Friday, September 23, 2011

Behold Colonial Revelry!

I don't know how long the Mendon Station Festival has been going on for, because I always miss it. This year I saw this poster, was delighted by the fact that it did not use Comic Sans and was not printed on pale green 8.5 x 11 paper, i.e. it was actually designed on purpose by someone, and decided that I would go. Just to support that kind of thing.

The fact that I showed up just in time for the Revolutionary War reenactment was not coincidental. Look how cute. They didn't reenact the entire war, thank goodness . . .

. . . because it takes approximately five and a half years to load a musket. We'd have been there into the next century.

Apparently there was very little chance you'd actually get hit with a musket ball during battle. Or, to be more specific, there was very little chance you'd get hit by the guy who was aiming at you. You might get hit by the guy next to the guy who was aiming at you, who was aiming at some other guy. Muskets are not known for their accuracy. Nevertheless, I don't think I'd feel particularly safe, considering that your chances of getting hit go up a lot when there are a few hundred of these coming at you all at once.

They got their bayonets out and it was terrifying, I tell you. All seven of them. Plus the drummer. Terrifying.

This guy reminded me of George Washington. Yes, I know he's clearly a redcoat. Sacrilege! and whatnot.

When all the pretend violence was over, I wandered around and stumbled across this guy who makes stuff out of horn. Like spoons. Apparently they last forever; they just need to be oiled every so often. The fellow who made them was distracted by the tar he had all over his hands. I'm not sure why he had tar on his hands, but I'm sure there was a very good reason. In the end, he very reluctantly poured a bit of whiskey out of a tiny keg to clean his hand with, grumbling about the waste. I don't think he was in character.

He had also done some rather interesting carvings. I suppose this was some kind of hunting horn or something. Really, he was very distracted. 

Who should I meet in my travels but my old friend, Meridian! He smiled for me and asked how I was, and we talked about politics and the economy for a little while, and agreed to meet again in the spring, if not before.

Over at the reenactor's camp, I decided that if I must ever fight in a war, I would like to be the guy that gets the tent the size of a small merry-go-round.

There was a lady there with an array of items, which she could not answer any questions about because she was just holding down the fort for someone else. So I don't know anything about any of this beyond the obvious. Mostly I just wanted to know whether that one pin was bent on purpose or by accident.

For a bunch of dirty soldiers and "camp followers," as they're called, they had some lovely dishes.

Afterwards I went and watched some amateurs learn how to shoot muskets, but decided to leave after only a couple because ten years had passed and I could feel my hair turning gray. I didn't stuff mine face with barbecue or applaud gallant horsemanship, but the colonial revelry was pretty decent, and I might go again next year just to see if that guy has gotten the tar off yet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan."

I'm home with a cold and I've been watching stupid movies. Selection from the end credits of Naked Gun:

I dunno, this seemed funnier to me than most of the movie, but it might be the amount of Sudafed I've taken.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Best Balloon of All Balloons Ever

Brief video clip; less than a minute; no sound.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Festival of Balloons

I finally made it to the Festival of Balloons this year.

It was exciting not only because hot air balloons are awesome, 
but because I recently read all about the history of hot air balloons, 
which was utterly fascinating.

The first paper balloon was launched in 1783, 
and was powered hot air rather than hydrogen. 
It flew for ten minutes and drew a huge crowd. 

The president of the Royal Society (a scientific organization) thought
balloons would be most useful in making heavy things lighter;
i.e. a wagon "normally requiring eight horses to pull it
might need only two horses with a Montgolfier attached."

In 1783, half the city of Paris turned out for the second ever balloon launch. 
Dr. Alexandre Charles, one of the co-pilots, later wrote:

"Nothing will ever quite equal that moment of total hilarity
that filled my whole body at the moment of take-off.
I felt we were flying away from the Earth and all its trouble for ever. . . .
My companion Monsieur Robert murmured to me -- I'm finished with the Earth.
From now on it's the sky for me! Such utter calm. Such immensity!"

When they landed, M. Robert stepped out, and the balloon shot upwards 
with Dr. Charles in it, rising 10,000 feet in ten minutes.

Dr. Charles wrote:
"I was the first man ever to see the sun set twice in the same day.
The cold was intense and dry, but supportable.
I had acute pain in my right ear and jaw.
But I examined all my sensations calmly.
I could hear myself living, so to speak."

He was back in a little over half an hour. He didn't fly again.

Ben Franklin was the American Ambassador to Paris at the time.
He said, "Someone asked me -- what's the use of a balloon?
I replied -- what's the use of a new born baby?"

An early showman, Vincent Lunardi, caused a stir one afternoon in England.

"Lunardi drifted north-westwards across London and into Hertfordshire,
eating legs of chicken and drinking champagne, and occasionally
trying to 'row' his balloon with a pair of aerial oars.
One of the oars broke and started a rumour 
that he had jumped to his death.

It was said that the King broke off a cabinet meeting . . .
while a jury in north London hastily brought in a not-guilty verdict 
so it could run out of the courthouse and watch."

Horace Walpole, the Gothic novelist, was not infected by ballomania.

"Well! I hope these new mechanic meteors will prove only playthings
for the learned and idle, and not be converted into new engines of destruction
for the human race -- as is so often the case of refinements of discoveries in Science."

Nevertheless, he instructed his servants to call him when there was a balloon overhead, 
so he could wave.

In 1785, a Frenchman and an Englishman attempted the first Channel crossing. Together.
"Quite early on, each accidentally managed to drop the other's national flag 
over the side of the basket, and then profusely apologised."

The flight took two hours, and they just barely made it, 
having thrown everything out of the basket, including nearly all their clothes.

Erasmus Darwin, physician, mediocre poet, and grandfather of Charles Darwin, 
wrote this of ballooning:

The calm Philosopher in ether sails,
Views broader stars and breathes in purer gales;
Sees like a map in many a waving line,
Round earth's blue plains her lucid waters shine;
Sees at his feet the forky lightning glow
And hears innocuous thunder roar below.

Quotes and practically everything else from Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Coming Soon

Photos from the New York State Festival of Balloons! They will not all look like a hand-colored 1950s postcard . . . although maybe they should.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Bigger on the Inside

There are two sections to the library I work in: the old stacks and the new stacks. The old stacks are pretty old, and the new stacks are not getting any younger. Recently, there was a flurry of e-mails concerning renaming the stacks because from the perspective of an incoming first-year, "old" and "even older" aren't different enough. It was decided that their names would be changed to the "blue stacks" and the "yellow stacks." These, naturally, are the school colors.

Like all school colors, these are ugly colors. These are the colors of welcome banners, sports uniforms, and "signage," not the colors of interior design. When I heard they were going to be buying paint in these colors, I was downright alarmed.

When I started my first year of college, our library had just been entirely refinished. It looked like a cathedral to begin with, and when it was done, it looked like a cathedral crossed with a banquet hall crossed with a comfortable modern living room.

Photo by my father
Not only that, but it has secret passageways with circular staircases! This is a magnificent library that I was very lucky to spend many late nights translating Beowulf in. I am more than a little sad my current library does not look anything like this. It has some lovely features, some very nice sections, and a whole lot more books, but when you walk around in the old and new stacks, you do not particularly feel like you're in a "cathedral of learning" like Vassar's library was designed to be.

I was sitting at my desk regretting this when a co-worker came tearing into my cubicle. "You have to come see something," she said. "I can't tell you what it is. But you have to come see it RIGHT NOW."

I'm always ready to go see something, especially if it involves not doing real work, so I followed her past the horrible yellow paint in the new stacks, and into the old stacks, where they were painting the elevators blue. Knowing the outcome of the yellow, I assumed that the outcome of the blue was even worse -- so bad it was worth getting up from your desk to marvel at.

But that is not why she brought me there. She brought me there because the fresh paint on the elevator revealed its resemblance to something we had never noticed before.

Photo by co-worker; Pigeon of Anonymity by me
 Okay, so it's not an exact match. And we couldn't put the "pull to open" sign on the correct side for fear it would get smushed when the door opened. And if we'd had more time, we could have done a much better imitation, overall, but still! Our library may be mostly ugly and the blue and yellow paint may have been an aesthetically disastrous idea, BUT NOW WE HAVE A TARDIS. That makes everything better.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Niagara Falls Addendum

Two extra things:

1.One of these things is not like the others.

2. "The power!" Twenty seconds of video from outside and inside the falls.

Yes, my camera takes terrible terrible video. Sorry about that.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Hedgehogs Abroad . . . For About Six Hours

Ivan and I went to Canada last weekend. Mainly to get maple sugar candies, but also they have these giant waterfalls there that we thought we might as well look at.

We looked at them from the outside.

We looked at them from the inside.

We looked at them close up.

We looked at them far away.

We went shopping.

Niagara Falls has to be one of the most horrendously commercialized tourist hotspots in the world. I'm basing this claim on the sheer amount of crap in the fifty-seven tourist shops closing in on the falls. If they sold quality souvenirs, I would be the first to defend them. I love tourist traps. There is nothing I like more than a museum shop . . . even, sometimes, the museum itself. But these tourists shops were selling things for $12.99 that clearly cost ten cents for someone's eight-year-old to manufacture in their basement. Or they were just scams, like the Niagara Falls Souvenir Water ("This water survived a plunge over Niagara Falls.") It comes in water-color and "illuminated," which means it has food coloring in it.

I ASK YOU. WHAT IDIOT WOULD BUY THIS?! As Ivan pointed out, that can't be real Niagara River water, because there is no disgusting foam-sludge in it. And if it IS real Niagara River water, you probably don't want it in your house, because there is a whole episode of This American Life about the chemical plants that dump terrible things into that water when nobody's looking. Or something. I have a bad memory. Anyway, if you shouldn't be drinking it, why would you want it? What are you going to do with it? There isn't much to do with it except keep it around to remind you of a Lesson Learned: stop buying useless crap at tourist traps! Buy maple sugar candy instead!

I developed an obsession with soft maple sugar in Vermont, when I saw some and was suddenly seized with a desire to EAT IT ALL. My sister and I used to get them in our stockings at Christmas, but I hadn't had any for many years. Now I've discovered that one a day keeps the cookies away, because it's so sweet you cannot possibly eat anything else afterwards. Perfect end-of-meal treat.

Ivan and I thought we were going to have to content ourselves with overpriced boxes that only had five in them, but then Ivan discovered "the mother lode."

The hedgehogs returned to their native land very happy indeed.