Sunday, September 30, 2012

weekend fun

We had a great time this weekend with old friends in favorite places.

The gang's all here

The kid loves a buffet and I love hot and sour soup

She officially taste-tested all the desserts, but only finished her ice cream

The koi pond is always a great stop on the way out
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

introducing ... baby boy

Our newest family member is a four-month-old kitten that my mom and daughter flipped over and I just couldn't say "No" to.

He loves to cuddle

The kid loves to cuddle, too

But like all kittens, he can only sit still for so long

A dramatic pose

Friday, September 28, 2012

evelyn nesbit — america's first supermodel

Evelyn Nesbit (1884 – 1967) is a woman whose beauty still manages to look contemporary, even though the height of her style peaked over one hundred years ago. She was not just beautiful, but her "look" captured the spirit and imagination of her age. Charles Dana Gibson, the popular illustrator's pen-and-ink drawing of Evelyn, "The Eternal Question," is not only one of his most recognizable works, but helped create the "Gibson Girl."

"The Eternal Question," by Charles Dana Gibson

Nesbit was not just a fashion icon at the turn of the century, she was also one of its first celebrities. She found herself at the center of a love triangle, murder, and scandal in 1906 when her husband, Harry Kendall Thaw, shot and murdered her former lover, architect Stanford White.

But before scandal touched her life, Nesbit posed for photographers and artists and became one of the age's first fashion models. Her image appeared on numerous magazine covers, including Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, and Ladies’ Home Journal. But she may never have gotten her start in modeling if it wasn't for the unexpected death of her father, when Evelyn was just 11 years old. The family was left destitute, and lived on charity and odd jobs for quite a few years until Evelyn was asked one day to pose for an artist. She earned one dollar. This led to other modeling assignments and she was soon helping to support her mother and younger brother.

The Nesbits moved to New York and modeling soon led to the world of the theater, where she appeared on Broadway as a Floradora Girl. She soon attracted the notice of the married millionaire Stanford White, who she met in 1901. She was 16 and he was 47. White invited her over to his opulent apartment, which he had tricked out with all manner of "extras," including a room with mirrors on the ceiling and the infamous red velvet swing, which he had installed in an upper floor room. White moved Evelyn and her mother and brother into fancier digs, and showered presents upon them, endearing himself to the whole family. When Evelyn's mother had to go out of town, White wasted no time in becoming the young girl's lover.

Evelyn may have been pushed into a sexual relationship with White (technically raped), but she did seem fond of him, referring to him as "Stanny." As much as White had become a patron-of-sorts of Evelyn and her career, she did not remain exclusive. She also had a romance with the young actor John Barrymore. White, with the help of Evelyn's mother, soon put an end to that young romance. Evelyn had other flirtations — with James Montgomery Waterbury, a polo player, Robert J. Collier, the magazine publisher, and fatefully, the millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw.

Evelyn's relationship with Thaw was strange and dangerous from the start. He was clearly unstable, but it is undeniable that he offered the prospect of a rich marriage, where Stanford White could only give her a damaged reputation if she continued to be his mistress. Thaw was violent, and beat Evelyn while they vacationed in Europe. He pursued her relentlessly for four years until she finally consented to marry him. But she had made the mistake of telling Thaw, who seemed obsessed with (her) moral purity, of telling him the story of her deflowering. Thaw acquired a new obsession — the hatred and obliteration of Stanford White.

Evelyn Nesbit, 1900, photographed by Gertrude Käsebier
"Portrait of Evelyn Nesbit," 1901, by James Carroll Beckwith

Thaw may have been a madman, but he seems to have carefully planned and arranged his attack on White, which took place on June 25, 1906. On a stopover with Evelyn in New York on the way to Europe Thaw bought tickets for the show Mam'zelle Champagne, which was premiering in the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden. Also in attendance at the opening was Stanford White, and during the final musical number Thaw produced a pistol, which he had been concealing in his long overcoat, and shot White three times, killing him on the spot. Thaw was variously quoted by bystanders as saying, “I did it because he ruined my wife!" or "You ruined my life," or "You ruined my wife."

The trial(s) of the century began — there were two trials to determine whether Thaw could be held responsible — and Evelyn had to testify at both of them, disclosing intimate details of her loss of innocence and relationship to White.
When the trial of Harry K. Thaw began, Evelyn was photographed arriving at the courthouse ... Her testimony created the first sex goddess in American history ... [the business community] ... saw the way Evelyn's face on the front page of a newspaper sold out an edition. ... [They] wondered if they could create such individuals not from the accidents of news events but from the deliberate manufacture of their own medium. If they could, more people would pay money for the picture shows. Thus did Evelyn provide the inspiration for the concept of the movie star system and the model for every sex goddess from Theda Bara to Marilyn Monroe. — from E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime
The first trial resulted in a deadlock. In the second trial Thaw pleaded temporary insanity and was sentenced to life imprisonment in New York's Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. His family and his fortune worked overtime to overturn his sentence and declare him sane. After five years of confinement he escaped — by strolling off the grounds where a waiting car whisked him off to Canada. He was finally judged sane in 1915 and returned to the U.S. Evelyn divorced him that same year. She had given birth to a son, Russell William Thaw, in 1910, but Thaw always denied paternity.

Evelyn was never really able to shake herself free of her associations with the crime of the century. She remarried, but it didn't last. She tried vaudeville, acting in silent films, running a speakeasy, a tea room, struggled with alcohol and morphine addiction, and reportedly tried to commit suicide. She was actually a technical adviser on the 1955 Hollywood-ized "story of her life," The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, which starred Joan Collins as Evelyn, Ray Milland as Stanford White, and Farley Granger as Harry K. Thaw. Evelyn eventually died in a nursing home in California, at the age of 82. Her son Russell starred with her in a series of films when he was a child, but he grew up to become a pilot, participating in flying races, as a member of 103rd Air Squadron during World War 2, and later as a private pilot for the Guggenheim family.

Evelyn Nesbit was a beauty, and the face of the early 20th century. She was also buffeted, sometimes cruelly, by both men and financial circumstances. Celebrity in America has always been a tricky business. Being noteworthy and notorious are not so far from each other as some might hope.
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

gentlemen prefer blondes

Here's another essay from the longer-format piece I'm working on about Marilyn Monroe.
Lorelei Lee, holding a tiara, "How do you put it around your neck?"
Dorothy Shaw, "You don't, honey, it goes on your head!"
Lorelei Lee, "You must think I was born yesterday."
Dorothy Shaw, "Well, sometimes there's just no other possible explanation."

In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes the viewer might be tempted to side with Jane Russell's character Dorothy Shaw's befuddlement at some of the things that Marilyn Monroe's character Lorelei Lee says. But Lorelei is amazingly successful at just about everything she tries to do. Like getting a rich old man she has just met on a transatlantic ocean liner, who happens to own a diamond mine, Sir Francis "Piggy" Beekman (Charles Coburn), to hand over her his wife's diamond tiara. Or convince her dim-bulb of a fiance Gus Esmond's (Tommy Noonan) rich father that she's not after his son's money.
Esmond Sr., "Have you got the nerve to tell me you don't want to marry my son for his money?"
Lorelei Lee, "It's true."
Esmond Sr., "Then what do you want to marry him for?"
Lorelei Lee, "I want to marry him for YOUR money."
Lorelei Lee, "Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?"

Lorelei and Gus were planning to elope via steamship to France, but Esmond Sr. forbade Gus from going on the trip. Lorelei was upset at how easily Gus gave in to his father, and decided she would go abroad anyway, with best pal Dorothy.

Based on Anita Loos's hugely successful book Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the movie spoofs dumb blondes, gold diggers, horny old men, and sex in general. Lorelei was a flapper when Loos first wrote about her in Harper's Bazaar in the early 1920s. Her amusing stories about Lorelei and Dorothy spawned a book in 1925, a 1928 silent movie (now lost), a 1949 Broadway musical adaptation starring Carol Channing, and the 1953 Howard Hawks film starring Monroe and Russell.

Loos was not the first author to write about a "dumb blonde," but Gentlemen Prefer Blondes certainly popularized the stereotype.
Studies show that people may presume blonds are not only less serious-minded but also less intelligent than brunettes. This is reflected in the 'dumb blond' jokes that became part of American culture during the 1900s. The concept arose in Europe. The original 'dumb blond' may have been a French courtesan named Rosalie Duthe, who developed a reputation for being beautiful but empty-headed and incapable of carrying on a conversation [who] was satirized in a one-act play, Les Curiosites de la Foire, which debuted in Paris in 1775. The dumb blond character resurfaced in 1925 in the form of Lorelei Lee, a fair-hared young woman searching for a rich husband in Gentleman Prefer Blondes [the novel by Anita Loos.] — Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, by Victoria Sherrow
Even brunette bombshell Jane Russell gets to don a wig and to play a dumb blonde for a while in the film. But these so-called dumb blondes aren't really dumb at all. Lorelei Lee has an amazing amount of confidence. She knows what she wants and she goes after it. She is considered a gold digger by everyone around her, including her best friend Dorothy, but Lorelei is much more than that. She is a pretty girl trying to fight against a system that expects the girl to wait for a man to choose her. Lorelei doesn't want to wait. She wants her career as an entertainer and she also wants to live the good life. Lorelei is not going to wait around for her boyfriend to decide to "forgive" her. She's going to go ahead and do what she wants, which includes traveling to Paris, flirting with a rich old man who might give her diamonds, and generally anything else that might come along that could be to her benefit.

Marilyn must have connected to the many parallels to her own life. Lorelei is a man magnet, but she also wants to be a success. Dorothy, on the other hand, seems to be along for the ride, wanting to have as much fun as possible.
“The chaperone's job is to make sure no one else has any fun. But nobody chaperones the chaperone. That's why I'm so right for this job.”
Are Lorelei and Dorothy shameless? Most definitely. But also independent women, something not too commonly seen in 1950s movies. So many of the romantic and sex comedies of the era specialized in plots featuring girls trying to trap guys, or guys trying to get hot-looking girls. Some of the films had humor, while some of them are just an excuse to showcase cheesecake or tease the audience with double entendres. These movies rarely took their characters beyond the wedding fadeout. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes follows the same formula, but there is something about the two girls' subversive behavior during 98 per cent of the movie that undermines the usual '50s rom-com blueprint.

Can we imagine Lorelei and Dorothy as happy contented housewives? Hardly. These two sassy gals would want to continue to work and perform, or at the very least frequent the sorts of nightclubs where they used to be headliners. But what would their new husbands think about such behavior? An honest sequel would feature two rich divorcees headed back to Paris for some fun and frolic. This dilemma was lived out in real life for Marilyn, who within a year of the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was married to Joe DiMaggio, who wanted her to give up her career and stay at home. And do what? Who did he think he married? Their marriage lasted nine months.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was Marilyn's first big success, her first starring role where she really stood out, and the audience took notice. Still just a contract player, Marilyn made far less money on this film than her costar Jane Russell, but you'd never know it from either lady's performance. They are best buddies and partners-in-crime throughout the film. The pay inequities didn't prevent them from forming a lifelong friendship after the film wrapped, either. The studio originally wanted to cast Betty Grable as Lorelei, but she would have, like Jane Russell, made $150,000 on the picture. Fox decided to go for a bargain with Marilyn, who only made $9,000 for the film. And Grable, a good sport, happily passed the "blonde torch" to her successor ("Honey, I've have mine. Go get yours.") They worked together later that year on How to Marry A Millionaire.

Marilyn is wearing a white version of the gown designed by Travilla that she wore in the "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Marilyn not only proved to the studio that she was box office, but Gentlemen Prefer Blondes became a testament to her brilliant comedic timing. She's very funny and steals every scene she's in. Marilyn had a winning combination of beauty and humor, something unusual for the typical blonde starlet of the day. The only other actor that comes to mind who shared these gifts in such abundance was her idol, Jean Harlow.

Only a few numbers, written by Jule Styne and Leo Robyn from the 1949 Broadway musical, made it into the movie: "Bye, Bye Baby," "[Two] Little Girls From Little Rock," and "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend." Two new songs, written by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson, "When Love Goes Wrong" and "Anyone Here For Love?" were added. "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" is not only the highlight of the film, but has become the iconic Marilyn performance.
A kiss on the hand may be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl's best friend.
A kiss may be grand, but it won't pay the rental on your humble flat.
Or help you at the automat.
Men grow cold as girls grow old, and we all lose our charms in the end.
But square-cut or pear-shaped, these rocks won't lost their shape.
Diamonds are a girl's best friend. — Jule Styne and Leo Robyn

Marilyn's rendition of "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" has been imitated often, most recently by pop songstresses Madonna and Kylie Minogue, but no one has ever come close to Marilyn's wit and star power. The star rehearsed with choreographer Jack Cole (who directed all of the musical numbers in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) for more than three weeks to get everything just right. Like "Diamonds," all of the film's musical numbers are bright and bouncy and a joy to watch.
"Marilyn and I had never danced before; we were a pair of klutzes," Russell told Cole biographer Glenn Loney in Dance Magazine. "Jack was horrible to his own dancers, but with us, the two broads, he had the patience of Job. He would show us and show us and then turn us over to Gwen." (Gwen Verdon, Cole's protégée, was on the brink of Broadway fame as the high-kicking redhead dancer of Can-Can.) ... Russell said she fled several sessions in exhaustion while Monroe begged Cole and Verdon to continue into the night. — Los Angeles Times
Marilyn performs the number beautifully, and it became one of her most beloved moments on film. As successful as Cole's coaching had been, it is also undeniable that the amazing pink number she is wearing adds immeasurably to the scene. Designed by William Travilla, who had worked with Marilyn previously on Don't Bother to Knock, and continued to work with her on many more films and public appearances, the deceptively simple-looking pink sheath is a marvel of engineering, lined with black felt to maintain its shape and hug her voluptuous form.
Dorothy Shaw, "If we can't empty his pockets between us, then we're not worthy of the name 'Woman.'"
In 1953, the year Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released, Marilyn was all over the news and cinema. She was in a highly publicized relationship with recently retired Yankee slugger and superstar Joe DiMaggio. Her film Niagara came out in January. On June 26, she and Jane and Russell were invited to add their hand- and footprints to the cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles (The always humorous Marilyn reportedly joked that she should sit in the cement and Jane should lean forward). In July Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was in theaters and another splashy comedy, How to Marry a Millionaire, was released in November. She appeared on the cover of the first issue of Playboy in December 1953, and was named the Sweetheart of the Month for 1953. Inside the magazine was a nude photograph of Monroe, from her infamous nude calendar shoot, a potential scandal she had weathered with aplomb in March 1952, simply by admitting that as a struggling model and actress in 1949 she had needed the money, $50, to get her car out of hock.  The following year she won the Golden Globe's Henrietta Award: World Film Favorite Female for 1953. She also won the 1953 Photoplay Award for Most Popular Female Star.
[Lorelei is stuck trying to sneak out the porthole of a ship's cabin and is found by seven year-old] Henry Spofford III, "All right. I'll help you. I'll help you for two reasons."
Lorelei Lee, "Never mind the reasons. Just help me."
Henry Spofford III, "The first reason is I'm too young to be sent to jail. The second reason is you've got a lot of animal magnetism."

No matter how popular or beloved Marilyn's characterization of Lorelei was, when the film wrapped she was ready to move on. Marilyn wanted to be a star, but she also had more serious acting ambitions. As suited as she was to comedies and musicals, she feared being typecast. The two actresses were such a winning combination in the film it's a shame that they didn't get a chance to work together again. But the studio would never have conceived of Monroe and Russell (or Russell and Monroe, depending on billing) as a comedy team. Comedy was something men did. Women were cast for their beauty, or occasionally for a special ability, like the fabulous voice of Judy Garland.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of the most colorful and entertaining films of the '50s and of Monroe's career. Marilyn's portrayal of Lorelei Lee completely captures Anita Loos's bubble-headed but shrewd and lovable gold-digger.
Dorothy Shaw, "Honey, did it ever occur to you that some people just don't care about money?"
Lorelei Lee, "Please, we're talking serious here."

Images from Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

the spiderwick chronicles

I was happy when the kid took a break from the smart-alecky Wimpy Kid series and became enchanted with The Spiderwick Chronicles. We listened to the whole series on CD in the car, and really enjoyed the characters and the worlds created by authors Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.

Jared and Hogsqueal

The Spiderwick Chronicles are a series of five illustrated books which tell the story of the Grace children, 9 year-old identical twins Jared and Simon, and their 13 year-old elder sister Mallory, who discover that their new home is populated with creatures they never would have believed existed. The books are:

1. The Field Guide - After their parents' divorce, the Grace kids and their mother move into their great-aunt Lucinda's decrepit old mansion and find her father's guide to faeries and other creatures, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, which leads them into another, extremely dangerous, world.
2. The Seeing Stone - Mallory and Jared must rescue Simon, who has been kidnapped by goblins. They meet Hogsqueal, who becomes a sort of associate, and Byron, a griffin, who Simon adopts as a pet.

Mallory, Thimbletack, Jared, and the seeing stone

3. Lucinda's Secret - The Grace children visit their great-aunt Lucinda at the mental institution where she lives. She tells them how she got there and what became of her father, Arthur Spiderwick.
4. The Ironwood Tree - Jared and Simon must rescue mallory, who is being held prisoner by dwarves, associates of the evil ogre Mulgarath.
5. The Wrath of Mulgarath - Hogsqueal and the brownie Thimbletack help the Grace children rescue their mother, who is being held captive by Mulgarath.

With all of the kidnapping and rescuing the series does have a Saturday morning serial feel to it, but it is all in god fun. It's nice that a book, the field guide, is such an important item. The power of words and pictures should never be underestimated. The illustrations by DiTerlizzi are quite engaging, and the otherworldly characters, especially Hogsqueal and Thimbletack, enchanted my daughter. There is a quite dark side to Spiderwick, as the Grace kids are frequently in deadly trouble. But there is also quite a bit of magic, and some of the creatures they encounter are nice to them and each other. The way that the kids bicker but then risk everything to save each other and the creatures that they meet is very appealing. Especially after the whiny wimpy ramblings of the Jeff Kinney series that dominated the kid's sumer reading.

A griffin from Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You
The kid has since picked up the first two books to read on her own, as well as the beautifully illustrated companion volumes, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You  and Care and Feeding of Sprites. We checked out the movie version too, which she loved, but it is of course very different and truncated. Most of her favorite parts of the books had to be left out. There is a second Spiderwick book series featuring another group of kids and their adventures. So far she hasn't shown any interest in that (she really loves the main character, Jared), so we'll see how far into Spiderwick she gets ...
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the kelloggs of deerfield, ma

Genealogy continues to not only teach me things about my family, but about history. When I was a kid we played Cowboys and Indians sometimes, but as I grew older I learned how the Native Americans were slowly and surely forced out of their land by encroaching European settlers. Coming from a long line of such people gives a person pause, but I never expected to find out how direct a connection I may have had to such conflicts.

I have recently discovered that one of my ancestral lines, the Kelloggs, were directly involved in what has come to be known as the Raid on Deerfield, or the Deerfield Massacre, a Franco-Indian raid on English settlers in Deerfield, MA in 1704. The more I read about these 18th century family members the more I realize that their story was more complicated than I at first may have thought.

In 1704 the Kellogg family was living in Deerfield, MA when a group of French and Native Americans launched a surprise raid on the English settlement of Deerfield. The attack was led by New France colonial military officer Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, whose force was made up of almost 300 attackers, including French colonists and Indian tribesmen from the Abenaki, Iroquois, Wyandot, Pocumtuc, and Pennacook tribes.

Deerfield had been a center of conflict and controversy from its very beginnings. Originally inhabited by the Pocumtuc nation, the village was called Pocumtuck when English settlers arrived in the mid-1660s. Ten years later it was dubbed Deerfield, but the colonists and the Indians were already skirmishing, in what came to be called King Philip's War, and two battles, one favoring the Indians (the Battle of Bloody Brook), and one favoring the English (Turner's Falls), resulted in multiple deaths on both sides. But the colonists kept coming back to settle in Deerfield, and the Indians were forced northward to Canada.

Raids on villages were common, but still the attack on Deerfield on February 29, 1704 was for the most part a surprise. Although over 40 of the residents were killed, that doesn't seem to have been the raiders' main objective. 109 villagers were taken captive — including the entire Kellogg family, minus Jonathan Kellogg (1698 – 1704), a boy of five, who perished during the raid, and the mother, Sarah (1656-1732). There is a lurid story of how Sarah may have escaped capture:
Mrs. Kellogg had been concealed in the cellar under a tub upon which the Indians sat and regaled themselves with whatever they could find to eat. She had escaped from the bed with an infant a few days old, and after secreting the child had turned the tub over herself. The cries of the child soon attracted the attention of the Indians, who at once seized it and dashed it against the wall. At their departure the Indians set fire to the dwelling, but Mrs. Kellogg escaped to a house then used as a fort. The family was afterwards allowed to return from their captivity. Martin was several times captured by the Indians, but returned before 1714 — Early New England Schools, p. 182
The captives of the raid were forced to march to Canada, in the rough and brutal February winter conditions. Miraculously most of the Kelloggs, although separated from each other, survived the march, and what happened to them is fascinating.
Martin Kellogg (1658-1732, my 8th great grandfather) was 46 at the time of the raid and the patriarch of the family. He was ransomed and released in 1705 and relocated to Suffield, Connecticut. Many of the original Deerfield inhabitants refused to go back there to live. 
Martin Kellogg, Jr. (1686-1753) was 18 at the time of the raid. He escaped from his captors and returned home to Deerfield on June 8, 1705. He became a scout, and was captured again by Indians in 1708, where he remained, becoming fluent in Indian languages and French. Martin eventually relocated to Connecticut, where he married Dorothy Chester and had nine children. 
Martin Kellogg's house, Newington
The Martin Kellogg House in Newington, CT
Joseph Kellogg (1691-1756) was 13 at the time of the raid. Joseph stayed in New France with the French and Indians and became a fur trader and explorer. He is credited as the first English settler to have seen the Mississippi River. In 1714 his brother Martin persuaded him to come home, where he married Rachel Devotion, of Suffield, MA. They had five children. Joseph worked as a scout, translator, soldier, diplomat, interpreter, and magistrate until his death from a fever in 1756. 
"I travelled two & fro amongst the French and Indians" learning "the French language as well as those of all the tribes of Indians I traded with, and Mohawks, & had got into a very good way of business: So as to get Considerable of monies ... & handsomely to support myself & was under no restraint at all." — The French and Indian raid on Deerfield Massachusetts, 1704 
Joanna Kellogg (1692 – 1780) was 11 at the time of the raid. Joanna married a Caughnawaga Indian chief (according to his name was Indian Chief Crawfoot) at Kahnawake and never returned to New England. She is recorded as visiting her brother Martin in Connecticut, but returning to Canada to live. 
Rebecca Kellogg (1695-1757) was 9 at the time of the raid. She lived with the Kahnawake until 1728, but eventually returned to New England, supposedly "rescued" by her brother Joseph when she was 33. She married Benjamin Ashley and worked as an interpreter for many years. She died in 1757 at the Iroquois village of Ouaquaga, where she was given the Indian name “Wausaunia.”
The early English settlers may have found themselves opposing Indian tribes and French villages, but many, like the Kelloggs, also found ways to coexist. I am just scratching the surface of the stories here, but I hope that sometime in the near future I can take a trip to Deerfield, MA, to learn even more.

The American Surveyor, Spring 2004, "Joseph Kellogg of Deerfield (1691-1756) Indian captive, Interpreter & Guide, Explorer & Soldier," By Silvio A. Bedini, LLD

Raid On Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704

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Monday, September 24, 2012

two (very different) animated tales of animal survival

I recently watched two animated films about how society and other pressures have adversely affected animal colonies. One was a Japanese film from 1994, Pom Poko, and the other a British film, Watership Down, from 1978, based on Richard Adams's popular novel.

Pom Poko

Written and directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbors the Yamadas, Only YesterdayPom Poko was animated by Studio Ghibli and has become one of my daughter's and my favorite animated films. Its environmental message is as strong as ever. As the suburbs of Tokyo grow, they are sprawling and destroying the countryside, specifically the Tama Hills, the habitat of the tanuki, or raccoon dogs, mischievous shape-shifters who just want their home and their carefree lifestyle to stay the same as it always has. But that is not to be. The tanuki band together to try and fight the encroaching humans. They utilize their shape-shifting abilities to both frighten and blend in. Pom Poko mixes different animation styles — realistic, anthropomorphic, and cartoony drawings. One of the highlights of the film is a monster parade, where the raccoon dogs try to scare their human neighbors by transforming themselves into a number of fantastic creatures, including different ghosts and spirits, goblins, other animals like monkeys and tigers, and giant skeletons.

The three styles of Pom Poko
Watership Down

John Hurt is the voice of Hazel, the leader of a small group of rabbits who have fleed their unsafe warren and are in search of a better, safer life elsewhere. As they journey across the countryside they encounter dangerous animals, traps, rabbits kept in cages, and other threats to their survival. The impressive British voice cast includes Richard Briers, Ralph Richardson, Zero Mostel, Denholm Elliot, Nigel Hawthorne, and Joss Ackland. Not exactly a film for the kiddies, Watership Down includes scenes of violence and many of the rabbits are bloodied on their journey to find a new home. The film is frankly a horror movie. It has a wonderful opening animated sequence, outlining the mythology of the rabbits' world, done in a different, more graphic style, which was directed by original director John Hubley, who died in 1977. Martin Rosen was hired to replace him.

Watership Down was very well made, but it's a bit of a downer, and I doubt we would ever want to see it again. We have already watched Pom Poko numerous times and I know will see it again (and again). Although its story is also poignant, and some of the tanuki come to unfortunate ends, there is still something uplifting about the film. Pom Poko is one of those movies that is hard to describe, except to insist that it is so great that you really just have to see it. Its humor is goofy and unlike any other movie out there. Its characters are at times annoying, touching, and lovable. It's just good and highly recommended. Check it out.

Note re anime styles (big thanks to Mario for putting this so succinctly):
It might help those readers who are not familiar with anime and manga conventions to know that the childish, or "chibi", style is a convention used by some artists to show the character is behaving childishly and thus improperly. The other convention commonly seen in both anime and manga is the "large-eyed" look — if a character has over-sized eyes, it means innocence: a boy younger than about 15 or 16, or a girl younger than about 21 or so. This last can be a very useful marker: in a work that uses this convention, a character who should have the large eyes but doesn't bears watching, because something is very wrong about him or her.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

"dogs and cats, living together ..."

The above quote is one of my favorite lines from Ghostbusters, when Bill Murray is trying to explain to the mayor of New York the utter chaos that is about to overtake the city.

Here at home it looks like Angel the dachshund, who usually looks so cozy in her doggie bed ...


has a challenger to the throne ...

Harry practicing for Halloween

This can't be good.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

it's not halloween yet ...

But the excitement is starting to build ...




Friday, September 21, 2012

black diamonds and dr. seuss

First published as Book Review: Black Diamond by Martin Walker and Book Review: The Dr. Seuss Bookshelf from Oceanhouse Media on Blogcritics.

Black Diamond

Black Diamond is the third book in a mystery series by author Martin Walker. Dubbed a mystery of the French countryside, the recent paperback release from Vintage once again features Detective Bruno Courrèges, the only policeman in the small town of St. Denis, in Périgord, a former province of France, now called the Dordogne.

Detective Bruno is not just a smart cop, but a connoisseur of fine wine, food, and the inestimable local black truffles – black diamonds. Perigord truffles are a multi-million euro business and are at the heart of this entertaining mystery. Walker takes readers behind the scenes of the truffle trade, where one may be surprised (or not) to learn that there is a lucrative black market for substituting inferior Chinese truffles for southern France's local gems.

A murder, a father-son feud, and Bruno's own romantic complications with British girlfriend Pamela (and a woman from his past) keep the charismatic detective quite busy throughout this mystery. Black Diamond starts off at a leisurely pace, and although Walker includes some exciting scenes and intrigue, the overall feeling one gets from the book is similar to one of the long, multi-course dinners that Bruno is so fond of enjoying or preparing. The mystery and supporting characters are intriguing, but what really makes the story is its love and indulgence of the local setting, and especially its appreciation for fine food and wine.

Walker is the senior director of the Global Business Policy Council, a private think tank based in Washington, D.C. He lives in Washington, D.C. and the Dordogne. In Black Diamond he writes eloquently about such diverse topics as "green" cuisine, local politics, ethnic struggles, and organized crime. Readers familiar with the Dordogne region of southern France or dreaming of a future visit will enjoy following Bruno around St. Denis and its environs (and restaurants). His clever crime-solving is just an added bonus. After reading Black Diamond readers will definitely want to check out or revisit the first two installments of the series.

The Dr. Seuss Bookshelf

Oceanhouse Media released an exciting new app this week, the Dr. Seuss Bookshelf. A free download in the App Store, iPad®, iPhone® and iPod touch® owners can now access and organize all of their favorite Dr. Seuss books, games, and camera apps.

An aid for both parents and their children, the opening screen is divided into four sections. "My Apps" highlights any Dr. Seuss apps that the user already has on their device, with an easy-to-use side-scroll menu for selection. Directly below is "Favorites," where one can drag and drop favorite or more frequently-used apps. The top two sections feature available Dr. Seuss apps, in the "Store" and "Featured" sections. An app can be selected with a tap, which displays the price, item description, and another button to tap for purchase.

There are more than 45 Dr. Seuss apps available in the App Store. Additional browsing criteria includes sorting by Type (Dr. Seuss Classic Books, The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library, Games, Cameras), Price (ranging from $0.99 or less to $8.99), or Age (ranging from age 3 and under to ages 9-12). There is also a search feature where one can type in a specific title or query to help select an app. To get a sampling of what's on offer, the $0.99 or less price range includes some free apps for parents and kids to try out and see if they like them - The Cat in the Hat LITE, Dr. Seuss's ABC LITE, Green Eggs and Ham LITE, and the Dr. Seuss Camera - Happy Birthday Edition.

Oceanhouse Media will be updating the Dr. Seuss Bookshelf regularly, with sales and holiday-themed products. Children and adults should enjoy this nice addition to their already impressive collection of Dr. Seuss apps.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

the miraculous journey of edward tulane

“Once there was a princess who was very beautiful. She shone bright as the stars on a moonless night. But what difference did it make that she was beautiful? None. No difference."

Why did it make no difference?" asked Abilene.

Because," said Pellegrina, "She was a princess who loved no one and cared nothing for love, even though there were many who loved her.”

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a children's book, geared towards ages 7 and older, but after reading it, I'm not sure what kids might think of it. It is ultimately uplifting, but also, quite frequently and unremittingly sad. It's a lot like life. The tale will resonate with adults, as love and loss are beautifully examined. But children may just focus on the dangers and sad moments that befall hero Edward Tulane.

Edward is a unique china rabbit, beloved by a little girl named Abilene Tulane. She adores him and dresses him in beautiful clothes and takes him everywhere with her. Edward is also exceedingly vain. He doesn't consider himself to be a toy. He is something beyond, something special. He accepts Abilene's love, as something one so fine as himself should deserve, but doesn't seem to even consider returning it. He is very observant of the world (as his painted eyes are always open), and is especially fond of glimpses of the night sky and the stars, but not very interested in the humans that populate it.

Abilene gives Edward a hug

But one day Edward is separated from Abilene, and his world is never the same. He is buffeted by weather, chance and other circumstances to a series of new homes and relationships. Through a series of trials and separations he finally finds himself interested in others. Like Dr. Seuss's Grinch, Edward must discover whether a china rabbit can have a heart at all.

Author Kate DiCamillo's prose is compact but lyrical. Edward is exasperating, but readers will still care about what happens to him — and especially what happens to the people that he encounters. Edward has an effect on everyone he meets, and eventually they begin to affect him. Illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline's black and white and color drawings are a perfect accompaniment to the story, their style lending a vintage touch.
“Open your heart. Someone will come. Someone will come for you. But first you must open your heart."
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is bound to be a classic. I think it might be best for an adult to read the book to a child first, so one can discuss some of the darker aspects of the story — and there are darker aspects. But once a child knows the story and china bunny Edward's fate, it will certainly be a book to read and re-read. Adults may find they want to pick it up again and again too, as a reminder about love and loss, and how special some things and some people can be in our lives.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

finding nemo 3D

I'm not a huge fan of 3D movies, as the glasses always make me feel as if I'm seeing the movie through a mist — and I love bright colors, so don't like to see them dulled down. But the kid loves Finding Nemo, and I  wanted to see it on a big screen — I've only seen it on T.V., as it came out the year before my daughter was born. If I had my druthers, we probably would have caught a 2D show, but somehow the theater was only running one 2D showing, and the all the other nine times it was playing were 3D shows. Fancy that. The triumph of marketing.

Marlin cautions Dory about the pretty (dangerous) jellyfish
3D aside, the movie is as delightful as I remember it. Ellen Degeneres of course steals the show as Dory, the memory-challenged blue fish who helps overprotective Marlin (Albert Brooks) search for his son Nemo in the huge blue ocean. Brooks was also wonderful as the afraid-of-the-world clown fish, and other great voice work is contributed by Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Geoffrey Rush, and many others. I had forgotten the subplot of Nemo's little fin. He needs to prove to his dad and himself that his "disability" doesn't stop him from accomplishing whatever he needs to do. It's mostly sweet, sometimes a bit scary (Bruce the shark) and frequently very funny, with silly bits like the seagulls ("Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!) and dirty fish tank humor — that is, the tank is dirty, not the humor.

As far as the 3D adaptation is concerned — yes, I had to come back to that — like the recent re-release of The Lion King, the 3D doesn't seem to add all that much to the movie. It doesn't harm it, either, but if you can catch a 2D showing, it will still be worth your while.

Finding Nemo is great on a large screen. And the bonus Toy Story opening cartoon, Partysaurus Rex, featuring Wallace Shawn, is a lot of fun, too.

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