Book Review: The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

My William & Mary Alumni Chapter book club selected The Ladies of Grace Adieu (2006) a short story collection by Susanna Clarke for this month’s selection.  Clarke does a good imitation of Regency-era English fairy tales.  Of course I have no interest in reading Regency-era English fairy tales much less their modern imitation.  But I was a good do-bee and soldiered through the book and after a while I found myself, well, enchanted.  While overall this is not my thing, some of the stories were better than others and it made it bearable to read instead of an obligation.  I particularly like the stories about how the Duke of Wellington rescues himself from fairies by embroidering, the story of a snobbish country rector/doctor who outwits a malicious ferry, and the story of the construction of the fairy bridge at fairy.  The rest is meh.

So I made it through this book, and discussed it at book club, but I don’t expect to read any more Susanna Clarke anytime soon.

Hyperactive Hyperlinks

Here’s another post that’s nothing more than a collection of links, many of them silly, the majority introduced to me by Metafilter.

Abandoned But Not Forgotten is a collection of photos of abandoned, historical, and unusual locations from around the world. Beware of the slow loading vintage web design (somewhat apropos to the topic actually) but it’s worth slogging through to see the cool photos.

PCWorld collects The Strangest Sights in Google Earth, which of course is the same as our own planet earth but frozen in time and shared with everyone who lives here. Again, be wary of some crummy web design.

A clever video in which two young men celebrate the city that rocks: Colonial Williamsburg. Funny in that they don’t openly mock CW but let the incongruities of music and images speak for themselves.

PinchHitter 2 is a frustrating and addictive baseball game that will take you from the sandlot to the majors.

If you like ugly, but tasty, fruit and vegetables, you’ll enjoy the stark images of the mutatocollection. The oddity here is that many of these are actually naturally grown vegetables as opposed to the genetic mutations that pass as “perfect.”

Is the world of Gil Thorp in the Matrix? Could explain the oddities of that comic strip. I particularly like Clambake as Morpheus.

From world travelers, a collection of 20 funny signs from around the world. Reminds me of a sign I saw in Ireland near a cliff’s edge showing a car flying over a cliff. The Irish are not subtle.

Finally, a demographic study of Pluggers and They’ll Do It Every Time, a scientific analysis of the two head scratching, anachronistic comics drawn on suggestions mailed in by readers.

While I’m posting links, I may as well introduce some recent additions to the blogroll:

  • Bringing Home the Word: Exploring the Bible Through the Catholic Lectionary – Fairly self-explanatory title, good reading for lectors like myself.
  • Digital Campus – A biweekly discussion of how digital media and technology are affecting learning, teaching, and scholarship at colleges, universities, libraries, and museums. This is actually a podcast, but they post links relating to the topics discussed on the show.
  • Francesco Explains It All – Blog by the creator of Sally Forth.
  • History Conversations – An occasional dialogue with historians and history lovers about their interests, their ideas, and their lives in history. A podcast from the creator of Found History.
  • lower east side librarian – A personal/professional library blog by a librarian who is interested in/expect to write about zines and alternative press publications in libraries, library activism, open source technology applications and culture, and lolcats.
  • Ms. Magazine – More than a magazine, a movement. More of a feed than a blog.
  • Nobody Loves Rusty – A tribute/mockery blog for Mark Trail.
  • Paste Magazine – Updates on signs of life in music, film, and culture.
  • pazonada – A spiff local photo blog.
  • Pitchfork Media – New music reviews to help me feel old.
  • separated by a common language – Observations on British and American English by an American linguist in the UK.
  • Stat of the Day – This and that about baseball stats. From the people who brought you Baseball Reference.
  • Uncontrolled Vocabulary – A live discussion of news, trends and topics in librarianship. Another cool podcast that’s like The McLaughlin Group, but with Librarians. Useful links posted on the blog after the show.

You may also notice on the sidebar that I’ve added links to my new Library Thing profile and catalog.  I should be adding books over time.

Jamestown 2007 – America’s 400th Anniversary

As detailed in this post about Jamestown, the buried truth, I’ve been greatly anticipating the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in the Western hemisphere. May 13, 1607 is the date of the founding of Jamestown by the Virginia Company (although some sources state May 14, since that is the day the colonists went ashore and started building. I’ll go with the 13th since that is also my sister’s birthday). I first visited Jamestown as a geeky 11-year old in 1985 and even at that time I calculated that I could be alive for the 400th anniversary, albeit impossibly old. Turns out I’m not as old as I imagined, but I’m still geeky and love commemorations of historic events. Since I lived in James City County, VA (the modern continuance of Jamestown) for 7 years, and worked in a living history museum in Virginia, this was an event I could not miss.

My photos from Jamestown 2007 – America’s 400th Anniversary

The key event is patriotically called America’s 400th Anniversary cleverly overlooking the priority of St. Augustine while advancing Jamestown’s claim over those upstarts in Plymouth, MA. Jamestown does have the advantage that it plays a role in beginning one of the colonies that would eventually form the original United States whereas Florida is in territory acquired later, so Jamestown is central to the story of the American experience from its very beginning. This point was emphasized by stressing the “birth of democracy” (basically the election of the Virginia Company’s chairmen of the board in 1619) and the “birth of slavery” since captured Africans first arrived in America for forced labor at Jamestown, also in 1619. Another interesting point is that Jamestown is the first place in the world where people of Europe, Africa, and indigenous Americans lived and worked together, albeit far from an ideal community.

The anniversary weekend took place 11-13 May and my mother and I attended on Sunday, the final day. Due to a visit by President Bush, access to the site was restricted from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm and people who were already there were pretty much in a lockdown situation. So we decided to arrive in the afternoon, after the President departed, and security was less stringent. The logistics for the event were excellent, especially the use of satellite parking in numerous lots in the area with school buses shuttling visitors to Jamestown. The scenic Colonial Parkway basically became a convoy of yellow buses as well as a staging area for emergency vehicles. The bus was full of happy, chatting people and was a good way to start the day. Oddly, many people who still live in the area went out of town (including my mother’s co-workers) but they were counterbalanced by the soldier we met on the bus who used his leave from Iraq to come Jamestown.

We arrived first at Jamestown Settlement, which looks very different from when my mom worked there and when I volunteered with the museum registrar to help count rocks. Not only is the museum expanded and redesigned but they’ve even realigned a road around the parking lot! We visited the living history exhibits at Jamestown Settlement which for maybe the first time ever were densely populated with costumed historic interpreters. One of the first employees I met was my friend and former housemate Lara although we did not get to speak for long. We wandered through the recreated James Forte, down to the ships, and back to the Powhatan village.

Next we took the bus to the actual site of the original settlement at Historic Jamestowne, property which is administered jointly by the National Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA). Things have changed there quite a bit since my last visit as well, especially since the APVA hired Dr. William Kelso to conduct an archaeological excavation which uncovered the remains of the original James Fort used from 1607-24, and many other fascinating discoveries. We arrived just in time to hear Bill Kelso speak which may have been the highlight of the day for me. I don’t think Kelso ever finished his presentation because he got a bit choked up the the magnitude of the day, but he received a well-deserved standing ovation. After strolling through the fort site and taking a lunch break by the river, we waited in line for the brand new Archearium a museum containing the relics, um, I mean artifacts from Kelso’s Jamestown Rediscovery excavations. The wait was long to get into the small museum, made longer because we chose to visit the gallery with the skeletons. While in line we saw that the elderly woman behind us had a pewter broche from the Jamestown tercentenary in 1907 which was pretty cool. What was not cool is that the younger woman pushing the elderly woman’s wheelchair kept pushing it into my heels, and didn’t seem all to sorry about the pushiness either.

While wonderful to visit all the museum sites on THE DAY, they definitely will be worth a more comprehensive return visit in the future. Footsore and facing closing time at the museums, we headed over to the Anniversary Park to relax with entertainment. Anniversary Park was once the Jamestown Beach Campsites and I’m said to see it’s gone (unless they campground owners just rented the land out for the weekend). We stayed at that campground on our first visit to Virginia in 1985 and it has sentimental memories. Anniversary Park consisted of a giant stage and a grassy area for the audience as well as some exhibition tents that we never had time to see.

There were a lot of people in Anniversary Park when we arrived including the 1,607-voice choir and 400-piece orchestra performing. For some reason I expected all those musicians to be really loud but in the “back rows” the music sounded faint even when amplified.

Following the concert, emcee Dr. Rex Ellis told us we had a “special treat,” a performance entitled “Journey of Destiny.” Subtitled: “Hokey-hontas.” Told through a bizarre mix of interpretive dance, historical pageants, and dramatic readings of primary documents, “Journey of Destiny” recreated Jamestown history in an incredibly cheezy manner.

Once that was over, the Governor of Virginia and family dropped some things in the time capsule. Rex Ellis told us that the time capsule had a CD-player, DVD-player, and batteries for future generations to use to watch and listen to the items within. I suspect those things will be rusted and inoperative. But I’m a librarian, and librarians and archivists hate time capsules.

For a finale, fireworks lit up the chilly night sky accompanied by the 400-piece orchestra. That may be the first time I’ve ever seen fireworks with live music which is pretty cool even if the musical selection was odd for the event (The 1812 Overture? The Star Wars main title theme?) It was all good fun though, and a nice finale. Despite being in a crowd of up to 30,000 people we were able to get to our shuttle bus and back to home fairly swiftly.

Lots more about Jamestown’s Birthday at the Library of Congress blog.

News reports:


Other blogs:

I searched Technorati to find posts by other people who attended the Jamestown 2007 events but didn’t have much luck. Most posts were simply reporting on the event or criticizing them (or reporting on Bush’s visit and criticizing him). If you attended America’s 400th Anniversary please post your thoughts in the comments and/or link to your blog. Thanks!

Also in my searches I found this map of the College of William & Mary as Middle-Earth, which has nothing to do with Jamestown but it’s damned funny.

Groundhog’s Day

When I went to college way back in the early 1990’s the big technological advancement was having our own voicemail accounts on the phones in our dorm rooms. It was fun to leave silly messages for one another and periodically these were forwarded around as chainmails. My sophomore year I received a message in which some fellow student announced that he’d written the first Groundhog’s Day carol. I’ll never know who he was but to this day I recall the lyrics.

It’s Groundhogs Day, it’s Groundhog’s Day,
What the hell’s the matter?
We celebrate a holiday
for some fat rodent’s shadda!

So in tribute to Groundhog’s Day and this anonymous songwriter, let us all sing this carol together. We may get six more weeks of winter, but it hasn’t really felt like winter yet anyway.

First Night Williamsburg 2007

Susan & I spent the holiday week visiting family in North Carolina and Virginia. We rang in the New Year with my mother by attending First Night Williamsburg 2007. We spent almost the entire night in the University Center at the College of William & Mary and heard a lot of great music (and a couple of duds).

  • Celtibillies — As the name implies they play Celtic and Appalachian styles of music. There are a lot of bands that do this so they could probably do without the silly name, but they play it well. I love those jigs and reels.
  • St. Veronica’s Youth Steel Orchestra — A bunch of exuberant youngsters from Baltimore played everything on the steel drums from Earth, Wind & Fire to a medley of Christmas songs. I especially like the bass drums which sound like strings.
  • C. Shells — We popped in for the end of this participatory children’s performance. I especially liked the song about a kitten on Christmas morning. The women in this duo remind me of Carole and Paula from The Magic Garden. My mother and wife have no idea who I’m talking about.
  • Ron Fetner — This guy is from Virginia but sounds like he’s from the Boston folk scene.
  • Bagels and Fraylox Klezmer Band — We really enjoyed this klezmer band which featured a guest mandolin player on a couple of songs.
  • Friends of Appalachian Music (F.O.A.M.) — In my college days I was a regular a F.O.A.M. contra dances in Norge so this was a nostalgic moment. Susan and I stood in for a couple of easy square dances which was enough to work up a lather.
  • Poisoned Dwarf — This contemporary Celtic band was really good. The room was so crowded that Susan & I listened from the corridor. Too bad Poisoned Dwarf wasn’t asked to play the Grand Finale.
  • Schnicklefritz and the Oompahs — I forced my beloved wife and mother to leave the University Center to hear some German music. Perhaps this band wasn’t talented, perhaps they were over-amplified, or perhaps you need beer to enjoy oompah music, but we bear to stay longer than one song.
  • Grand Finale featuring Coyote Run — I went to the very first First Night Williamsburg to ring in 1994 and for the Grand Finale someone dropped a pineapple off the balcony of the Wren Building at the College of William & Mary. In later years they had music and fireworks in the Sunken Gardens. Now the finale is in Zable Stadium. Since we abandoned Schnicklefritz we got to Zable early and sat in the stands. The band Coyote Run played and they were kilt-wearing, hooting & hollering and basically Scottish cliches who didn’t play very good music. Apparently all the good bands were in the University Center. Then it started to rain so we huddled under the stands to keep dry. At midnight, the fireworks began and for the first few minutes they were pretty pathetic. Then they started firing the good fireworks. It may say something about my age, but after 20 minutes I was checking my watch and ready to go home. After 10 more minutes of booms and flashes the New Year fireworks show was complete and we went home to bed.

Book Review: Cow Poetry by M. Frost

My friend from college and former housemate M. Frost is possibly the most talented person I know. She is a veterinarian, a photographer, a science fiction writer, and a poet among other things. Finishing Line Press just released her first chapbook of poems Cow Poetry as part of the New Women’s Voices Series.

Forget the concept of the pastoral, idyllic images of cows ruminating, or the anthropomorphic ideal of cows. These are cows as they are, down to their sinew, amuck in their own manure (in one case dried amusingly in the shape of a map of America). These are not “pretty poems” yet medical terminology dances lyrically across the page. M. Frost finds inspiration in death and decay and the occupational hazards of anthrax as well as in Edgar Allen Poe and the Irish epic The Cattle Raid of Cooley. I wouldn’t call these morbid poems though. Undergirding them all is the constant effort to learn from life as well as hope and healing.

If this type of poetry appeals to you go and buy many, many copies of Cow Poetry.

Gaudete Sunday

In my own life experience, I was slow to recognize the gift of Gaudete Sunday (just as I’m slow in getting this post up a day late). The Third Sunday of Advent is given the name Gaudete, Latin for “rejoice.” On this day a pink or rose colored candle is lit on the Advent wreath instead of a purple one and the clergy wear purple vestments. This Sunday represents a shift in attitude from waiting for the Lord to recognizing that “God is with us,” Emmanuel. More on the history and practice of Gaudete Sunday can be found at Catholic Encyclopedia.

I first heard of Gaudete during my freshman year at the College of William & Mary. Due to bizarre sleep patterns I found myself atypically awake at dawn on a clear, sunny December morning. I went for a walk and came upon a poster for the Catholic Student Associations Gaudete Sunday Mass a 9 o’clock with caroling to follow. I was all set to put on a clean shirt and necktie and head to the church when I noticed that the event actually took place at 9 PM on Saturday night. In my long sleep and lethargy I had missed it. I had to wait a whole year to experience Gaudete CSA style.

The next year I ensured I’d be part of the Gaudete Mass by signing up to be lector. It was in fact the first time I was ever lector at any Mass. It didn’t help that I had a lifelong fear of public speaking. In the hours leading up to the Mass I was holed up anxiously reading and practicing proclaiming the verse I’d been assigned. One of my first tasks during the Mass was to carry a candle through the darkened parish center and light small candles for people throughout the congregation. I recall walking down an aisle lighting candles to my left and to my right, and then turning around to return down the aisle and being amazed by the blazing gauntlet before me (yes, I suffered from pyrophobia as well).

While it took me a while to settle in, the Gaudete Mass had some special touches. It began triumphantly with trumpets blasts of “O Come Emmanuel” and then a procession accompanied by “Prepare Ye, the Way of the Lord” from Godspell, first sung by one voice and growing to include the voices of everyone present. The candle-lighting followed, again with just one small flame growing to light the faces of all the students in the parish center. Some very symbolic and awe-inspiring moments. Gaudete Sunday grew to be one of my favorite events in college and remains so to this day.

Not related to the Catholic church but to my college experience is the Yule Log ceremony. This is a big event at the College of William & Mary although I didn’t participate until my Junior year. You’ll remember I was sleeping the first year and practicing my reading the next year. I made up for it by attending the Yule Log two more times after graduation. The ceremony involved songs, prayers, stories, a W&M-themed “Night Before Christmas” read by a college official and a dramatic reading of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by the President of the College, Tim Sullivan decked out in a Santa suit. Then a Yule Log would be carried through the gathering while students attempted to hit the log with a sprig of holly. Inside the Wren Building, students could throw their holly into a blazing fire, symbolic of unburdening their anxieties. Both events occurred on the same night, Yule Log followed by the Gaudete Mass, and provided for my friends and I a break from exams, a communal experience, and a spiritual renewal.

As I’ve grown older Gaudete in many ways has taken over the feelings of anticipation and joy I had for Christmas as a child. Typically I participate in activities such as the Christmas Revels and the Advent-Christmas concert at the Paulist Center on the weekend of Gaudete. For me it is a time of friends and family, singing joyfully, and reflection on the important things in life. It is a time to rejoice that God is with us.