21 February 2011

Presidents Day

In 1880, a federal holiday was created to celebrate the birthday of George Washington and for years it was observed on the actual anniversary of his birth (February 22, 1732). At the same time, certain states also celebrated a second February birthday boy, Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809). After the government officially moved Washington's birthday to the third Monday of the month and the holiday became commonly known as Presidents Day, many states decided to celebrate both Washington and Lincoln's birthdays together.

For a holiday, Presidents Day is not bad. Many people get the day off and shops have enormous sales. And if any presidents are going to be celebrated, I don't have a problem with Washington and Lincoln (Someone like Franklin Pierce? We'd have to talk).

So Happy Presidents Day everyone. And if the day has inspired you to pick up a book on American history but you don't want a heavy tome, may I suggest Sarah Vowell's highly entertaining Assassination Vacation, in which the author visits the sites associated with the first three presidential assassinations. It's great. Perhaps you can read it while eating a piece of cherry pie in honor of Washington. That's what I would call multitasking.

15 February 2011


I meant to post this video yesterday in honor of Valentine’s Day but I didn't get a chance so apologies for my tardiness.

Valentine's Day brings to mind many things—cupids, big boxes of chocolates, red roses. For me, I am also reminded of the original Latin Lover, the great seducer of the silent screen, Rudolph Valentino. Although there have been many matinee idols since, Valentino was the original screen lover. So great was his attraction that women were known to swoon at screenings of his films. And when he died at the untimely age of 31 in 1926, there were reports of women committing suicide.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) was the film that gave Valentino his big break. In this clip, Valentino is seen doing two of the things he did very well—dancing and seducing. The film proved so popular that it started a craze for the Tango and gaucho pants in America. It also turned Valentino into a major star. Whatever your taste, after watching this guy, you've got to admit he had something. So watch and enjoy!

11 February 2011

Wuthering Heights

"Ghosts XI" Sam Taylor-Wood (2008)

While a Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum was the reason for a recent visit, it was a much smaller exhibit upstairs that captured my attention. "Ghosts" is a collection of ten large format photographs of the Yorkshire Moors by Sam Taylor-Wood. Inspired by Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Taylor-Wood set out to capture the harsh landscape that plays such an important role in the novel. The subsequent images are breathtaking. Sometimes populated only by a lone tree or a solitary ram, they highlight the beauty that is found in the starkness of the Moors. Each image is accompanied by a quote from the novel, which reminded me how much I love the writings of Emily and the other Brontë sisters. I left the exhibit wanting to take a long walk across the Moors (maybe one day).

"Ghosts I" Sam Taylor-Wood (2008)

 "Ghosts" is at the Brooklyn Museum until August 14 so please try and see it if you can. 

08 February 2011

Queen of Scots

On this day in 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, England on orders from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Mary, who was Elizabeth's heir, had spent 19 years under house arrest. Implicated in a plot to kill Elizabeth, Mary was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. 

According to accounts of her execution Mary, who had spent the night before prayering and writing final letters and her will, arrived at the scaffold dressed in a black gown. When her servants undressed her, it was revealed that she wore a bodice and petticoat in red—the liturgical colour of Catholic martyrdom. Blindfolded, she knelt in front of the block and stretching out her arms said "Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit." Unfortunately, Mary's executioner was not a perfect marksman. The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. Her servants reported they heard her whisper "Sweet Jesus." The second blow severed the neck, except for a small piece of sinew that the executioner had to sever by using the axe as a saw. The drama was not over. When he held up her head and cried out, "God save the Queen," he found himself clutching an auburn wig as the dead queen's head, covered with short, grey hair, fell to the ground. One of the myths that emerged after Mary's execution was that her little Skye terrier had been hiding under her skirts and emerged covered in blood. Refusing to leave his mistress' side, the dog died shortly after of a broken heart.

Mary's body was laid to rest in Peterborough Cathedral and remained there until her son, King James VI of Scotland, succeeded Elizabeth to the throne of England. He had his mother's body removed to Westminster Abbey where it still remains, next to that of the woman who signed her death warrant, Elizabeth I. The two women at odds in life are forever united in death. 

I have always had conflicting views on Mary, Queen of Scots. On the one hand, she seems to have been a charming woman who bravely defended her Catholic faith and Scotland against the big bully, England. Yet on the other hand, she often appears vain and selfish, making foolish decisions and joining forces with the wrong people. When I was in Scotland, it felt like Mary was everywhere. Yet it never got old, seeing her image or reading a plaque that proclaimed that she had slept there, visited, rode by, etc. No matter what your views are of Mary, you can't deny that she's fascinating. 

To read more about Mary, Queen of Scots, check out Antonia Fraser's excellent biography. And while you're at it read up on her mother, Marie de Guise. She essentially ruled Scotland when Mary was a child and is just as fascinating a woman as her daughter.

07 February 2011

Gone Baby Gone

In 1924 the Oakland Tribune, in conjunction with the  American Theater, held a contest in which people were asked to submit their most unusual dreams. The winner would receive $25 and have his or her dream turned into a short film. Mrs. L.L. Nicholson of Oakland submitted the winning dream— a picnic outing that goes awry when someone turns up missing. The resulting film is a joy to watch—from the street scenes of Oakland and San Francisco to the stucco house (many of these types of houses can still be found in Oakland) to the 1920s clothing and bobbed hair of the wife. And the scenes with the fish add a great surrealist quality to the film. What fun.

To view this and hundreds of other early films for free, visit the Prelinger Archives website.

03 February 2011

Year of the Rabbit

Today marks the start of Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rabbit (farewell tiger). I've always had a fondness for their furry loveliness and am happy to see rabbit imagery everywhere this week. The annual New York City Chinatown Lunar New Year parade and festival takes place on Sunday at 11:30 am starting in Little Italy. With wonderful floats, dragon dancers, and other performers, the parade is always fun to watch. And while we're on the subject of rabbits, I highly recommend checking out the Vintage Magpie whose owner, Nicky, makes the most adorable rabbits (and other animals). I have the pleasure of owning an original Vintage Magpie rabbit named Alfie. So yay for rabbits and Gung Hay Fat Choy everyone!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...