Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Magnet # 230:  Historic Virginia Presidents

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

The long line of Presidents of the United States kicked off on this very day back in 1789, when George Washington was inaugurated at New York City's Federal Hall.  The beloved former planter and general was met by enthusiastic crowds along the route to the inauguration site, and by even more cheering masses when he arrived.  He took the oath of office on a second story balcony as the crowd looked on.  Washington was sworn in using a Masonic Bible that dated back to 1767.  We still have this book and several Presidents have chosen to use it in their inaugurations.  He later delivered his inaugural address to the Senate and it was 1419 words, but at his second inauguration, he gave the shortest inaugural address ever - a mere 135 words.  At his request, Barbados Rum was served, but there was no inaugural ball on that day when the Presidency began.  It wouldn't be introduced until James Madison took office in 1809.

Since that day, there have been 56 inaugural ceremonies and the oath of office has been taken 72 times.  Over the years, the inauguration process has grown and changed, but some traditions have remained. The outgoing President has almost always attended the inauguration of the incoming President except, of course, when the previous one has passed away. However, there have been four noteworthy exceptions - John Adams was not at Thomas Jefferson's inauguration, nor was his son John Quincy Adams at Andrew Jackson's. Andrew Johnson stayed away from that of Ulysses Grant's and Richard Nixon avoided Gerald Ford's inauguration. Sometimes, bad blood between the two individuals or bitter feelings in general accounted for these absences. One former President who probably really wished he could have skipped his successor's inauguration was Herbert Hoover, who took the blame for the Great Depression. But he still braved the bitter crowds, showing up for Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration and was rewarded by having to sit mute as he was one again criticized and his policies attacked before the nation.  Roosevelt had a great many positive attributes for which the country should be grateful - unfortunately, forgiveness wasn't always among them. 

Another inaugural tradition is that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court almost always administers the Oath of Office. On two occasions, this has been a former President, William Taft, the only President who has also been Chief Justice. He swore in Calvin Coolidge for his second term in office as well as Herbert Hoover and he is the only former President who has sworn in subsequent Presidents. Calvin Coolidge notably broke from tradition when he had his father, a notary public and Justice of the Peace, swear him in. As Vice-President, Coolidge had been visiting his family in Vermont when he learned of Warren Harding's sudden death and needed to be sworn in. This was the only time the Oath of Office has not been administered by a judge. Lyndon Johnson was the only President to be sworn in by a woman, U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Hughes, who performed the ceremony on Air Force One after Kennedy's assassination. The President has almost always placed his hand on the Bible while taking the oath, often open to a passage of his choice. We know of several times this has changed.  John Quincy Adams was sworn in with a book of U.S. law.  Also, when Vice-Presidents Chester Arthur and Theodore Roosevelt were sworn in after their respective Presidents were assassinated, they did not use a Bible.  Perhaps there was so much confusion at both times, it was simply forgotten.  This must have also been the case with Lyndon Johnson, when he was forced to use a missal rather than a Bible on Air Force One.

The office of the President is another creation of the United States that has worked so well it has been utilized by a considerable amount of other nations.  Ideally, it has allowed leaders to be voted in by the people based on their merit, not their birthright.  Of course, as we all know, this has not always been the case.  Truly, the history of the President of the United States has been a mixed bag, with examples ranging from men of vastly superior intellect and character to those who are questionably competent.  But we have had some great Presidents in our country's past, beginning on that April day in 1789, and I really hope there are more great ones in our future.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Big Times on the Bayou

Magnet # 229: Sights of Louisiana

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  The Bray Family

Louisiana celebrates the anniversary of its statehood tomorrow.  Ever since it was added to the Union, it has become an important shipping center of the South and is of great importance because it is includes the delta of the Mississippi.  With its connections to nations such as France and Haiti, the state has a feel that sets it apart from the rest of the nation, making it irresistible on screen, in print, and, of course, in person.

Although the French were the first to settle Louisiana, the Spanish were actually the first Europeans to reach the area. However, after two initial expeditions, they had little interest in that part of the New World, which suited the French just fine. They claimed the area, with their holdings stretching all the way north to Canada and west to the Dakotas and began to build a commercial empire there. While Mobile and Biloxi were the first capitols of the French territory, they soon centered their attention on New Orleans when they realized how important control of the Mississippi River was for trading. Yet after losing wars with both Great Britain and Spain, the French were forced to give up their holdings in the Louisiana Territory. It was during this time that French settlers from Canada traveled down to live in the Spanish part of the territory after the British gained control of their lands in Acadia and forced them out. They settled in what came to be known as Acadiana and their descendants are the Cajuns that are now so prevalent in Louisiana. France was soon able to take back what they had lost to the Spanish, thanks to a not-so secret treaty made by Napoleon Bonaparte. And when the United States finally won their independence from Britain, they received their holdings in the Louisiana Territory, but they also wanted the French lands. They knew having control of the Mississippi River was critical and they didn't want to have a major European nation bordering them, if possible. It was then that President Thomas Jefferson directed Robert Livingston, the United States' Minister to France, to buy New Orleans and some of the surrounding area. He was authorized to spend up to 2 million dollars. However, when Spain threatened to effectively close the port of New Orleans to the United States, Jefferson grew even more concerned and sent James Madison to meet with Bonaparte himself, giving him up to 10 million dollars to spend. But the French Foreign Minister caught Monroe and Livingston off guard, asking what they were willing to pay for the entire Louisiana Territory. The pair, concerned that Bonaparte might change his mind, acted quickly and without Jefferson's consent, paying around $15 million for all of the land. Jefferson was shocked when he heard of the deal and though he had his concerns about it, he nonetheless backed it, getting Congress to ratify the treaty. As Spain had never officially handed over the land, a lowering of that land's flag and raising of the French one was necessary before the American flag could be raised at New Orleans the next day. In one move, the United States doubled in its size.  After then, the United States divided off most of what would become the state of Louisiana into the Territory of Orleans.  Later, more land was added to the territory when settlers in Florida revolted against Spain and James Madison was able to take land in as far west as Louisiana, claiming it was part of the Louisiana Purchase.  The area finally became the 18th state in 1812, nine years after the Louisiana Purchase was made.

Louisiana is pretty close to my homestate of Alabama, so I've been there a fair amount of times over the years, if only passing through on the way to Texas most of the time. The two Louisiana cities I've spent the most time in are New Orleans and Shreveport, which have very different vibes. New Orleans is, of course, one of the most distinctive cities in the United States, with its historic French-style buildings and lively atmosphere. Or course, with its above ground cemeteries and links to voodoo, it's also a somewhat creepy destination. I've been there a couple of times on trips with my family. In fact, I distinctly remember staying in a very tall hotel that overlooked the Superdome when I was growing up. I thought it was a very pretty place and, with its squares, it's a little like my current city of residence, Savannah. I don't have many souvenirs from there, and considering the French Quarter and Upper Bourbon Street are well-known for being tourist traps, I'd definitely like to check them out again. Who knows how many magnets I could find there! Shreveport, on the other hand, is a much quieter, less flashy city. We've visited some extended family there and it's a nice place. I wouldn't say it has a very strong Louisiana feel - it's pretty close to Texas and Arkansas and I don't think there are any swamps, for which the state is known, in the area. In fact, when my relatives went out in search of magnets there for me, all they could find at first were ones from Texas - funny, eh? But it is also a very nice place - I'd day it has more of a Southern feel to it, while New Orleans is Southern with a French twist.  They're both great places and are worth seeing if you haven't been to them yet.

With its swamps and bayous, alligators, ties to voodoo, and largest city, Louisiana has a feel all its own.  It even has one of the more notorious state capitols in the nation.  Its skyscraper of a capitol in Baton Rogue was built by the notorious Huey Long and it's also where the kingpin was gunned down and where he's buried.  And, of course, it's also home to Plantation Alley, a route between Baton Rogue and New Orleans featuring about 30 stunning antebellum mansions.  There is plenty to be seen in the Pelican State, and I know it's just a matter of time before I'm there again.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crossing the Old Line

Magnet # 228:  Map of Maryland

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Me

Maryland celebrates its anniversary of being the 7th state added to the United States in 1788 today. Yep, it was one of the 13 originial colonies and, unlike the rest, it was intended to be a haven for Catholics in the New World. The Spanish were the first Europeans to arrive in the area, and John Smith was the first explorer from England to venture there. It was the second Lord Baltimore of England who sent the first major group of settlers to the area and although most of them were Protestants, Catholics were elevated to the highest positions of authority. Also, a great deal of convicts were shipped to the colony. Conflict broke out when Puritans began coming to the area from Virginia after it made Anglicanism its official religion. Eventually, they revolted against the ruling Catholics, beating them on the battlefield and outlawing the practice of Catholicism in the colony, a law that would stand until 1776. Wealthy Catholics had to worship in secret and many of that faith's churches were burned down. Maryland also found itself in conflict with Pennsylvania over just where that colony ended. Charles II's attempt to settle it didn't work, and the two colonies went to war in the 1730s.  Finally, King George II managed to arrange a cease-fire between the colonies.  Both sides agreed to have a survey made to establish the line.  The Mason and Dixon's Line, named for the two surveyors, finally resolved the feud. Maryland didn't see much action during the Revolutionary War, but in the War of 1812 several battles took place in the new state, including the British naval attack at Fort McHenry.  The Americans won this fight, which inspired the creation of "The Star-Spangled Banner."  It would go on to become the national anthem while Maryland developed into an important center for industry and shipping.  Its residents are some of the wealthiest in the nation and Baltimore's harbor is one of the country's largest.  Life seems to be going well for the Old Line State.

I've been to Maryland a few times over the years, including a couple of times with my family when I was growing up. And, of course, last year I ventured up there on my own during my Mid-Atlantic trip. I stayed the the state's two largest cities, Annapolis and Baltimore and had pretty different experiences in each. What can I say, I loved the laid back, down-home feel I experienced in downtown Annapolis. I was able to stay at a really nice, historic hotel that was a brief walk away from Chesapeake Bay and the State Capitol. I also felt very safe as I made my way there from shop to shop, thrilled with the many souvenir stores I found. And yes, this magnet was purchased at one of them. Baltimore was another story. I'm not a big fan of huge, industrialized cities and I did get a little nervous about it from the very beginning. And when someone warned me about how dangerous the city could be, I only got more cautious, but perhaps that's good, as my stay there was a safe one. I did stay at a nice, very large hotel with a great shuttle service and, thanks to it, I was able to see one of Baltimore's biggest tourist destinations - the Inner Harbor. This was one place that felt much safer than the rest of the city - there was a visible police presence and it made me breathe a little easier. And I did encounter some very friendly folks in Baltimore. I'm not sure if I'd go there again, but I did have a good time all in all. It might be that big cities are just not a great fit for me. I even got to see another part of Maryland on my trip over to Delaware. As soon as I crossed Chesapeake Bay, I was on what's referred to as the Eastern Shore of the state. From what little I saw, that part is pretty densely populated and filled with farms. It was a rather scenic drive, as the leaves were changing for fall. I even saw a pumpkin patch, but I'm not sure if it was in Maryland or Delaware at the time. There's much fewer people on that side of the state and traffic on the road was light - a welcome break from what I'd experienced on I-95. It was nice to get a view of that part of the state, if only to compare it to the busier cities of Maryland.

There is truly a great deal to be seen in Maryland, and I imagine I'll be back there someday.  I'd still like to see Fort McHenry near Baltimore and Assateague Island off its coast sounds like an interesting place.  It's home to rather small herd of wild horses that have lived there since the 1600s.  It's also a great place to see a large amount of very interesting birds, like kestrels, merlins, ospreys, and even bald eagles.  And let's face it, I can never have my fill of the delicious blue crabs for which Chesapeake Bay is so famous.  Someday, I'll make it back to the Old Line State - fortunately, I have plenty of magnets from there to tide me over until them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

United They Stood

Magnet # 227:  Map of Australian States

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Patrick

Today, Australia and New Zealand join together in observance of Anzac Day. Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, so clearly this is a military holiday and it's one of the most solemn and spiritual observance in either country's calendar. It dates back to April 25, 1915 when a united force from the two countries joined with the Allies in storming the Gallipoli peninsula, in the hopes of ultimately taking control of Constantinople. This was the first major military action fought by Australia and New Zealand during World War I, and it was of great importance to them. Australia had only been a federal commonwealth for 13 years at the onset of the war, and they wanted to prove themselves on the field of battle to gain respect from other nations. However, taking control of Constantinople and removing the Ottoman Turks from the conflict proved to be an impossible task. A stalemate soon developed between the two powers that would drag on for eight months before the Allies retreated, having lost over 220,000 soldiers. Yet, the Turks suffered even more casualties, and the Australian and New Zealander soldiers were proud of their actions during the campaign. They claimed to have forged what came to be known as the "Anzac legend," a fierce sense of unity and brotherhood in the face of the enemy. They believed they shared certain characteristics such as endurance, bravery, friendship, good humor, and perhaps most important, a certain mocking irreverence of authority and a disdain for social etiquette. They rejected the staunch behavior and rigidly marked class distinction the British fighters exhibited and maintained a sense of equality and brotherhood that was critical to their survival and followed them back to their respective nations. To these soldiers, it didn't matter so much that their mission failed - what happened between them as they stood against their enemy was of the greatest importance.

By 1916, Australia and New Zealand had officially named April 25 Anzac Day and were honoring their soldiers with services, marches, and ceremonies. One of the most distinguishing gatherings on Anzac Day would become the dawn services.  These were introduced in the 1920s when returning soldiers wanted a way to recapture the camaraderie they experienced in the final peaceful moments before morning broke and they attacked the enemy.  In those times, the half-light of dawn was considered one of the best time to strike.  At the dawn ceremonies, veterans would stand at attention and observe a moment of silence before a lone bugle began to play.  It was a very simple, solemn occasion.  But, as time passed, both Anzac Day and the dawn services have changed.  After World War II, Anzac Day has become a time to commemorate all soldiers who have fought and died for Australia and New Zealand, as well as other countries.  While it almost faded completely from public attention after Australia became involved in the Vietnam War, future generations have revived the holiday and it has become very popular with the young, bringing in record crowds with each passing year.  However, the ceremonies are also a bit rowdier and more involved as they used to be, with even rock-style concerts held in conjunction with the festivities.  Those participating in the dawn services might indulge in a 'gunfire breakfast' after the ceremonies, a mix of coffee and rum that is said to be similar to what the soldiers drank before battle.  And the services have added prayers, addresses, laying of wreaths, and the playing of national anthems.  Although Anzac Day may have changed over the decades, it's nice to see that it is still in existence and more popular than ever, continuing to bind together the nations of Australia and New Zealand, strengthening the ties that were formed on the shores of Gallipoil.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting the Boot

Magnet # 226:  Map of Italy

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Dad

Italy celebrates its Festa della Liberazione, or Liberation Day, today.  It's one of the most popular holidays in the nation and nearly all businesses, public offices, and even forms of public transportation are shut down to celebrate.  This event dates back to 1945, when dictator Benito Mussolini was finally removed from power.  Within days, he was executed and his body, along with those of other leading Fascists, was displayed in a piazza where 15 anti-Fascists had been executed.  By doing so, they made their message clear - Mussolini's Fascist Party had come to an end in Italy, and better times were ahead for the country.  The Italian's relief was so great, they are still celebrating 65 years later with parades, concerts, speeches, and other events in just about every town in the nation.  And those who were victims of the Nazis and members of the Italian Resistance are held in particularly high regard, along with soldiers.

Although the areas which now make up Italy have been settled for thousands of years, the Italian nation we are all familiar with didn't exist until 1861.  After the fall of Rome, areas of the region slowly began to break apart into city-states, each having their own identity in matters such as currencies and armies.  Many of these city-states, such as Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Milan, became very wealthy and successful, with their own distinctive feel.  In them, art, science, architecture, food, and literature flourished, particularly during the Renaissance.  But because they were not unified, these city-states also became attractive to invaders.  For many years, France and the Holy Roman Empire competed for control of Italy and later, Spain and Austria both waged war in the city-states.  And after the French Revolution, the idea of a unified Italy began to gain popularity among the populace.  Thanks to Napoleon, however, part of the northern territories came under French rule for just under two decades.  From this, representative assemblies were established and even more Italians longed to see a united country.  But Austria still had control over part of the area, and revolutions began to break out.  In Venice, Rome, and Tuscany, the citizens declared republics.  However, Austria soon took back control of what it had lost.  Most Italians soon realized that they wanted to be unified under the King of Sardinia, and its Prime Minister, Count Cavour played a key role in making that happen, creating an alliance with France that led to Austria being expelled from the area. And when Giuseppe Garibaldi and his army of red shirts, defeated the Kingdom of Naples for control of Sicily, it was available to be added to what would become the Kingdom of  Italy in 1861.  Yet challenges still lay ahead for the unified country, such as money troubles and a lack of industrialization.  And before they had even celebrated 100 unified years, Mussolini nearly tore Italy apart, bringing it to fight on the side of the Axis Powers and killing thousands of Italians.  But when he was gone, the country was able to become a republic, moving forward to better times.

The Republic of Italy was a long time in the making, and its citizens have much to be grateful for and proud of.  It's one of the most beautiful places in the world, and is one of Europe's leading tourist destinations, drawing in millions of visitors each year.  With its rich history that includes the ruins of Rome and Pompeii, and historic sites in Florence and Venice, the country is a fascinating look back at human history.  And it has some of the best foods and wines of any country, along with stunning works of Renaissance art.  The one thing that's surprising about Italy is that nearly everyone who travels there says it really is as great as it is said to be.  I've never seen it for myself, but I'd certainly like to someday - how could I not want to see Venice, where my favorite movie of all time, Dangerous Beauty was filmed?  Until then, I'll have to take nearly everyone else's word on just what a great place Italy is.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Support Your Local Comic Shop

Magnet # 225:  DC's Finest

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

So have you got any plans for next Saturday?  If you don't, and you'd be interested in scoring some comic books for free, you're in luck.  The ninth annual Free Comic Book Day is being held all around North America and countries all over the world in just one week on May 1.

Free Comic Book Day was dreamed up by Joe Field, the owner of Flying Color Comics in Concord, California.  He introduced it to the masses with an article in the August, 2001 issue of Comics & Games Retailer magazine.  In less than a year, the first Free Comic Book Day was held on the first Saturday in May, and it's been scheduled then ever since.  Over 2000 comic book stores in more than 30 countries joined in, and the event met with great success.  Thanks to the coordination of Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest distributor in the comic industry, comic publishers were able to sell comics to stores for between 12 and 50 cents apiece.  By giving these away at no cost, the stores have drawn in crowds of enthusiastic potential customers.  And as the popularity of comic book superheroes has grown on the big screen with films like Iron Man, Hellboy, and The Dark Knight, it's only brought more attention to the industry and more interest to an event that gives comic away for free.  In fact, sometimes Free Comic Book Day is specifically tied in with a recent superhero film release at the theater, like last year's X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  To date, more than 15 million comics have been given away.

Quite a few less independently owned comic book stores have closed over the past 15 years, and Free Comic Book day has been an important part of keeping more shops open.  As anyone who is familiar with comics can tell you, these stores are the best places to find local comic book experts - people don't get jobs at these places unless they're really into the industry.  Here, you can almost always find really nice, very knowledgeable owners and employees who can help you pick out the right stories and characters to match your interests.  They're also a great place for comic book fans to gather, and sometimes, they even set up places for them to play comic related games.  So it's definitely in the industry's best interest to keep these shops around.  And if you're wondering if any of your local shops are participating in Free Comic Book Day, just visit http://www.freecomicbookday.com/ to find out.  There are a wide variety of comic genres available, from traditional superheroes like Iron Man and Superman to more edgy and independent comics and even kid-friendly books like Archie, Toy Story, and Shrek.  And some comic book stores are even holding signings by popular comic book creators.  Stan "The Man" Lee, creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, and many other Marvel heroes, will even make an appearance at a Pasadena, California comic book shop.  So, whether you're a longtime comic book fan or are interested in giving them a try, this might be a great day to stop by a local store and see what all the fuss is about.  You may even find yourself going back time and time again.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ode To the Bard

Magnet # 224:  William Shakespeare Caricature

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Today is widely believed to be the day William Shakespeare was born in 1564. Even more interesting, it was definitely the day on which he died in 1616. Not many people have the claim of being born and dying on the same day in different years, but the Bard is certainly exceptional in many regards and I wouldn't put it past him. All in all, he produced some of the greatest writings ever during his 52 years and as long as the human race continues, he'll be with us.

The hardest part of writing about Shakespeare isn't deciding what to put in - it's in figuring out what to narrow it down to.  One fact about his plays that surprised me in when I studied his work in depth in college is that he almost never came up with the original story for any of his plays - he pretty much always borrowed from sources such as history, short stories, and legends.  Works such as Hamlet, Othello, Twelfth Night, and The Winter's Tale were all inspired by other sources, but The Tempest seems to have been an original story.  And even if Shakespeare didn't create most of these stories himself, he certainly did more with them than anyone else ever had or would.  His characters are more well developed than nearly all others in literature.  Shakespeare was a master of the human nature and was able to create realistic, sympathetic individuals, many of whom have stood the test of time.  In fact, his understanding of the psyche was so great that his work not only influenced later writers, but it also inspired psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud.  And even when Shakespeare tackled the same subject as other writers, he always made it his own.  For example, plays of Julius Caesar were very popular during his time.  But he made one twist to his Julius Caesar that the others never did and, making his version better than the rest - while others focused on Caesar, Shakespeare made Brutus the center of his play, and it gave it an emotional drama that made it great.  Shakespeare also took women, who were often looked down upon in dramas, and made them intelligent and powerful in his work, like Portia in The Merchant of Venice, who solves the play's great dilemma, an act none of the men were capable of.  And in that same play, he even portrayed a Jew in a manner that was far less vile than other writers of that time allowed them, giving Shylock, the villain, a moment when he is sympathetic, mourning the loss of a trinket he once gave to his now deceased wife.  But, of course, his talent extended much further even than that - Shakespeare was a master wordsmith capable of creating colorful lines that are still quoted around the world.  He would also, on occasion, build his plays upon a very simple notion, such as the question mark with Hamlet.  And in two of his other tragedies, he sought to stress that when the home not in the man's control, it falls apart.  Macbeth illustrates what happens when the wife takes control while King Lear reveals how children can destroy their father's kingdom.  Really, there are so many twists and layers to Shakespeare's plays that the details he has hidden in them are almost endless.

One incident amused me when I took a course on Shakespeare's tragedies on college - nearly all of my classmates held the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in complete contempt.  And, yes, I was among them.  Although some consider it the greatest love story of all time, all of us tended to think of it as two stupid teenagers in lust.  I guess I'm part of a pretty cynical generation.  But, let's face it - Romeo started off the play smitten with another woman, whom he completely forgot about it when he saw Juliet at a party he'd snuck into to see the other girl.  And she fell for him right away.  They had hardly any conversations, knew almost nothing of value of one another, and, yet, were willing to kill themselves when faced with the possibility of living without one another.  I think if they'd been able to stay married, they might have figured out they had nothing in common and gone on to loathe one another as they got older and their good looks faded.  But that's just my take.  However, Shakespeare was certainly capable of creating mature, compatible couples and making the audience care about their romance, as with Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Viola and Orsino in Twelfth Night, and Kate and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew.  And I'm sure there are those that love Romeo and Juliet, but clearly it's not as popular as it's often made out to be.

Even thought so much of Shakespeare's work is still with us, we certainly know very little of the personal life of this writer and actor from Stratford-upon-Avon.  All of his direct line died out not long after he was gone, and there are those who are left doubting that a man from what was basically a middle class family was capable of writing some of the greatest works of all time.  They hold that they were written by an educated individual of high social standing.  Sounds a little snobby to me, and perhaps even a little like sour grapes.  One person that has been suggested of writing Shakespeare's works is Sir Francis Bacon.  But no serious Shakespearean scholar has ever believed these claims and Peter Pan writer James Barrie might have put it best when he said that if Bacon hadn't written the works, "he missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime."  Now that it's almost 400 years after his death, we know we'll never solve this mystery once-and-for-all, so perhaps our efforts should be put to a more rewarding endeavor - reading and enjoying the works of this genius, that rank among the greatest in history and will outlast us all.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Green

Magnet # 223: Jane Starr Weils' Baby Owl

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

All around the world, people are celebrating Earth Day. The very first Earth Day took place on this day back in 1970, which makes this the observance's 40th anniversary. Over time, the number of participants has increased from those 20 million orginial Americans to over a billion nowadays.

If you read my post about Arbor Day a couple weeks back, you may have noticed that, for some time, it was celebrated on April 22 in Nebraska. So, yes, Earth Day did basically commandeer that day, eventually overshadowing the previous observation around the world. Earth Day was the creation of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who wanted to bring attention to some of the public's growing discontent over environmental issues. He chose April 22 for the celebration because it did not fall during Spring Break time or exams, and he thought it would be more possible for students to join in during that time. Also, Easter and Passover would have both ended, but there would still be pleasant Spring weather. Unfortunately, the April 22 he chose in 1970 just happened to be the 100 anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's birth, and it caused some to think it was a covertly communist gathering. It's a shame Senator Nelson didn't hold it one day earlier, as April 21 is the great naturalist John Muir's birthday - I'm not sure if there's anyone better suited to share a birthday with Earth Day. Plus, connecting Earth Day and Arbor Day might have been an even better way to gather attention for both observations. Nonetheless, millions gathered that day at what was known as National Environment Teach-In, an event that Senator Nelson had modeled after Vietnam War protests. The name of the celebration didn't stick, but the message did, growing more powerful with each annual observance. Earth Day is now one of the most popular non-religious events worldwide.

So how can you participate in Earth Day, if you're so inclined? Well, there are plenty of ways - so many I'm not going to even try to list them all here. But taking to heart the three Rs - renew, reuse, recycle - is a good start. There is so much that we simply throw away every day that we might be able to find a new use for. And if your area offers recycling collection along with trash, that is an excellent opportunity to not let all of your garbage go to waste. Even if it doesn't, some stores, like Publix, have recycling bins on site where customers can drop off products like egg crates and plastic bags. So if you plan ahead, you can get your groceries and drop off your recycling all at once. Of course, that can help save gas, another plus for the environment. Another benefit of conserving and recycling is that it often coincides with methods to save money, so it can be beneficial to your wallet. And who doesn't want to save a little extra money in this economy? If you'd like some more ideas to apply to your everyday life, check out http://www.squidoo.com/recycling-daily-tips. I don't think this lovely image by Jane Starr Weils is supposed to actually be one of Mother Earth, but when I look at it, I tend to think of the central figure in that manner. She has such a serene, benevolent appearance that it's hard not to see her as some sort of protector of the forest. And both the trees and the little owl in the picture are good reminders of the plant and animal life that is at stake if we don't step up to improve our environmental conditions. If you'd like to see more of her stunning work, her website is http://www.janestarrweils.com/. And don't forget to keep the Earth in mind - it's been here for us for quite a few years, and it's on all of us to keep it around for many, many, many more to come.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Diver Down

Magnet # 222:  Florida Seahorse

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

Comic artist and creator Michael Turner was born on this day in 1971. Unlike nearly every professional in the comic industry, Turner didn't grow up dreaming of getting a job in comics. Instead, he was very active (another quality perhaps uncommon in the industry) and rose to the level of instructor in martial arts and won awards water skiing. He studied to be a doctor, but a family friend turned him onto the possibility of being a comic book artist. Turner had taken an art class in high school, and drew for fun, but this advice changed his life. In 1993, he put together a small portfolio, attended the San Diego Comic Con, and was able to impress Mark Silvestri, a popular comic artist who owned a studio, Top Cow. Silvestri bought him on board and starting teaching him to draw. When he asked him to render a building, the results were awful, but when he gave Turner a picture of a building to reference, the change was dramatic. In fact, it was more than Silvestri would have expected from a seasoned professional. Soon, Turner was providing backgrounds on Top Cow comics and taking a shot penciling at a few issues. But his big break came in 1995 when Witchblade, the comic series he was chosen to pencil, hit the stands. It was a huge hit and it catapulted Turner to comic book stardom. Because he hadn't studied comics his entire life, his artistic style was different from those in the industry and it set him apart. Turner had an elegant, detailed style that almost seemed a little like fantasy art. Plus, he drew very hot women very well, an important quality for the predominately male comic book audience. Before long, he was creating his own comic, Fathom, and making it a hit. For this project, he drew from his love of the ocean. Turner was an avid diver and used his trips under the surface to gather inspiration for the book. And he'd often hide a seahorse he dubbed Ernie in his images, so I thought this would be an appropriate magnet for the post.

All in all, Turner seemed to be on the top of the world , so it was a shock to him and the comic book community when he went to the hospital after a sports injury in 2000 only to find out that he had chondrosarcoma, a form of cancer, in his pelvic bone. He soon underwent surgery to remove part of his pelvis, a hip, and about three pounds of bone. Even in the hospital, Turner continued to draw and when he was released, in a wheelchair and crutches, he kept attending comic book conventions and getting out on the water when he could. He also underwent chemotherapy and it seemed his cancer was gone for good. I admit, over the years I stopped paying as much attention to comics as I did fantasy art and wasn't really keeping up with Michael Turner. But I was still stunned when I was opened up an issue of Entertainment Weekly in 2008, only to find Turner listed among the obituaries. Although he had fought the best he could, his cancer finally got the best of him. I wasn't surprised, but I was still saddened. I had always thought over the years, I'd be able to meet Turner or at least get to see him at a convention. From what I'd heard, he was a really nice guy. Everyone in the industry said this and I even met fellow fans who talked about just how likeable he was when they met him. In fact, part of the reason Mark Silvestri kept Turner on even though he wasn't a trained artist was his affable personality. Plus, he was pretty darn cute - lots of girls liked him and, yes, I was one of them. I would have really liked getting a sketch from him. But I guess that will never happen now. Perhaps I should take that as a lesson at my future conventions.

Michael Turner may be gone, but he certainly did plenty with his 37 brief years. Even now, there are quite a few comic book artists who imitate his style. Fortunately, he left behind many stunning images for them to reference and the rest of us to enjoy. And it looks as though his creations will be introduced to mass audiences - both Witchblade and Fathom are scheduled to hit the big screen in the near future. By chance, Turner's life crossed paths with the comic book industry. In the beginning, it made him a star, but it looks like his work will have a lasting impact on the future of the industry, a fitting tribute to such a nice, talented, hard-working guy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

To Serve and Assist

Magnet # 221:  Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly Photo

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Here's a heads up to all of the bosses out there - tomorrow is Administrative Professionals Day. So if you haven't gotten a gift for your secretary, receptionist, or other assorted administrative employee, this would be a good time to go ahead and do so. Of course, if you don't want to buy flowers, candy, lunch or what have you for your assistant, you can always give them something technically free that should be appreciated - extra time off. There are few professionals who wouldn't enjoy an afternoon off, and many of them would probably pay their bosses back with extra productivity and loyalty. See, it's a win-win! So let those people go - for just half a day or so.

This observance has its origin in Administrative Professionals Week, which was first held in 1952. After World War II, there was an increased necessity to bring skilled professionals into the American workplace. And Harry F. Klemfuss, a publicist in New York, thought up the celebration to bring attention to the situation. He recognized the valuable contribution all of these women were making in the workplace (yep, they were pretty much all women back then) and thought it would be nice to acknowledge them and encourage others to join them in the office. With his public relations skills, he promoted the holiday, bringing the spotlight to both it and secretary's contributions. It's been held ever since and has come to be scheduled on the Wednesday of the second to last full week in April. A considerable amount of men have entered the field, making the male secretary a sought after status symbol in certain markets. And over the years, the amount of administrative professionals has only increased, as there are now over 4 million of them. So I guess there should be plenty of orders for flowers tomorrow, right?

The theme for this year's Administrative Professionals Day is "Power of Commitment." I'm not sure exactly what that is supposed to mean. Frankly, it sounds like the nutty sort of slogan that The Office's Michael Scott might dream up. And pictured on this magnet is his long-suffering receptionist Pam Beesley, portrayed by Jenna Fischer. Although it's been a challenge with her inept, offensive boss, she's managed to keep her cool, do her job, and even marry and start a family with her co-worker, Jim Halpert. Yep, Pam has definitely risen in the ranks to one of the best television administrative assistants. And she is definitely in good company. In the classic days of television, there were such competent, dedicated assistants as The Beverly Hillbillies' Jane Hathaway and Perry Mason's Della Street. Loni Anderson's talent at playing Jennifer Marlowe on WKRP in Cincinnati in the seventies made her a household name, although she didn't seem to do much work around the office. And even if they weren't on television, in the eighties, the office ladies of the hit film Nine to Five were an inspiration to women everywhere, as was Melanie Griffith when she played Tess McGill in Working Girl. Later, the disturbingly devoted Waylon Smithers, assistant to the insidious Mr. Burns on The Simpsons became a fan favorite. And more recently, assistants such as the snarky Lloyd on Entourage, the likeable lead of Ugly Betty, and the unforgettable Mad Men's Joan Holloway have become popular with television viewers. Of course, not every television office assitant has been a good one. Way back when, the not-so-motivated Lucy Carmichael of The Lucy Show, played by the great Lucille Ball, drove her boss to fire her every so often. Though she meant well, Moonlighing's Agnes DiPesto often caused more work for her bosses to fix her screw-ups. And who can forget the flat-out evil Mimi Bobeck of The Drew Carey Show, who spent more time tormenting others than anything else at work? I haven't manged to yet, but that hasn't stopped me from trying. Yep, television and the movies sure have provided us with plenty of memorable administrative assistants - it's a true lineup of the good, the bad, and the ugly (yes, Mimi - I'm talking about you).

So even if you aren't an office assistant, or don't have one to recognize tomorrow, there are still plenty of ways to join in the fun by watching one on the small screen. And if there is one at your office, don't forget to wish her (or him) a happy day. Not only is that polite, it's also smart. Secretaries and receptionists often see and hear plenty that other office denizens don't, and keeping yourself in their good graces could help you at your company. So get out there, find an administrative assistant or two, and treat them right - chances are, they've earned some recognition over the past year.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another Bite of the Bizarre

Magnet #220:  Malaysian Durian

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Marissa

In just one week, The Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern returns for its fifth season (yep, you know I'm pretty booked up for the rest of the month to post this early). I must admit, I've missed seeing Zimmern eat all of his crazy foods and am looking forward to finding out what's on his plate. This year, it looks as though the Travel Channel may try a new trick with the show- telling us what Zimmern is eating, but not where he is going. For the season premiere, he'll be in a Buddhist country eating silkworms and dancing shrimp.  Any guesses?

I don't always post twice for a television show or host on my blog, but in this case, I decided to make an exception. Thanks to a trade, I received this very cool magnet of the durian fruit from Malaysia. It looks pretty attractive here, but don't be fooled. Durian is just about the most notorious fruit on the planet and it's emerged as Zimmern's food nemesis. When he first tried it fresh off the tree in Asia, he gagged and said it tasted like "completely rotten, mushy onions." He later tried it in New York City, only to be beaten again. There are those that enjoy durian, but it seems many more loathe the fruit. The odor is so horrible that it has been banned from public places such as hotels, restaurants, and airplanes in parts of Asia. It has been likened to the scent of skunk spray, vomit, dirty gym socks, and sewage. Clearly, the odor has an unfavorable effect on the taste to many who try it and, like Zimmern, are unable to choke it down. In fact, from what I understand, the odor is actually worse than the taste. But the fruit does have its fans, like Zimmern's Travel Channel colleague Anthony Bourdain, who acknowledges that the taste is such that you will either love it or hate it and that the scent will leave your breath smelling like that of a corpse. And it is known as the "King of Fruits" both for its odor and its very threatening, thorny cover. Some claim that durian is better frozen, and its taste can be used in a variety of foods such as candy, smoothies, cappuccinos, and even Yule logs. I have never been in the presence of a durian, but I'm pretty certain if I had the opportunity to give it a taste, I'd pass. I'm inclined to try new foods, but I do have to draw the line sometimes.

Well, I'm not sure if the durian is on the menu again for this season, but I have no doubt that Zimmern should be able to try some equally challenging foods. He's always fun to watch and I'm excited about the season premiere. And, in other news, the Travel Channel's show Dhani Tackles the Globe returns tonight. While the host seems pretty likeable, I'm not really a fan of this program. As I've noted on here, I am not a big sports enthusiast and as the premise of this show is that he tries out often obscure sports around the world, I haven't been able to get into it. I really wish it were on one of the seemingly endless ESPN channels, where it would much more easily appeal to viewers, and something more interesting to the Travel Channel crowd aired in its place. But I guess no network is perfect. And with all sorts of shows to choose from, I will definitely be watching plenty more on the network, especially considering new Andrew Zimmern adventures will be airing soon. Just remember, as Zimmern would say - "If it looks good, eat it!"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Trails to a Legend

Magnet # 219:  Dallas Icon Letters

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Just a week ago, I woke up to news that saddened me - the iconic Texas Stadium was no more.  Apparently, this was basically old news to Cowboys fans or those who live in the Dallas Metroplex, but, in case you can't tell from my posts, I don't follow sports all that closely here in Savannah.  I'm surprised that it never came up in any conversations with my relatives who live there, but what can I say - unlike quite a few others, I was totally unaware that the stadium was scheduled to be destroyed.

Clearly, I am not a big fan of sports but the one team I always cheer for is the Dallas Cowboys.  I am nowhere near what you could call their biggest fan - if they played in the Super Bowl, I'd probably turn it on. I never really watch any of their games, but I do want them to win.  I guess the Cowboys are tied up in my love for Dallas, where pretty much all of my extended family has lived for decades.  Growing up, I gained an enthusiasm for America's Team.  And whenever we visited home, I always looked for three sites - Reunion Tower, Six Flags, and Texas Stadium.  Fortunately, Texas Stadium was just off the Interstate, so I pretty much got to see it on every trip.  But then, along comes Jerry Jones.  Like a cartoon villain, he fired the legendary Tom Landry, who had won the Cowboys two Super Bowl titles and gave them a 20 year winning streak, a record unmatched by any other team.  After further shaking up the management, the former oil monger and businessman had, in effect, taken all control over the country's greatest football team.  The Cowboys still managed to win three Super Bowls in the 1990s, but they have fallen a long way since the golden days of Landry.  And, like many others, I think that the team has more won in spite of Jerry Jones than because of him.  Jones soon turned his attention toward the historic Texas Stadium, in which the Cowboys had played since 1971.  Although this place was a beloved icon of Dallas - heck it's featured in the opening credits for the 80's television hit Dallas - it wasn't good enough for Jones.  He began planning the biggest and most expensive stadium in football history, one where he'd be able to have even more seats and sky boxes rake in the dough for him.  By 2006, construction on Cowboys Stadium began in Arlington, not Dallas or any of its suburbs.  I did drive out to the site with my family during its construction, but it just seemed like one more attraction sandwiched in with Six Flags, the Texas Rangers Ballpark, and even Hurricane Harbor across the Interstate.  At least its predecessor was set apart from everything else, a fitting tribute to the Cowboys.  And, yes, I was concerned about Texas Stadium, but from what I understood, it was still going to be used for high school and college football games.  Sure, it was old but I was still shocked that it was blown up.  They couldn't even turn it into a museum?  As you can tell from this blog, I love historic places and the stadium where Tom Landry coached and Cowboys greats like Roger Staubach, Randy White, Emmet Smith, and Troy Aikman all played definitely ranks as one.  It's a shame that future generations of Cowboys fans will never be able to set foot there.  I can't help but wonder if someday this won't be looked on as a really bad decision.  And the fact that the last game played at Texas Stadium and the first game played at Cowboys Stadium were both losses for the Cowboys has to make you wonder if this whole change hasn't been cursed from the beginning (okay, they won their first pre-season game there, but that doesn't really count).  Sure, it's state-of-the-art and impressive, but Cowboys Stadium has been another step towards taking the Cowboys away from their fans and making them more of a cash cow for Jones.  After all, who can really afford to pay $75 just to park to see the game ?  And that doesn't even count the tickets to see the game or any refreshments there.  Yep, the Cowboys may be America's Team, but thanks to Jones, less of America can afford to watch them in person these days.

I guess someday I'll get over the fact that Texas Stadium is gone and maybe even grow to accept its replacement.  But, for now, I'm going to stay miffed, and I know just where I can direct my ire.  Make no mistake Jerry Jones - you will be gone from the Cowboys someday and, unlike the great Tom Landry, nobody is going to miss you.  Personally, I'm looking forward to those days because the Cowboys will truly have a shot at becoming the undisputed greatest in all of America once again.  Perhaps then, Cowboys Stadium will be renamed Landry Stadium, as it ought to have been in the first place and you'll get a tribute worthy of your contribution - your name on a series of toilet stalls.  For better or worse, you're leaving your mark on the Cowboys but they are still America's Team and will continue to be once you're gone.  So here's to the Dallas Cowboys and seeing them back on top again - no matter where they play!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Saint Goes Marching On

Magnet # 218:  Biltmore Aerial Photo

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

It was on this day in 1920 that the long-suffering Joan of Arc finally received her due, almost 500 years after her horrible death at the hands of the English. At St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, in a grand ceremony, she was added to the cannon of saints.

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the story of Joan of Arc, the teenage peasant girl who believed she was hearing the voices of saints telling her to help King Charles VII drive the English out of France.  She convinced the King to allow her to command his troops to victory until she was captured and burned at the stake by the English for witchcraft.  She was so brave in the face of death that some started to believe she truly was a martyred saint.  But not everyone knows how the legend of Joan of Arc lived on.  Within 24 years, an ecclesiastical court retried her case at the insistence of her family and King Charles VII.  This led to Pope Callistus III declaring that Joan of Arc had been innocent and admonishing those who had killed her.  For awhile, she was beloved by many of France's citizens and writers and was considered to be a messenger from God.  But the English continued to revile her, and even Shakespeare himself disparaged Joan as a wicked, calculating tool of the Devil in his Henry VI, part I.  As time passed, Joan was forgotten in many parts of France, but in towns she had spent time, such as Orleans, which she'd freed from the English, she continued to be held in good esteem.  In fact, a procession in her honor was held there each year on May 8.  Over the years, Joan would appear in plays and poems, sometimes favorably, sometimes not, but during the French Revolution, attempts were made to destroy her legacy completely.  The leaders of the conflict had statues and crosses of the historic figure destroyed and the few personal articles she'd owned that were still left burned.  Thanks to their determination, Joan of Arc fell out of the public consciousness and could have been forgotten completely.  But it was not to be.  The story of Joan of Arc was brought back into the spotlight by, of all people, Napoleon Bonaparte.  He wanted a heroic folk figure to further his agenda, and Joan suited him perfectly.  Thanks to him, she became a national heroine and a recognized symbol of French patriotism.  From then on, she would remain beloved by the public.  Soon, the Catholic Church realized that Joan should indeed be considered for sainthood.  She was beautified in 1909 and made a saint just over a decade later.  Her feast now falls on May 30, when she was killed.  At last, this figure who had suffered the abandonment of a king to whom she was loyal, an unfair trial, and a gruesome death received the respect and adoration she had earned.

So just what does the Maid of Orleans have to do with this magnet from the Biltmore? Well, if you squint really hard, you might be able to see the two statues that are placed just outside the stairwell on the second story.  I didn't know about them before I was touring the house and was pretty jolted when I saw what almost looked like a person outside of the window out of the corner of my eye.  It turns out George Vanderbilt had wanted the statues of two French soldiers, one male, one female, placed there when he built the home.  He ended up choosing Louis IX for the male, but his choices of a female were obviously limited.  But at Biltmore and all over modern culture, Saint Joan lives on, an inspiration to patriots, feminists, and even those who are interested in the supernatural.  It's fitting that she has joined the ranks of the saints whom she once claimed spoke to her, and I hope her legend never fades away again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Magnet # 217:  Chinese Girl with Kite

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

With Spring finally making its way across most of the nation, I thought this would be a nice opportunity to remind everyone that this is prime kite flying time. I decided not to actually post this on Kite Flying Day, which occurs on February 8. Oddly enough, I didn't think anyone would take me seriously if I told them to bundle up in hat, coat, and mittens, trudge out into the snow, and fly a kite. Seriously, who puts a kite flying day in the dead of winter? At least they got National Kite Month right - it's in April. So now is the perfect time to take advantage of this fun family activity.

Kite flying dates all the way back to at least 200 B.C. China, where records tell of a general who flew a kite over the walls of an enemy city. By doing so, he was able to measure just how far his troops should dig a hole under the city. This creative innovation and the information it provided allowed his army to surprise their enemy and take control of the city. No one is quite certain who in the country actually invented the kite - stories range from a pair of philosophers to a farmer who tied a string to his hat to keep it from flying away in strong winds. But, in the country, which was filled with silk and bamboo, two supplies perfect for making kites, the activity really took off (no pun intended). Soon, it was being exported to nearby nations such as Korea and Japan, where it was believed to keep away evil spirits and bring good harvests. In Polynesia, they created their own myth for the creation of the kite - that two gods who were brothers introduced them to the mortal world when they had a contest over whose kite could go the highest. It was Marco Polo who finally introduced kite flying to the West. There, it continued to assist in wars, as it had for centuries, but it also began to be used in scientific experiments. Everyone knows the story of how Benjamin Franklin used a kite and a key to prove the lightning is indeed electricity, but Alexander Graham Bell also worked on creating kites that were capable of carrying humans. And the kite was very helpful to the Wright Brothers when they created the first working airplane. In fact, there was a golden age of kiting from about 1860-1910, when the devices were used to further such fields as aeronautics, meteorology, communications, and even photography. By the time World War I came around, kite technology had advanced so much that they were used to spy on enemies and signal allies. Of course, when the airplane came into widespread use, much of kite technology became obsolete, but it was still used to some degree in World War II. Nowadays, there are still some practical uses for kites, but most often, they are used for recreation.

Well, there really is one best way to celebrate National Kite Month - get out and start flying! You can make one yourself or buy it from the store. With the use of materials such as nylon and fibreglass, modern kites are even better than their predecessors. I haven't flown a kite in years, but I used to enjoy it when I was growing up. I remember flying a kite with my Dad at the park - I think it was one I'd made from a plastic garbage bag. It got really high and snapped, of course, ending up tangled in a very high tree across the street. I never saw it again. I'd also fly kites with my grandparents when they came to visit. It was nice to spend time with them. So if you've got any family nearby, taking them out for an afternoon of kite flying might be a fun idea. And if you're near the beach, you've got a great place to fly your kite.  Not only are the winds less likely to have up and down draughts, which can cause the kite to fly erratically, there are also not likely to be any trees to tangle up your kite.  And, no matter where you live, you can also see if there are any local kite flying festivals nearby.  Of course, if you want to go all out, there are now extreme activities that involve kites such as kite surfing, kite landboarding, kite buggying, and snow kiting. Personally, I think I'll leave those to the pros. I'm pretty sure I'd end up with broken bones if I tried any of those out.  But for some good old - or even ancient - fashioned fun, grab your kite, head outside, and watch it go up in the atmosphere.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Truly a Man of the People

Magnet # 216:  Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Photo

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Virginia, third President of the United States, father of the University of Virginia, and master of Monticello was born on this day in 1743. Over the next 83 years, he would go onto witness the birth of a nation and have the unique opportunity to greatly contribute to its development.  Even now, our nation still turns to Jefferson and the ideals he left behind to help determine our future.

Jefferson was born to a wealthy family in central Virginia.  By the time he was 14, his father had passed away and he was made head of his family.  He attended the College of William and Mary, which contributed greatly to his thinking, and became a lawyer upon his graduation.  He later married Martha Wayles Skelton and they had six children before she passed away.  It is said he won her over with his skill at the violin.  He never remarried - however, it seems almost certain that he had a very long affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, who gave birth to his children. Some even believe that she was the half-sister of his deceased wife, as Hemings' mother belonged to Jefferson's father-in-law and she was light-skinned and biracial.  Their relationship seems to have began when Jefferson served as minister to France.  By then, he had already served as a leader of the American Revolution, serving as the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence.  During the Revolutionary War, he did not participate in any fighting - apparently, that was one talent he didn't possess.  Instead, he worked as a lawmaker in Virginia, later becoming its Governor and a Congressman.  But after Jefferson returned from France, he truly rose to prominence on a national level, becoming Secretary of State for George Washington and John Adam's Vice President.  Although very often in his life he simply wanted to stay at his home and farm, staying out of the political arena, whenever his country called on him, Jefferson always rose to the occasion.  And in 1801, he was finally elected to the office of President.  He served two terms, trying to adhere to his belief that the government should not play a major role in the lives of its citizens.  Under his guidance, the United States Navy humbled the Barbary pirates in Tripoli, the Northwest Territory expanded rapidly, and the Louisiana Purchase was made.  In one move, Jefferson nearly doubled the nation's size.  He also had to deal with the fallout of his Vice President Aaron Burr killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel and keeping the young nation out of the war between Britain and France.  Finally, at the age of 65, he retired from the presidency.  In his later years, he stayed mostly at Monticello, giving advice to subsequent Presidents, creating inventions, and, most importantly, helping create the University of Virginia.  He passed away at Monticello on July 4, 1826 - 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was created.  Even more strange, John Adams, who had once been a rival to Jefferson, passed that same day, just a few hours after Jefferson.  In his last words, he remarked at his relief that Jefferson was still alive.  

One of Jefferson's greatest achievements in his personal life was the creation of his neoclassical mansion, Monticello, which still stands in Virginia. I was able to see it for myself last year, and I was very impressed. It's on the top of a mountain, and as I'm used to the flat Low Country of Savannah, the drive up was a little nerve-wracking. Even more incredible is the thought that so many antiques and building materials were carried up it by horse-driven wagons. And when I asked our guide how carriages could have made it up that mountain, he said we'd taken the easy route up! And, yes, the house is every bit as gorgeous as it looks on this magnet. True to Jefferson's character, it's filled with unusual, innovative details, such as beds that are tucked into nooks and staircases hidden away behind doors. He wanted to utilize as much space in his home as possible. Some of his unusual creations are still there, like his revolving book stand and automatic doors. And the grounds are equally impressive - I was one of the first ones there that morning and watching the Sun rise on Monticello's vineyards was stunning. Later, our guide pointed out a parting between the trees through which the University of Virginia is visible. And it was a very reasonable price to tour this landmark that's considered a place every American should see - I paid about twenty dollars. Later, when I bought this magnet and another in the gift shop, it was an interesting experience. I remember a nickel being among what I handed the cashier, which actually features an image of Monticello on the back. It's not often you have the opportunity to spend money at a place that's represented on it, buying an item with the same location on it! If you're able to see Monticello in person, I highly recommend it. It's also very close to two other historical landmarks - the Michie Tavern and Ash-Lawn Highland, the home of former President James Monroe. All in all, a trip to Monticello and nearby Charlottesville, Virginia is an excellent vacation for any history buffs out there.

There is no doubt that Jefferson had a considerable impact on the course of our country's history. Without him, would we have ever made the Louisiana Purchase, nearly doubling the size of the United States?  Would the Bill of Rights, which he championed, have never been passed without his insistence?   And would the nation's capitol have even been located in Washington D.C, a compromise he helped create?  One fact is certain - with his superior intellect and creative ability, there are many fields in which Thomas Jefferson would have excelled. Fortunately for all of us in the United States, politics received the majority of his attention.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Between the Lines

Magnet # 215:  Walt Whitman Caricature

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

National Poetry Month is held every April, so if you've been wanting an excuse to re-read some of your favorites, here's your chance. As monthlong celebrations go, this one is relatively young. It was created in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, who wanted to bring more attention to poetry in the modern world.

As far as American poets go, Walt Whitman, featured here, is one of the most popular. His collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass, which praised and delighted in the senses, gained him a great deal of attention in his day. Unfortunately, not all of it was positive as there was a good deal of sensuality in his writings, which many readers found obscene.  But he was also a proud American and praised his country and democracy.  He was an abolitionist who lived before and during the Civil War and it greatly influenced his work.  Whitman wrote several poems about the conflict and others mourning the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  He lived in New York City, where he enjoyed immersing himself in crowds of people and talking with them.  He was also friends with Bram Stoker, who corresponded with Whitman until his death and claimed he was the model for Dracula. But if Whitman's poetry doesn't appeal to you, there are plenty of other options.  Of course, I've mentioned another great American poet, Edgar Allen Poe, a few times on this blog. His dark, macabre poems are pretty much the opposite of Whitman's and they prove just how much variety can be found in the form. Other noteworthy American poets whose works are worthy of sampling include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, and Maya Angelou, to name a few.

And even though National Poetry Month was created by the Academy of American Poets, that's no excuse to exclude some of the talented poets from the other side of the Atlantic. One of my favorites is Robert Browning, an Englishman who wrote during the Victorian era. He is another writer who proves there really is no limit on what a poem can be. His most famous works are dark like Poe's, but they are dramatic monologues, a kind of poetry in which an individual reveals aspects of their character to the reader in relating past and present actions. Browning often chose to focus on figures of high social standing in these works, such as a duke, other members of the aristocracy, and even a monk. But many of his characters are morally reprehensible and involved in dark deeds, often murder. Reading as they try to justify their wicked acts is riveting - as with a train wreck, it's hard to turn away and these dramatic monologues make for insightful reads. And Browning was certainly familiar with dark individuals from his own life - his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the child of a tyrannical man who ruled over his 12 children with an iron fist, refusing to allow any to marry. And those who did, including Barrett Browning, were disinherited. Barrett Browning was another English poet of note, and she began publishing her work before her husband.  Her works are often sentimental and her collection, Sonnets from the Portuguese, consists of poems documenting her growing love for Browning.  And there are, of course, a great deal of talented English poets to choose from.  And with the country's long history, there have been many eras of great poetry, such as the Renaissance, Neoclassical times, and the Romantic era.  Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote Canterbury Tales, was one of the country's first great poets.  Later, the great Bard himself, William Shakespeare, rose to prominence, as did his contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and John Donne.  The Romantic times, which began in 1798 were considered a great age of poetry with poets such as William Wordsworth, William Blake, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelly.  And in Victorian times, the aforementioned Brownings were in the company of such greats as Christina Rossetti and Lord Tennyson.  And modern poetry has been produced in England by such great poets as W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot, who was born in the United States but went on to become a British citizen.  Clearly, the British Empire has consistently produced some of the world's greatest poets for centuries, and it could be argued that they have the richest poetry of any nation.

There are plenty of ways to take advantage of National Poetry Month.  Rereading some of your favorite poems is an obvious choice, as is branching out and trying new ones.  You could attend a poetry reading or even try to memorize a poem.  And if you'd like to try writing poetry yourself, you could always join a creative writing class or a poetry group.  And with the many different styles and subject matters of poetry that exist, there's sure to be one you'd find appealing.  So join in the fun and grab a poetry book.  And if I've left out one of your favorite poets, feel free to mention him or her on here.  Let's face it, there are so many poets out there that it's pretty much impossible to name them all - just another fact that makes this type of literature so great.