certainly no lack of choice, a fact that keeps many people coming to North Carolina to have a look around and, occasionally, make it their new home.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bright Lights, Kinda Scary City

Magnet # 97:  Downtown Baltimore

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Me

I guess I should have planned my posts about the cities I visited on my Mid-Atlantic trip a bit better, as I now realize I have not exactly saved the best for last. While I realize there are plenty of folks out there who love Baltimore, on my trip there, I was regrettably not one of them. My first encounter with one of its citizens - a cabbie who cussed me out for getting held up by traffic -didn't help. That's really not the kind of drivers I've dealt with here in the South. Fortunately, the hotel I was staying at, the Best Western Hotel & Conference Center, had a shuttle that I booked a stay there for specifically, so I did not have to drive through the city again. The shuttle driver was a very nice guy (he was originally from Charlottesville), but one of my companions seemed to scoff at my naivete in visiting there alone and impressed upon me the dangers of this city. By the time he was done, I was a little scared. Seeing some of the worst sections of town during our ride didn't help. Maybe it was good that, during the rest of my short stay there, I was on guard and very cautious about where I went.

The Inner Harbor, pictured on this magnet, is perhaps Baltimore's biggest tourist attraction, and seemed like a pretty safe place to me. I noticed a visible sign of police officers and security officers as I went through the National Aquarium and shopped at Harborplace.  Unfortunately, I only got to spend a couple of hours there until it was time to catch the shuttle so I could move onto Richmond.  In retrospect, it might have been a better idea to travel down there at eight because I probably would have gotten there around nine, when the attractions start to open,  But over the course of my trip, I kept getting to places before they opened and wandering around until then.  I was just too nervous about Baltimore to do that.  But, in retrospect, I think this is one fairly safe area of the city, and it was pretty fun to visit.

I imagine there are some proud citizens of Baltimore out there who might laugh at my trepidation about their city. But, as a friend reminded me when I got back, this place was the setting for The Wire, a very dark show on HBO that was filmed on location and didn't shy away from portraying just how dark the city can be.  He said just watching the show had even made him wary about Baltimore. Of course, there are some great attractions to be seen in this city, but I recommend a bit of caution in visiting it, perhaps even staying at a hotel close to the Inner Harbor or at one with a shuttle. I guess one truth about myself that I learned during this trip is that I prefer charming, small towns to large, bustling cities. And that's good to know as I plan future trips. I won't completely avoid big cities, but I intend to be more diligent in planning my stay in them than in other, less populated locales. And that's not to say that crime just happens in these big cities - even smaller ones can have plenty of crime (a fact I've continually had impressed upon me during my time in Savannah). I think in subsequent visits to large cities, I might not travel alone, or allow myself more time, or perhaps even fly in and stay at a hotel with a shuttle. And I might even try to get back to Baltimore again someday.  It would be nice to have another chance to see the USS Constellation, their Poe House and Museum, and other noteworthy sites of the city.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Small Town, Big Adventures

Magnet # 96: Sites of Charlottesville

Material: Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By: Me

Charlottesville was the first city I stopped at during my Mid-Atlantic tour, and if I had to pick one spot to go back to, this would be it. I think on a subsequent visit to this area, I would later head west to the Shenandoah National Park and perhaps West Virginia. I'd also like to see James Madison's home, Montpelier, which is north of the city. I guess I just didn't have enough time to take advantage of all this lovely area has to offer.

Charlottesville is considered one of the nicest areas in the country, and has topped more than one list of the best places to live in the United States. I could definitely see why during my visit there. It's a charming area with a down home feel and lots of beautiful architecture. Thomas Jefferson even provided some of it himself - the Rotunda at the University of Virginia (which I unfortunately didn't get a chance to see), and his home, Monticello (which I absolutely toured - it was a must on my list). I think it's the only city that can claim three U.S. Presidents as permanent residents - Jefferson, of course, as well as Madison, and James Monroe, whose home, Ash-Lawn Highland is just down the road from Jefferson's Monticello. Both of them, along with the historic Michie Tavern, are just a few minutes away from the Downtown area.

I stayed in the Downtown area, at a Hampton Inn & Suites that I would definitely book again if I ever revisit the area. Once again, reserving the room through AAA came in handy as the lady at the front desk was impressed with the low rate I'd gotten. Their lobby was particularly attractive and decorated with murals of sites around the area. Best of all, they had a shuttle I used to get over to the Downtown Mall, one of Charlottesville's most touristy areas. I had read in a guide book that parking there is not always easy, so the shuttle was a big relief. It is one of the biggest outdoor pedestrian malls in the country and is filled with unusual shops, colorful performers, and tasty eateries. My Dad is familiar with the area from his business trips and suggested I have dinner at Christian's Pizza. I found it and was impressed by some of the unusual offerings they had - I even saw one pizza with tortellini on it! You can order what they have on the counter by the slice, so I ended up getting one with artichokes and other tasty veggies on it. They re-warm it and it is still very delicious. There are plenty of other nice restaurants there, but I recommend this one, particularly if you'd like to save a few bucks. The Downtown Mall wasn't the best place to find magnets, but I bought some at a couple of stores, including a Hallmark, where I found this one. It was interesting to see City Hall at one end, with its reliefs of the three Presidents from the area, and the Charlottesville Pavilion, a rather large outdoor amphitheatre with an unusual covering that has hosted all sorts of high-profile musicians. There's also a long wall that people are encouraged to write on with chalk, that is provided. Kids were having lots of fun there. There's a Virginia Discovery Museum at the Downtown Mall that's supposed to be really nice, but it had closed before I got there. It is surprising that such a small town can have so many interesting tourist attractions and events, but I guess that's what makes Charlottesville special.

I think I will return to Charlottesville someday and take a second trip to Monticello, along with a first trip to some of the area's other noteworthy attractions. This city, although small, offers some of the best sites to visit of any place in the United States, all with a laidback attitude. If you haven't had a chance to discover it for yourself, you might want to consider it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Down By the Bay

Magnet # 95: Downtown Annapolis

Material: Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By: Me

Annapolis was the second city I visited in my Mid-Atlantic tour last month. I was lucky enough to stay at the Maryland Inn, a historic hotel that dates back to the 1700s and has even hosted Presidents. My room was very nice and a good bargain - the AAA agent booking it on my behalf couldn't believe how low the price was. Best of all, it was in the heart of downtown - it was just off of the circle that the church pictured here is located. I had my car taken off by valet (really, there weren't many parking options) and just hoofed it everywhere. Chesapeake Bay was just about a seven minute walk away and there were touristy shops everywhere. It was easily the best place to shop for magnets on my trip. They even had some from Delaware and Washington D.C. I guess there were around 15 shops in the vicinity that had magnets, so I visited them a couple of times to check out selection and prices before I started buying. I began at the shop that had magnets for three bucks and worked my way up to the five dollar magnet store, which had some of the best selection. So yes, Annapolis was very fun for me, magnet wise.

I had dinner at Buddy's Crabs and Ribs, a laid back, upstairs venue with windows overlooking City Dock and Chesapeake Bay. It was also nice just to sit on a bench at City Dock and watch the ships sail in. The nearby Historyquest of the Historic Annapolis Foundation was filled with items from the state's history and was free to tour, so it was nice to see everything it had to offer. I would have gone by the Naval Academy, but I really didn't have enough time, and still faintly remember seeing it when I was growing up. I have to say, my favorite historical part of Annapolis that I toured was the Maryland State House, which was about a three-minute walk from my hotel. This Capitol Building is the oldest that is still in use, and even served as the Nation's Capitol for a time. This is a beautiful building and its pictured in the center of the magnet that's posted here. I had an on-demand, one-on-one tour there, and my guide was very informative. She told me that no nails were used in the creation of the dome because England was levying extra taxes on them at that time (and no, visitors can't climb up to the dome). She showed me the room where George Washington resigned his commission. It even features a figure dressed in clothes modeled after Washington's and is currently under construction, but it was kinda cool to see the original bricks that are usually covered by walls. She also pointed out the three stained glass Tiffany windows that grace the ceilings of the Senate and the House rooms, and the stairwell. When combined with the gorgeous marble that is in the much of the Capitol, these stunning windows make quite an impression. This is considered to be one of the more attractive Capitol Buildings, and it's easy to see why. I was so struck by this beautiful place that, hoping to buy an extra nice magnet of it, I asked my guide if it had a gift store. Clearly upset, she told me that it was one of the few Capitols that doesn't have one and lamented over some of the wonderful ones she has seen. She assured me, however, that she has brought attention to the fact that this locale needs a good gift shop. I hope it happens - it would be really nice to get a magnet of one of those Tiffany ceiling windows, or maybe a resin or pewter one of the exterior. But don't let that stop you from seeing this gem - it's a wonderful place that's filled with history and, yes, it's free to tour. All in all, I had a nice, leisurely time in Annapolis and enjoyed its laidback atmosphere. If you're ever able, stop by and enjoy all of the historical sites it has to offer, and all of the modern conveniences it provides.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oklahoma, You're OK

Magnet # 94: Oklahoma Letters

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Nanny

Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the day Oklahoma gained its statehood in 1907. This followed years of the area being used as a relocation spot for Native Americans, most notoriously as the last stop on the Trail of Tears, and the inevitable arrival of white settlers. Cowboys first encroached on the area as they drove cattle north to Kansas from Texas, eventually setting up ranches there to aid in the process, sometimes illegally. Before long, the government intervened and set aside more land to be settled by Americans in land runs, which operated by a first come, first served basis. Often, during these runs, people would cheat and take off into territories sooner than they were allowed, giving the state its nickname: "The Sooner State." Native Americans tried to keep control of their lands, even going so far as to try to establish Oklahoma as a completely Indian state named Oklahoma, and later, as Sequoyah, but their efforts failed. Ironically, their efforts later helped Oklahoma be established as a state. However, Native Americans still inhabit the area, and they even have a Cherokee Heritage Center there, which features a museum focused around the Trail of Tears. I'm glad they still have a presence in modern-day Oklahoma, and would enjoy seeing their Museum someday.

I visited Oklahoma once when we drove north from Dallas to Tulsa. Along the way, we stopped by one of the more touristy landmarks the state has to offer: the Glass House. This is a large restaurant that spans all lanes of one spot on I-44, or the Will Rogers Turnpike, which is appropriate considering they have a statue of Will Rogers displayed at the restaurant. When it was first built in 1958, it was home to a restaurant called the Glass House, but McDonald's has since purchased it and painted the arch, which spans the entire restaurant and is an original feature, yellow, of course. There's also a gift shop there - I have even seen a magnet of the Glass House on the internet - of course, I wasn't collecting magnets then, darnit! We then traveled to a more somber location, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum at what was once the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. We didn't see the inside of the Museum (it may have not opened yet), but we walked around the reflecting pool and saw the Field of Empty Chairs that stand on one side of it. There are 168, one for each victim who died, and each is inscribed with the name of one of the deceased. They're arranged in nine rows, standing for the nine floors of the building, and each person's chair is on the floor he or she would have been on at the time of the blast. Taking in these and other poignant sights at the Memorial, it's almost impossible not to be moved. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this locale, I recommend it. It's inspiring to see how the state has managed to cope with and remember one of its darkest hours.

We ended up in Tulsa, where my Dad's brother was living at the time. I don't really recall much of that city, only a visit to the local Borders bookstore. Maybe sometime I'll get a chance to go back and see sites there like the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Richardson Asian Art Museum. This state has been the location for some of the most sobering moments in our country's history, but remains optimistic about its future. When I look at all it has to offer, I realize that I've only seen a small amount of Oklahoma and I hope to take another shot at it - the sooner the better.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

Magnet # 93: San Antonio Steer Skull

Material: Clay

Purchased By: Mom & Dad
When I look at this magnet by Clay Critters, I can't help but think of American painter Georgia O'Keeffe, who was born on this day back in 1887. She took everyday objects like the skulls that inspired this one, which were almost considered trash out in the West, and made them vibrant and beautiful in her paintings. She created a new style of art, becoming one of the first American artists who influenced Europe and the rest of the world, rather than be shaped by its art.

O'Keeffe realized at an early age that she wanted to be an artist and when she attended the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, she received praise for her work, but it never satisfied her personally. For a time, she did commercial art work and taught elementary art classes in Texas to support herself, but she could never completely turn her back on fine art. A fellow artist introduced her to Oriental art, and she began to realize there were all kinds of new directions in which she could take her work. But one of the most important developments in her career would take place completely without her knowledge.
In 1916, a friend of O'Keeffe's contacted her to inform her that ten of her drawings were hanging at 291 Art Gallery in New York City. She had not granted permission for this, and soon discovered that another friend, a photographer, had shown her work to Alfred Stieglitz, the gallery's owner. He was so overcome by the work that he included it in a show. O'Keeffe traveled to New York to confront him, and Stieglitz fell in love with her as well. With his enthusiasm, O'Keeffe began showing her work regularly, being influenced by his photographer friends, and developing a following of her own. It was at this time that she began painting in oils again, and closing in on her subjects, often flowers, at such a close range, it appeared as though they had been pictured under a magnifying glass. Both of these qualities would come to define her as an artist. Eventually, she and Stieglitz married. By then, she was becoming one of the most prominent American artists of her time.

Although their marriage lasted over twenty years, the couple didn't spend much of that time together. In 1929, O'Keeffe took a train out to New Mexico and, for all intents and purposes, never really came back. She fell in love with the landscape and began to paint the works that would define her most as an artist. Although she would return to New York each fall, O'Keeffe could not stay away from her new home for long. Aware that Stieglitz had begun an affair with another woman, she eventually bought a home on Ghost Ranch where she spent her summers. After Stieglitz's death, she finally established a permanent New Mexico residence in 1949. For the rest of her life, she would paint as much as possible there. Even when her eyesight began to fail her, others stepped in to assist O'Keeffe in her work. All told, she enjoyed more years of life than nearly any other artist - 98. When she died in 1986, her remains were scattered over her beloved Ghost Ranch.

O'Keeffe is the only internationally known female artist to have a museum dedicated to her - the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. When I visited New Mexico with my parents about a decade ago, we saw the Museum. It really does have an impressive collection of her work, and its simple, yet elegant, white spaces are an ideal spot in which to showcase it. I wasn't collecting magnets at that time, but after checking out what they have available on their website,
http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/, I'm okay with that. They're a bit simple - none showed there even feature images from her paintings, which is really a shame. We also drove through the Ghost Ranch, which is a special spot to my Mom. Her family was friends with the managers, so she visited it a couple of times when she was growing up, although she never saw O'Keeffe there. During our visit, we saw groups of artists painting outside with easels, taking in the gorgeous landscape. Although O'Keeffe may be gone from the spot, it's nice to know that other artists are still inspired by the area she loved so. Hopefully, not only her art will continue to be cherished, but her beloved Ghost Ranch will remain intact, introducing future generations of artists to O'Keeffe's past and their artistic futures.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Whale of a Tale

Magnet # 92: Herman Melville Caricature

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

Herman Melville's Moby-Dick was first published on this day in New York City in 1851. Technically, it had already been released a few weeks earlier in London under the lesser-known name of The Whale, but it was censored and divided into three different volumes, so it wasn't really the book we are familiar with today.

It's funny, a book nearly all of us take for granted as one of the greatest in American literature was never well-received during it's author's lifetime. Unfortunately, the book was reviewed first in England, and the publisher there did a pretty poor job with Melville's manuscript, even going so far as to omit the epilogue, causing critics to believe that all the characters had died, and insist that the story's telling made no sense if none were left to recall it. The epilogue revealing Ishmael's survival did appear in American versions, but by then many readers had been scared off by mostly poor reviews. A few of Melville's contemporaries praised his work, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, his friend and author of works such as The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables.

Melville had enjoyed success with his first three novels and, in retrospect, it's a little odd that his greatest work should mark the beginning of his decline. He had been a sailor and traveled as far as the South Pacific, and he drew heavily from these travels in his works. For Moby-Dick, he
was partially inspired by a real-life albino sperm whale named Mocha Dick, who was usually found around the waters of Mocha, an island off the coast of Chile. This whale was particularly violent and had captured the attention of the public. It's believed he had over 100 confrontations with ships, and killed around 30 men, and perhaps sunk two merchant ships. Even for a whale, he was gigantic, and his white color made him stand out even more. Eventually, sailors knew him by the dozens of harpoons sticking out him, remnants from previous battles. Although he must have been a terrifying sight, many of captains wanted to kill him. Another true story inspired Melville as he wrote - that of the sinking of the Essex, a whaleship from Nantucket. A sperm whale destroyed the vessel off the coast of South America, leaving only 8 survivors. Melville drew heavily from the first mate's account of the story as he wrote Moby-Dick.

Even after the failure of this novel, Melville continued to write. His subsequent books were rejected by critics and audiences alike, until even his published rejected him. One of the novels he wrote during that time has been lost entirely. Rumors circulated that he had gone mad, only continuing to hurt his reputation. Finally, he was forced to take a job as a customs inspector in order to support his family. He held it for almost twenty years and earned a reputation as the only honest worker at his custom house, but his writings nearly came to an end. But English readers began to rediscover his work, prompting him to write some poems and prose, and a novel unfinished at the time of his death that would later be published - Billy Budd, Sailor. When Melville finally passed away in 1891, American audiences had all but forgotten him, and his name was even printed incorrectly in his obituary. The works which won him no acclaim in his own time, however, would soon be recognized as breaking new ground in the literary world.

It was in the 1920's that readers began to rediscover Melville's work and realize his genius. Biographies began to be published about his life, and Billy Budd, Sailor was finally published. Interest in American literature was growing during these times, and writers were actively bringing Melville to the public. World War I had changed the mindset of the public, and they were more willing to embrace his eloquent exploration of violence and vengeance. From this time on, Melville's notoriety grew and Moby-Dick worked its way into the American consciousness. It has been developed into films many times, and talented actors such as John Barrymore, Gregory Peck, and Patrick Stewart have all tackled the role of Captain Ahab. The novel has even inspired the name of coffee giant Starbucks. One of the two founders wanted to name the original shop after the Peqoud, Ahab's ship, but his partner argued that was not a name that would inspire people to drink coffee, and they were able to compromise on the name of the ship's first mate. In 2008, a bill was passed naming Moby-Dick "Massachusetts' official epic novel." Clearly, Herman Melville has been redeemed. He was a truly man ahead of his time and, at least in his case, the public now recognizes him a literary master, although the man himself was never able to know that his efforts would one day be rewarded.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hula Goes There

Magnet # 91: Hawaiian Hula Dancer

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Dad

The 18th Annual World Invitation Hula Festival begins today in Honolulu. Professionals from 16 different countries, including unlikely locales like France, India, and Mexico will be performing for three days. There are plenty of chances to win, as awards are made in 14 different categories.

The hula dance is a longstanding tradition in Hawaii, going as far back as Polynesian times. It accompanies a mele, a song or chant, and it dramatizes the music. Nowadays, the dances fall into two categories - ancient hula, or kahiko, was developed before European settlers came to Hawaii, and 'aunana, more modern versions that include a Western influence.

The hula can be secular, but there are also sacred versions that are used to honor the gods. Pele, Hawaii's most famous goddess, who reigns over its volcanoes, has hula dances all her own, most of which involve a great deal of wild gesticulation in keeping with her fiery nature. One legend tells that Pele danced the first hula to celebrate escaping her sister, Namakaokaha'i, the ocean goddess, when she found a chain of islands and was able to leave the oceans. But another tale credits Hi'iaka, the goddess of hula dancers, with its creation. She is also the patron goddess for Hawaii and the favorite sister of Pele, although their natures are completely opposite. Hi'iaka is known for her gentle, compassionate ways. When her family fled from Tahiti to Hawaii, Hi'iaka was not yet born, and Pele carried her there in an egg form, never letting go of her. There is a popular Hawaiian myth that tells of the one time these sisters quarreled. Pele had fallen for a Hawaiian chief named Lohiau and wanted one of her sisters to bring him to her. All but Hi'iaka, the youngest, refused. Pele demanded that she return with the chief in 40 days, and that she never embrace him or try to steal him for herself. Hi'iaka agreed, but had one request for Pele, however: that in her absence, she guard Hi'iaka's sacred grove, which she loved more than all else, and protect her best friend, Hopoe, who lived there with her. Eager to have Hi'iaka on her way, Pele agreed.

Hi'iaka had own own oddessy ahead of her, filled with fierce battles with monsters and demons. And the one companion she had abandoned her along the way. Finally, she reached Lohiau, only to find that he had perished of a broken heart while waiting for Pele. She was able to bring him back to life, but the delay cost her dearly. As Hi'iaka was returning home with Lohiau, fighting her growing feelings for the chief, Pele became convinced her sister had betrayed her and, enraged, wiped out her grove, killing Hopoe in the process. When Hi'iaka returned home, she was devastated by this loss, and finally gave into her feelings for Lohiau. Pele caught them, and once again brought forth her lava, killing Lohiau a second time. Once again, Hi'iaka was able to resurrect him. Finally, Pele was able to calm down and give the couple her blessings. By then, she had become infatuated with another man, anyway...

I'm not sure if there is a hula dance depicting this ancient Hawaiian legend, but there are certainly no shortage of dances to honor both Pele and Hi'iaka. You never know, one might be performed this weekend at the festival. It could even be a winning choice for one of the teams of dancers. After all, you can never go wrong siding with the gods, right?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hail to the General


Magnet # 90: Patton Museum, Fort Knox, Kentucky

Material: Ceramic

Purchased By: Me

Well, we're going from one end of the spectrum to the other on birthdays. George S. Patton III was born on this day in 1885. I guess you can say both he and Neil Gaiman are hardworking, decicated, and celebrated men, but I'm not sure if they have much else in common.

Patton came from a distinguised line of soldiers that went back as far the Revolutionary War and included a Governor of Viginia. Early on, he was entralled by the stories his father told about his friend, John Singleton Mosby, a well-known cavalry leader for the Confederacy. Before long, he had decided he wanted to become a general when he grew up. To that end, he attended West Point, and, surprisingly, he even competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, where he finished fifth overall. His best peformance was as an equestrian and he did some fine pistol shooting, but there was a controversy that cost him in that competition. But because of his performance there, Patton gained a certain degree of respect. When he later participated in the first armored vehicle attack ever against Pancho Villa's men, killing two of his leaders, he gained fame throughout the United States. He rose through the ranks during World War I, narrowly surviving one battle when he was wounded and another soldier saved him. They were the only survivors. When the war was over, Patton continued to write articles to further his career. He met Dwight D. Eisenhower during this time, and was even assigned to Hawaii, where he was in charge of the islands' defences. And yes, he developed plans for a possible air raid on Pearl Harbor more than ten years before the Japanese attack there.

When the United States entered World War II Patton, by then a Major General, first led troops in North Africa. He was known for implementing strict discipline on his men, even fining them when they fell short. But it did help them to survive. Patton soon became Lieutenant General and led an invasion of Sicily. He and his men liberated the city, but a personal mistake on Patton's part almost ended his career when he slapped a wounder soldier in a hospital. The man was suffering from shell shock, and Patton was unable to tolerate what he deemed to be cowardice. When a reporter revealed this incident to the entire nation, Eisenhower stripped him of his command, but kept him in Europe for tactical reasons. By this time, the Nazis were well aware of Patton and thought he would lead the troops in a full-scale invasion against them. He did not participate in D-Day at Normandy, but misled German intelligence into thinking it would occur at Calais. Patton was able to regain command after D-Day, eventually helping the Allies win the Battle of the Bulge, where he was given the nickname he hated: "Ol' Blood an' Guts." When the war was finally over, Patton had unknowningly had little time to enjoy his success. He was able to attend a Los Angeles parade in his honor and secretly donate an original copy of the Nuremburg Laws to the Huntington Library, but before the year was up, the General died of injuries from a car accident. Per his wishes, he was buried with his men at Luxomberg.

Nowadays, Patton's image has been shaped to a certain degree by the 1970 film about him (which I never have seen). He is portrayed as a tough General who indulged in profanities and demanded perfectionism. He was unable to take jokes about himself, and created a distinctive image, wearing high cavalry boots, a polished helmet, and carrying ivory handled, nickel-plated revolvers, all in the interest of impressing his men and their enemies. But Patton is not as harsh as some might portray him. He only fired one general during the entire war, a tiny number compared to some commanders. One fact some may not realize about Patton is that he was repsonsible for saving the Lipizzaner horses, a particularly majestic breed capable of performing elaborate manuevers, even leaping though the air. The General had already taken some of these horses under his protection, and when he learned others were in danger of being slaughered by the Soviet Army, which he hated, he helped evacuate them as well. This "Operation Cowboy" saved 375 Lipizzaners, and over one thousand horses in all. Some think that without Patton's involvement, these horses may have become extinct.

I got this magnet during my trip to Kentucky earlier this year. I wanted one from Fort Knox, and this was the closest I could find. The Patton Museum is in Fort Knox, and it has all sorts of armory and memoribilia from the General, even the car in which he was riding when the notorious accident occurred. We were headed to the airport, so I only got to see the outside and the gift shop, but even that was impressive. There was a tank outside and a helicopter positioned in the air at an angle to make it look like it was flying. And I think this magnet is pretty appropriate for a military museum - it's so utilitarian. I have to think the General himself would approve. Heck, I can even picture him ordering it up:

"Well just take the logo and put it on a square, soldier. Background? What do you need a background for - what's wrong with white! Don't give the text some stupid color - make it black, all caps. And none of that of that serif crap. Well, what are you waiting for? Move, move!"

Okay, maybe not. But it's good to see that Patton's memory lives on in our modern world. He accomplished quite a bit in his sixty years of life, and our military was undeniably shaped by his enthusiasm for armour and tanks. Could we have won World War II without his involvement? Perhaps, but I'm glad we'll never know for certain.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Good Times With Gaiman

Magnet # 89:  Seated Coraline

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

Happy Birthday to British sci fi and fantasy author Neil Gaiman, who was born on this day back in 1960. He created the comic book character Coraline, who is pictured on this magnet. Even though I still haven't seen the movie which was adapted from the comic, that didn't stop me from buying the last set of nine magnets from the movie when they were on sale at Hot Topic for two bucks. They had started at ten - I guess you can blame the magnet obsession. But I think I'll like the film, when I get around to seeing it. Now I just have to figure out how to post all of those magnets, and celebrating Mr. Gaiman's birthday is as good an excuse as any.

I've read a comic here and there written by Gaiman, but I'm not overly familiar with his work. In reading up on him for this post, I learned a few trivia facts that intrigued me. For example, he came from a family of grocers and pharmacists. I wonder where he got his incredible imagination from? Maybe it's just not inherited. His first book was, of all things, a Duran Duran biography - I never would have guessed. He also wrote a companion to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But one work of his I have read in its entirety is Good Omens, a comedy about the apocalypse he wrote in collaboration with Discworld author Terry Pratchett. Apparently, it started as a fun collaboration between the two, as they sent the story back and forth by disks, each adding on his own parts, and brainstormed by telephone.  They split the money evenly, and neither is quite sure exactly what parts he contributed.

I had never heard about Good Omens until a few years back when I met Lindsay at Mega Con. Her best friend Richard had accompanied her there and at dinner one night, he brought up the book. I admitted my ignorance, and by the end of the night, he'd presented me with his own copy. Apparently he had to buy the book quite often, as he was always passing it along to folks who had never read it. I guess he wanted others to share in the joy he'd experienced while reading it. Well, if anyone ever gives me a free book, I make a habit of reading it. I'd begun the book, but not yet finished it when, about a month later, Lindsay broke the awful news that Richard had died. He was just in his thirties when an aneurysm had burst in his brain. I was so shocked. Even though I'd only known him a few days, it was impossible not to think of Richard as I read the rest of the novel. I really would have enjoyed discussing it with him and telling him that it was a great read. But, I can at least carry on Richard's semi-cause and let others know what an interesting book this is. Like I mentioned earlier it's a comedy about the anti-Christ, a demon, an angel, and Armageddon. If you're easily offended, it might not be for you. But, if you have a twisted sense of humor and want an entertaining read, give Good Omens a try. It would've made Richard happy.

So, happy birthday, Mr. Gaiman - and many pleasant returns. Know that there are good folks out there whose lives you have truly touched with your writings.  And keep putting out more of the wonderful works you're known for, thus making your intense fan base giddy so that they continue to adore you, keeping you the "rock star" of the literary world.