Wednesday, January 31, 2018

When God closes a window, he opens a door

Today's view from Bridget's attic window

It's my last post in #BlogADayJan and I'd wanted to end on a really high note. I was going to write about Bridget's attic window. I had something interesting to say about it. But it's 9 p.m. and I've been brought low by events of the day.

I had planned to get three projects off my desk today, and maybe even four if I was especially productive. These ranged in significance from an email to which I wanted to pay special attention to crafting well, to a big layout job I do for a nonprofit a few times a year. I didn't get those three jobs off my desk.

I didn't even get one off my desk.

So tomorrow I face the same to-do list. Luckily, an out of town overnight trip got canceled, so I have the entire day to face these same jobs and maybe move them from "pending" to "completed."

Will I continue to blog daily? No way.

Will I blog more frequently? I think so. But...I'm not totally sure. I track statistics at my blog and while there has been steady traffic this month, it's been small. Loyalty is wonderful, but if there are only so many hours in a day (and I understand some people say they are finite), I guess I'd rather address my attention to writing fiction.

So, those who read World of Mailman, I'll be back in a few days to post about Bridget's window...but not too soon.

Statistics: Of the 31 posts this month, here's how they break down by topic:
Lizzie Borden: 13
Travel: 10
Rambling posts: 4
Writing/other authors: 2
Straight-up history: 1
Martin Luther King, Jr.: 1
I gently ease the blinds closed.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mark Twain's cabin on Jackass Hill

It requires a little uphill drive from Angels Camp on a dirt road to find this cabin. You pass some donkeys who give their name to this place, Jackass Hill. You think you're the only history-minded person trying to find it, and you arrive, park, poke around... and then five other cars come and you exult that other people care!

It may seem at first flush that the cabin looks too fresh, too new to have been a place where Mark crashed in 1864.

Yeah, it's made of wood, but it doesn't look OLD somehow

 But you still walk around and marvel.

At least the fireplace looks old, right?

So, if you read the plaque at the site, you learn that this is not the original cabin. It was rebuilt 2002-2005 by the Rotarians. However, not even the original cabin was original! It was built in 1922 to commemorate Mark Twain's stay approximately 60 years earlier. Now who feels like a jackass??

Turns out the cabin is an imposter
This is a nice old plaque. Let's focus on that instead.

1929 plaque also deemed "not old enough"

Am I the only one who wants to put a "C" in the word plaque? I always type "placque" and then fix it.

Sometimes it can be hard to chase down history. If Twain wanted the cabin where he stayed to remain into perpetuity, he should've asked for brick.

It's interesting to contemplate that Twain wrote "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" here, as the placque suggests. Especially since the other plaque suggests the cabin is situated in Tuolumne County. #Hm.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Angels Camp

Mural in town, showing Twain holding a frog

This small Gold Rush town in northern California is also known as Frogtown, because Mark Twain based his short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," on a story heard here in 1865. The hotel where he heard it still stands. PETA members, please don't read this story.

Each May, Angels Camp hosts a jumping frog contest, and a plaque gets laid in the sidewalk for each year's winner.

I think this is the biggest jump I saw, at 19'11"

This one is a wink-wink, based on the story

The town is sweet to wander through and straddles a beautiful creek.

It has an arts center.

And of course it has to have a saloon.

And not too far away, a Barrel of Monkeys, described as "If you were given $5,000 and told to open your own version of John's Incredible Pizza":

Built on a hill, Angels Camp has many staircases that link parallel streets:

And statues throughout town celebrate the froglike history.

It's worth a visit! The jumping frog jubilee is always the third weekend in May; here's a link. The Mark Twain story is also reprinted in its entirety at that site.

Fun fact: the town isn't angelic; it's named for early founder Henry Angell (no one could spell in the 1800s).
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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Writerly community: showcasing recent books

Part of being a writer is finding community. What we do is so solitary that we need to talk to others, realize afresh that we're not as wierd as we think (or at least we have a splinter group of friends who are also wierd), and support each other through all the ups and downs of writing and publishing.

Today's blog post is going to showcase books recently released (in the last six months) those I call friends. Crazily enough, as I started to compile the photos, I realized they all have a J or G name. Guess it's a good time to be publishing if you start with a "Jeh" sound!

Jo Chandler's Y.A. book, start of a series

Jen Laam's latest Russian historical

Gina Mulligan's book of letters written to women with breast cancer;
I sent this to my mom for Christmas

My whale loves Joe Quirk's latest

Jordan's wonderful craft of writing book, in a new edition

At an event for Jim L'Etoile's newest, Bury the Past (I also bought it besides the
At What Cost I'm holding). All of us in this photo are Writers Coffeehouse people.

 So there you have it: Jo, Joe, Jen, Gina, Jim, Jordan. 

(Don't worry, Kathy: yours hasn't released yet so I'll get you next time along with any K or C friends we know...)

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Dav Pilkey as Captain Early Start & Anna Riphahn

We were sent this beautiful book The Timekeeper by grandparents. Believe it or not, it was written and illustrated by a 13 year old. It's part of a series that used to exist called the National Written and Illustrated By awards for kids. It used to exist 1985-1998, releasing three books a year based one age category, and occasionally one or two "gold awards." It went defunct for about a decade. It rebranded in 2006 and released a few books, and then went silent again. Too bad, because it looks such a great program.

The back of The Timekeeper has a tiled display of all the book covers and all the authors. I had a jolt when I realized I actually recognized one of the names: Dav Pilkey, the author of the fabulous Captain Underpants series.

He won in 1986 when he was 19 for his book World War One.

I just looked at his website and he has 62 books in print. We should all have such a prolific career, launched at such an early age!

Fun fact: He was born Dave but his nametag from when he worked at Pizza Hut omitted the final E, so he kept it that way for his author name.

Returning to The Timekeeper, author Anna Riphahn tragically died only three years after her book was published. She died in a highway accident. When you read through the book, you see what expressive paintings she created, and you take a big inhale thinking of everything she might've been capable of.

Look at the laborious pottery border--each page has a gorgeous border a la Jan Brett

From this History Guy video in the Topeka Capital-Journal, we learn that she tried first in 1991 with a book and won Third Place. The next year, she tried with a different book and won Second Place. Her third book was the charm, winning first place and publication.

Perseverance. I love it.

Anna's photo from the back of the book

Thank you so much for tracking down and sending us this book, Earl!

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Last post about the Klimt exhibit

(although it has nothing to do with Klimt)

In the permanent collection, my husband pointed out a plaque that made us laugh. I had assumed "The Candelight Master" was the name of the painting. But it was the name of the artist.

Forgive me if this is a big thing I missed out on. I never took Art History.

So then of course, anyone who loves Prince as much as he does has to joke, that when his town got electricity, he was "the artist formerly known as the candlelight master and now known as the fluorescent blurb master."

Of course because I feel an obligation to the paltry few of you who actually read this blog (and because it's so miserably short today), I took a moment to google this artist. 

Proving you really do have to have money to have a gallery named after you

He had the very worrisome name of Trophime Bigot (but don't worry, he was French so you'd pronounce it Bee-joe...or wait, maybe a hard G? Bee-go? I'll have to consult on this one and return)

He lived 1579-1650, was born in Arles (bullfight place I've visited and sobbed about, poor bulls), and was actively painting in Rome and Provence. He's buried in Avignon, where the popes used to live (I visited but didn't cry).

There's some controversy that he was thought to be a father and son, but historians determined that he was the same guy painting in two very different styles, depending on what his patrons wanted.

And, and, and...he did one of the Judith & Holofernes beheading paintings that I was just sharing with a class a month ago. Wow. Small world.

A lot can happen by candlelight.

Hm...murder assisted by a maid...where I have heard that before?

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Klimt & Rodin exhibit, Legion of Honor

Man with Portrait of Johanna Staude, unfinished thanks to the flu
AKA Klimt, part 2, far more cheerful!

Klimt is amazing. This exhibit is incredible. 
The colors and depth were so spectacular that when we moved from the Klimt exhibit into the older paintings in the permanent collection, I literally felt a let-down. The paintings there seemed flat. I still love them...but damn, Klimt does everything I want an artist to do!

(and Rodin's pretty cool too. But I have a grudge against him because it was at his museum in Paris that I hemorrhaged and had to go to the ER—my little French/English dictionary had the word for "miscarriage"—and thought I'd lost a baby yet again. But! she's here, thank God).

I like to say Legion of Honor. It sounds like you're not just looking at art, but doing something noble.

It's a glorious museum with a Rodin "The Thinker" out front and even a miniature pyramide de verre like the Louvre.

Anyway, I love Klimt and we drove six hours round-trip to see this exhibit (actually shouldn't have taken that long, but see previous post). Plus, wanted a date day in the big city.

It's a small exhibit with five rooms, but there is a wealth there that could take up hours if you weren't being jostled for space by lots of other viewers. Hint to Legion of Honor: please make description plaques twice as large (and maybe even duplicate them to place on either side of wider pieces)—sometimes you'd have to move through a sea of 20 people to read the plaque and then you don't get to look at the painting again with the newfound information. I heard several other people complain about the small print. 

This exhibit space is gorgeous: look at the ceilings! The black and white photograph you see on the back wall is a reproduction of Klimt's "Medicine." See a few paragraphs below for an explanation.

This is Klimt himself, coolest of the cool. Sadly he died of pneumonia complicating his 1918 flu (which I blogged about here) or we'd have so much more art to delight our eyes.

Loving the vibe

One of the many things that makes him great:
He tried three times to get into the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts, failed and then went on to be one of the most well-known artists of all time.

Another thing that makes him great: he fathered 14 kids. And you can tell by this picture why and how:

Section of a much larger frieze

Another thing: there is an early painting of his (a seashore landscape that I'm mad at myself for not photographing so I could show you) that is fully representational to the degree it's nearly photographic. He was so damn talented, but decided that was boring, and so moved on to create his own style. Here's a few details of his explosive use of color and built-up texture:

detail of painting I failed to write down the name of

Detail of Klimt's other painting I didn't write down the name of
Hey, this isn't investigative journalism!

Another bit of admirable coolness: He was commissioned by the University of Vienna to create three huge paintings, allegorical representations of Medicine, Philosophy and Jurisprudence. He created the first, Philosophy, and it was thought to be pornographic and there was public outcry. He withdrew it and entered it in the 1900 World's Fair competition and won the Grand Prix! Eff you, establishment! All three were destroyed by a fire in the Austrian castle where they were stored during WWII, and all that exists are black and white photographs of these lost pieces.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, this exhibit closes Jan. 28 so get thyself hence post-hastily!

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Klimt, collapses and car crashes

See how the tire is revealed by the entire bumper being demolished?
It almost took off his axle.

The other day I was hanging out with a friend and describing how someone had rung our doorbell around midnight and I looked out from the balcony and saw how one person had hidden himself behind our Spanish arch while the other was at the door and called out frantically to my husband, "Don't open the door! It's bad guys! One's hiding" ...

and how my husband called 911 before we understood they were the law (it was two sheriffs on a very strange mission that I still don't fully understand, and I guess one had hidden himself in case my husband opened the door and shot his colleague), ...

and in the same conversation we talked about how I'd forgotten my purse at a teachers' meeting and how the (very nice!) person who took it for me since campus was closing happened to live an hour away, and just a few other things, and she said, "You have the most drama in your life of anyone I know."

I had to laugh, but it kind of hurt. In fact, after the sheriffs departed, I had asked myself, "Why does all the weird stuff happen to us?"

So that was Jan. 11.

On Jan. 23, we were part of two more 911 calls in the space of 40 minutes. We went to San Francisco for the Klimt and Rodin exhibit which closes Jan. 28–if you live in the area, you have four more days to see an absolutely incredible exhibit. It was fabulous. We loved touring the exhibit and then the permanent galleries of the Legion of Honor.

We looked at the time and realized our hope of getting a fun lunch in San Francisco had evaporated time-wise. So we headed down to the basement cafe of the Legion to grab something quick and head home. At the bottom of the stairs was a woman on the floor surrounded by a small group of people, having CPR administered.

My husband works in the ER, so he went over to check in. Things were already underway, but we were part of that drama for about 20 minutes. I stood there, tears prickling in my eyes, thinking, "Is this how this woman dies? On the floor of the museum?" and thankfully, she opened her eyes eventually and was able to speak to the caregivers.

Someone had called 911, and soon enough the paramedics were there to take over.

Kind of a sacred moment as a life was saved.

So incredible.

And then, as one does, we resumed the concerns of the living: food. But there was a long line to get into the cafe. We resolved we would get on the road and see how traffic treated us; maybe we could get something fast on the way.

This is how quickly that long line of cars forms after an accident.
I wonder how long traffic was affected.
There was a ton of debris in the road, glass and metal, so cars had to slow
to get past the accident site. To make things better, that meadow on the left was filled with cows.

About 20 minutes into our drive, something happened in front of us. I can't even say what it was (I'd make a terrible eyewitness), but there were cars in front of us colliding, and it was only due to my husband's excellent defensive driving that we were not involved. He braked hard and swerved, and we missed the car in front of us by mere feet.

It was a three-car crash and we were almost the fourth. 

We pulled over to be witnesses (my husband had paid attention and knew who was at fault) and give our number to the other drivers. Both our phones had died (despite being charged all night the previous night and my not running any draining program: more drama) but luckily his had been charged just long enough in our 20 minute drive for me to call 911.

After a long time, the police officer arrived and we took off. We knew we were never going to get home in time, so we changed to charging my phone just enough to call the wonderful person we were going to be late for.

Traffic sucked and because we were on the road an extra hour because of it, we had to stop for gas. More drama.

So, we were part of three 911 calls in a week.

Let's hope things slow down for a little.

I guess the one thing I can say is, the Klimt exhibit was still worth it. And tomorrow I'll post photos. Undramatic photos.

Best defensive driver and CPR overseer ever.

Me, art lover. Our parking spot just happened to have a spectacular view of that
Golden Gate Bridge (I'm so used to typing Bridget, my character in The Murderer's Maid
that I literally just wrote, Golden Gate Bridget)

(And that's what I love about San Francisco. You just, you know, pull over on your way to the museum and there's a world-class view people get in an airplane for.)

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Sacramento's historic cemetery

This post is for Loren, in my heart today. I took these pictures in February 2017, and can't wait to return to do an official tour with you someday soon.

Loren's the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die

Grave of Mark Hopkins, one of the "Big Four" who brought the transcontinental
railroad to California

pockmarked cherub

Blog visitors, let me know in the comments if you have a favorite cemetery (photos uploads would be great too!)

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Did Lizzie Borden commit murder naked?

I love how this still is so close you see the texture of their skin. Courtesy, Sundance Review

The reviews for the new Lizzie movie reveal a few interesting things about the plot and its interpretation of the historical events of 1892. For one thing, it utilizes the interesting thought that Lizzie might've murdered her father and stepmother in the nude. Much easier to clean blood off skin than off fabric.

The Elizabeth Montgomery made-for-TV movie of the 1970s used this idea, and seeing the camera dwell on her beautiful calves as she walks towards murder adds a little verve to an already fantastically-rendered movie. Other notable movie moments: Lizzie sneaking down to the dining room where the victims were kept overnight, and lifting the sheet on her father's corpse to...can barely type this....kiss him. And I love it that this movie shows a dispassionate Lizzie, as she was in real life. The only moment where she ever shows horror is for herself, when the attorney forces her to grasp that she may hang for this crime.

But the new movie takes this idea a step further. Not only does Chloe Sevigny disrobe, but Kristen Stewart does too. Lizzie and her Irish maid together strip naked to perform the murders.


I have to say, my first thought is a pragmatic one. And kind of a disturbing one.

There just isn't room for two people to commit these murders. Not in the cramped quarters of the Borden home (Mrs. Borden was slain in a narrow alley between bed and dresser) and more definitively, not in the small real estate of where the hatchet blows landed.

The heads, to be exact.

Mrs. Borden had one blow on her upper back, but other that, only the heads bore wounds.

19 blows for Mrs. Borden, and 11 for Mr. Borden a few hours later.

Plaster casts of the Bordens' skulls used as evidence in the trial, now on
display at the Lizzie Borden B&B

If you think about the average head size...and now the average hatchet head would just be awkward for two people to try to murder together. Maybe they each had a hatchet and took turns? I shudder.

I'm not sure how the movie will handle this, but I'm sure fans of both actresses will be happy to see skin. Sevigny told Indiewire, "It’s just a really carnal moment, and I just thought it would be really arresting. I trusted in [director] Craig’s restraint and [cinematographer] Noah’s beautiful photography that they would make me look good. Now I feel extremely vulnerable!" The murder scene was shot on Sevigny's 42nd birthday, and I applaud her bravery in letting loose with what is likely a far more toned body than the average middle-aged woman has!

By the way, Lizzie was 32 at the time of the murders.

And if you want to know about Kristen Stewart (who plays the maid Bridget Sullivan), she is now 27 years old, much closer to the age of the character she plays: 27.

If you want to read my piece about spending the night in the Lizzie Borden B&B, click here. I stayed in Bridget's attic bedroom.


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