Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Holiday Gift to You

It's that time of year, and I'm finally back in town after escaping the snow and ice that fell on my parents' place during the holiday (see above). After sorting my presents into the various categories (very useful: electric toothbrush, small crockpot to use at work to heat up lunch; well-intentioned but unnecessary: a bathmat when I have lovely bathroom rugs in place; WTF: a squeezable stress ball...what is this, 1987?), I

 decided I owed you all a small gift as well. So here it is: my special recipe for Mike's Mustard.

Mike's Mustard
1 part each dijon mustard (Grey Poupon is the classic) and deli mustard (I use Kosciusko)
1/2 part coarse-ground mustard (again, Grey Poupon is a good one)
1/4 part horseradish

Mix it up and use on sandwiches, or at the dinner table with sausages, pork roasts, chicken, steaks, roasts, whatever you feel can use a little jazzing up with a lively mustard.

This is only a template; I've taken some and mixed in minced garlic and snipped parsley and other herbs I had on hand, and smeared it on chicken breasts that I was broiling. I have some Coleman's dry mustard and have wondered how a pinch of that would be mixed in. (By the way, if you get some Coleman's and use the instructions on the box for mixing up a wet mustard, the results are very similar to the mustard used in Chinese restaurants. At least that's been my experience.)  Find your own variation and make it uniquely yours.

And buy a vintage mustard pot to park on your table and impress your guests. This vintage Noritake number can be had from but there's tons inexpensively available on Ebay.

More fun coming! Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Ghost-mas

As many of us can find the holidays taxing (as I do), let's declare our own observation of it.

Sometimes over the holidays, find time to sit alone, preferably after dark, and read a ghost story or two. I often sit up late on Christmas Eve by the fire, long after everyone else has gone to bed, and read a story or two by M. R. James (whose stories were meant to be read on Christmas Eve, actually), and maybe some of Elliott O'Donnell's "true" ghost stories. But anything can be read as long as it sends a chill up the spine.

Ghost stories and Christmas have long gone hand-in-hand. Naturally there's Scrooge's three ghosts, but Victorian magazines invariably HAD to include ghost stories in their Christmas issues for them to be complete. And they're not always cutesy heartwarming ghosts who make the miser see the error of his ways...sometimes they were vengeful and destructive, as James' ghosts were. Some were bent on dark deeds, like the beings in Lovecraft's "The Festival", set during Yuletide. And some are just creepy.

Tell you's a link to a favorite Christmas-themed ghost story. I first read this in high school and it gave me the jitters, and it still gives pleasant shudders. Fasten your seatbelts for "Smee."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December Night Out at the Cinema!

On a Sunday night in mid-December, we set aside the holiday shopping and partying for our monthly assemblage. Dinner conversation has ranged from recent news to old complaints, but eventually we leave the restaurant (after leaving a very generous tip) and make our way to the theater.

First up is a little bon-bon from 1906, Segundo de Chomon's The Magic Roses.

And then the feature presentation: the 1931 thriller The Phantom.

And all too soon the show is over, and we wander out into the night. It's mild for December, and we wonder if snow will ever come, but we also make plans for the new year...

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Poor Laura! She is kidnapped by the rapacious Lord Oakendale and taken to the titular abbey to be softened up, presumably for a future rape and/or seduction. And then...marriage? But Laura is a plucky sort, and explores Oakendale Abbey to track down the source of the mysterious goings-on that cause it to have such an evil reputation locally.

Written in 1797, The Horrors of Oakendale Abbey is a bit gruesome for its time. There's nothing supernatural going on here; part of the abbey is actually being used by a group of resurrectionists and body snatchers. Rather than having ghosts and curses, it's all about death and decay, and some of the descriptions are pretty ferocious given the more genteel times of which this was a product.

As far as I can tell, the identity of "Mrs. Carver" is open for debate. She may never have existed, and the real author may have been Sir Anthony Carlisle, a noted surgeon, making the "Carver" name a rather macabre pun. And given the body-snatching going on in the story, that theory has some plausibility.

How does it read? Well, it's still pretty readable by modern standards, but oddly it doesn't have any chapter divisions, so you have to KEEP READING until you find a decent place to stop. I also had trouble keeping track of the various characters, but that could be because my reading of it has been so fragmented, thanks to having less time to read because of my new commute. (Hopefully that will change in a few months...) The Zittaw edition has some oddly inane footnotes, either explaining the meanings of basic words like "enervated" or pointing out things that are already obvious to a halfway intelligent reader. 

Is it worth reading? For Gothic diehards, sure. And for those intrigued by the history of resurrection men. But this might be a slog for the general reader, so be warned.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dust & Corruption Calendar for December 2012

The year's almost gone, soon the snows and ice will be here. May be a while for me; it's 70 outside where I am. Total lack of holiday spirit here. But here's a list of upcoming events that might help. Or not. Don't get your hopes up.

A sad note: The Red Palace, my favorite club in DC and the site of many events I've plugged here in the past, is closing soon after the New Year. I'll be on the floor in the fetal position when that happens.

As always, Brooklyn's Observatory Room has a thriving schedule of fascinating talks; check it out here.

12/6 - St. Nicholas Day. If you observe that, I guess. If you don't, it's kinda charming. Look it up.

12/8 - Holiday Inn! The Pontani Sisters and friends (including my pals Maria Bella, Kay Sera, Sunny Sighed, and Bal'd Lightning, and occasional lust object Albert Cadabra) host a holiday-themed burlesque show. Wish I could go, I have a previous commitment, but if you're in the area, let me know how it was. The Ottobar, 2549 N Howard St, Baltimore, MD. Doors 9pm, tix $15, available here.

12/12 - Lord of the Pasties: The Two Tassels. Yes, folks, it's a Lord of the Rings-themed burlesque show, organized by my pal Mourna Handful. The Red Palace, 1212 H St NE, Washington, DC. Doors 8:30, tix $10.

12/13 - DCVariety: December Rocks Edition. A showcase of emerging variety talent in the DC area. Always a lot of fun. The Red Palace, Washington DC. Doors 8:30, tix $8.

12/14 - End of an Era Show. DC's Cheeky Monkey Sideshow does a blowout to honor the imminent closing of the Red Palace. The Red Palace, Washington DC. Doors 9:00; tix $10 advance, $12 at the door.

12/15 - Land of Sweets, presented by Burlesque Classique. A version of "The Nutcracker," only with bumps and grinds and discarded clothing. DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St NW, Washington, DC. Two shows on 12/15 and 12/16, 7:30pm both days. Tix $15, available here

12/21 - The end of the world, if you believe that bullshit about the Mayan calendar. Also the Winter Solstice and my parents' anniversary.

12/21 - Naked Girls Reading DC: Solstice! It's naked girls, reading holiday selections. What did you think it was? Actually some good readings going on. DC Arts Center, Washington, DC. Showtime 7:30pm, tix $20 and available here.

12/24 - Christmas Eve. I'll be sitting up late, reading ghost stories by the fireside. (Seriously, that's my tradition.)

12/25 - Christmas Day. I'll eat too much, as I always do.

12/26 - Boxing Day. Whatever.

12/27 - End Daze of the Red Palace. Staxx Burly-Q pays its own tribute to the soon-to-be-shuttered DC nightspot. Red Palace, Washington DC. Doors at 8pm, tix $10.

12/31 - Ball Drop III. The Red Palace's New Year's Eve blowout, with burlesque, comedy, music and more fun than you can believe. A lot of friends performing there, and some others in the audience, probably. Join me. Be my date. Please. (OK, yes, I'm still single.) The Red Palace, Washington DC. Doors 8pm; tix $35 advance, $45 at the door, but it may sell out so advance tix are recommended. Go here for more info.

Monday, December 3, 2012

December at the Phantom Concert Hall

Our little group assembles in our best bohemian finery at the concert hall. We're a bit excited; a new pianist is performing, a vibrant talent about whom much has been written. We actually scored some good tickets, through a friend of a friend, and we have a great view.

The pianist is a bit off-putting. He's tall and lank, and even as far back as we are, we're struck by the intensity of his eyes. Even the orchestra seem intimidated by him. But his talent is unmistakable as he launches into Liszt's Totentanz....

However, as he's playing, we happen to glance around. The audience is hypnotized! And what are those shadowy figures moving up and down the aisles? James and May are startled, to be sure; Ramsey is gripping your arm, and Viola is doing breathing exercises to control herself while Laura stares at the floor to control her panic. You're gripping the arms of your seat, looking all around you, wondering if you should speak up, or shout, or something. Even get up and run. But then it's over before you realize it; the audience snaps back to normal, the gray shapes fade. But you're scared by the look the pianist gave you from the stage; he knows you know.

Liszt's Totentanz is regarded as one of the finest works of horror in music, and Liszt himself was almost a demoniacal master of the piano, almost on par with Paganini. Lots of his other works are dark and macabre. Go take a look, if you dare...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two from the Video Shelf

I actually went to the video store and RENTED some movies...and just in time, as it turns out my local video rental store is closing forever. (Just after I decided to move to Baltimore, too. And my favorite club, DC's Red Palace, just announced it's closing after the new year. I might as well move.)

Anyway, first up is Stanley Donen's 1966 thriller Arabesque.

This was a follow-up to another Donen work, 1963's Charade, a dazzling comedy-thriller starring Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn, along with Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy. Charade is a minor classic and well worth seeking out. It's in the public domain but the Criterion disc is worth the cost. Arabesque is an attempt at a comic spy thriller in the same vein, but does it work?

David Pollock (Gregory Peck) is an expert on Egyptian hieroglyphs who is asked to translate what appears to be a coded message from a spy network. Pollock infiltrates the organization of the mysterious Beshraavi (Alan Badel, who is frequently mistaken for Peter Sellers in the role) and falls in with Beshraavi's mistress Yasmin (Sophia Loren), who may or may not be on his side.

OK, the worst up front: Gregory Peck, as wonderful as he is, is not Carey Grant and is not the greatest comic actor (something he purportedly admitted readily on the set of this movie). But Sophia Loren was at the peak of her beauty, and her natural wit and style shine. It's got Mancini music and Loren in Dior dresses, and enough excitement to keep one's interest. I enjoyed it, although it's definitely a cut below other works by the same director.

For a sample, here's the main credits:

Next up was something more recent: the 2010 independent film Cold Weather.

Doug (Chris Lankenau) is a forensic-science student home from school, taking some time off to re-evaluate his life. He moves in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), gets a job in a Portland ice factory where he befriends Carlos (Raul Castillo), and then is excited when his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) visits Portland on business. But then things get weird when Rachel disappears...

Cold Weather takes its time; the first third is just about setting up the characters and atmosphere. These are slackers, to be sure, but also have regular workaday lives and the give-and-take of their relationships and especially the budding friendship between Doug and Carlos actually make for good watching. When the mystery does kick in, it's rather low-key...but at the same time, since the movie has so firmly established the characters as regular folks in a normal world, it actually is exciting because it's how we can see ourselves handling this. Plot twists that would be nothing in a Sherlock Holmes movie are major here.

What's REALLY fun for me is watching how characters handle the mystery. Doug is a fan of Holmes and goes off to buy a pipe to help himself think; naturally, it doesn't work and he has to find his own way. And a couple of times characters are at a loss for what to do in a given situation, times when heroes of big-budget movies and slick novels would have everything figured out.

It does end rather abruptly, but then you realize that the movie isn't as much about the mystery as it is about the relationships, especially between Doug and Gail, and they're firmly on the way to fixing their broken connection by the end, and that's what matters.

Writer/director Aaron Katz deserves kudos; this is a delightful little film that mystery buffs like me can relate to; we often wonder how we would handle a real mystery coming our way, and this shows what it would be like. And the relationships in the movie are refreshingly REAL and relatable. Seek this one out, folks.

Here's the trailer:

Once Upon a Halloween, by Richard Laymon

Richard Laymon is someone I just don't know what to make of. Figuring out where he's coming from is difficult; does he take this all seriously, or is his tongue planted firmly in his cheek? It's almost impossible for me to figure out.

In Once Upon a Halloween, we meet Shannon and Laura, two housemates waiting for their dates for a costume party on Halloween night. Trick-or-treaters are coming by, and everything seems as usual...until a teenaged boy runs in, claiming to be hiding from some sort of cult that had snatched his girlfriend as they were necking in a nearby cemetery. The two young women aren't sure if they believe him but then said cultists show up, looking for more victims. So then we kick off a story full of action and violence, and it also throws in a homicidal ghost haunting Shannon and Laura's house!

Laymon isn't for all tastes; some find his penchant for sexual violence to be off-putting, if not totally offensive and vile. I've read a number of his books and there's a rape or some other form of sexual violence in just about all of them. Plus his characters seem to always be thinking about sex, and everything is sexually charged. In this book the cultists are all impressive physical specimens, male and female, and run around naked under their robes. (Oddly, they use their real names, unless their idea of proper occult names includes "Royce" and "Eleanor." And there's no mention of them worshiping anything in particular; toward the end, it even goes so far as to have two surviving members speculate that it's all bunk and an excuse for an orgy.) Characters are constantly checking each other out and wondering about hooking up, even when in dire mortal danger. In this particular book Laymon even has an 11-year-old girl having sexual thoughts, and a teenager checks her out. Yuck.

The homicidal ghost in the house exists primarily as a side plot that is never truly resolved. While it's clear it's never harmed Laura or Shannon, it does make one attempt at murder and does succeed in killing two more people. Why? How do they deal with it? It's all abandoned at the end.

This book IS enjoyable on a certain level if it's taken as a tongue-in-cheek salute to Halloween, a sort of literary B-movie. And I've seen Laymon defended on those grounds, that his books are just B-movies on the page, if not just direct-to-DVD movies. Sometimes they seem homophobic, like a few that have featured villainous and vile gay characters, and oddly often Laymon attempts to establish his characters as fans of Rush Limbaugh, and I can't make out if that's meant to be satirical or a serious endorsement. And sometimes his books seem like macho wish-fulfillment. One of his last novels, Night in the Lonesome October, features a lonely protagonist who's bereft after his girlfriend ditches him, only to have multiple women and men throwing themselves at him. (To be fair, that book also features a gay character who's the real hero of the story, and some genuine atmosphere as the narrator has some surreal encounters while wandering the streets of his college town by night. However, it all ends up in a rather standard and uninteresting serial-killer plot, as if Laymon had set up a fascinating milieu but then had no idea of what to do with it.)

Once Upon a Halloween is an OK read for the Halloween season if you can handle the sexual violence and just feel like something trashy and disposable. If you want to check out further Laymon, I would suggest The Traveling Vampire Show, which some say is probably his best work. Night in the Lonesome October, as previously noted, is atmospheric but badly flawed. Come Out Tonight is very bad, full of stupid characters whose motivations can't be fathomed, and some say it's his worst work. I've read another book of his that I can't remember the title of (I think it may have been Among the Missing but am not sure) that wasn't even horror, it was just a police procedural with a bisexual killer and his sniveling gay lover.

Laymon (1947-2001) was never big in the US; one of his early books had a disastrous editing job and horrible cover art that he was never able to overcome. However, he was popular in the UK and after his death some of his work that never saw print the US was released. His works are thick but not very substantial; you can whip through one of his books in an afternoon. He's not someone I'm going to be reading often, as I've either had bad luck choosing titles to read or else he's just not to my taste. I may try some others but don't hold your breath.

Chilly Sunday Afternoon at the Movies!

We're reconvening after the Thanksgiving holiday, and hitting a show at the local theater. We swap tales of overeating and Black Friday shopping (or refraining from same) as we amble down the street. The weather's taken a turn for the cold and we're bundled in heavy coats and scarves against the wind.

First up is an odd bit of gothicism from Melies, 1904's The Wandering Jew.

And then something a bit more recent, 1936's Page Miss Glory, a triumph of Art Deco design.

And then the feature presentation, the 1931 mystery Chinatown After Dark.

The wind is even colder as we leave, and we scurry to the cafe down the street for our usual libations...

Sorry I'm so late with this; the combination of Thanksgiving, dealing with the office move, and now a nasty cold, haven't left me much time for blogging. Just now getting back in the swing of things...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The House of Lost Souls by F. G. Cottam

So I got this from the library recently, after Amazon recommended some Cottam works to me. It's pretty interesting.

Set in 1995, The House of Lost Souls is the story of Paul Seaton, a disgraced former journalist who's flailing through life fighting constant despair, and assailed by occasional supernatural hijinks, including a tape player that turns itself on, playing the same song. He's contacted by psychiatrist Malcolm Covey and the mysterious Nick Mason, and asked to join a trip to Fischer House.

It turns out that House is a bit of a cousin to Matheson's Hell House, in that Seaton is the only person to ever visit the house and survive. Mason's sister was part of a college experiment in studying the nature of evil and is now in a mental hospital, in danger of going insane. Mason has been having supernatural visions and wants to get to the bottom of it all. What is it in Fischer House that's causing this?

Much of the novel is spent in a flashback to Seaton's first trip there; he's researching Pandora Gibson-Hoare, a 20's photographer who visited the house with a party including Dennis Wheatley, Aleister Crowley, and Hermann Goring. And something horrible went down there, something that left Gibson-Hoare unable to do more work and somehow led to her death in a canal a decade later, malnourished and with her throat slashed. The diary entries that describe her adventures are very atmospheric and one of the best parts of the book. Seaton, thinking he can find some lost photos of hers in the house (he's doing this as a favor to his girlfriend), explores the derelict building, but barely escapes with his life, pursued by some sort of invisible monster.

Seaton eventually has a breakdown, suffers multiple losses, and lives a haunted life until he finally confronts the evil in the house, and puts a tragedy to rest.

How is it? Overall, quite enjoyable, but flawed. The historic sections depicting the decadent roaring 20s party are great, and Seaton's torment is palpable and realistic. However, much is made of some characters who disappear from the narrative, the reasoning behind some of the haunting is vague and strange, and the finale seems rushed with a solution brought in out of nowhere and seeming a bit deus ex machina.

So, read it? Yeah, I'd recommend it, because the good outweighs the bad. And it was Cottam's first novel, so I'm willing to cut him some slack. Just look past the hurried ending and you'll have a good time.

Two at the Cinema

Saw two flicks out that the movie theaters lately...both of interest to this blog...

Sinister was rather unexpected. True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family into a new house as part of his research into a new book. His family is blissfully unaware that he's moved them into a house where a gruesome quadruple murder had taken place: an entire family had been hanged from a tree in the back yard, and one child had disappeared. It's assumed that the killer abducted the child, but nobody knows why or where the child is...or if she's still alive. Then, Ellison investigates some odd noises in the attic, and finds films of other murders in which entire families are killed. How did they get there? Who is responsible?

I walked into Sinister figuring it to be a serial-killer plot, and the macabre murders captured in the films were memorable. But I was surprised to discover that it was actually supernatural in nature; there's ancient demons and a bizarre cult involved. Ghosts appear...what is their purpose? To warn against evil...or to cause it?

What's really cool about it is how it keeps unfolding, and so much of the menace is kept vague until the end. Of course, sharp viewers will figure out some of the plot twists ahead of time, but they still do it with style. It's also got some good characterization and a good acting job from Ethan Hawke; his Oswalt is torn between caring for his family and being a good father, and his ambition to repeat his earlier success in true crime and become a celebrity again. He's not particularly likable, but he is human.

It's got good reviews, surprisingly for a horror film, and has done well at the box office, costing $3 million to make and raking in over $47 million so far.

And then, being the avowed James Bond fan that I am, I went to see Skyfall on opening night.

James Bond is accidentally shot by field agent Eve while on a mission in Istanbul, to recover a stolen hard drive that contains the names of NATO agents embedded in terrorist networks. Presumed dead, he lays low in the tropics for a while, still thirsting for danger and recovering from his injuries. However, he returns to England when he sees that M is under fire; it turns out the names of the agents on the hard drive are being leaked on YouTube, and Bond must go from Shanghai to Macao to London to Scotland to find and stop the man responsible.

Is it good? I enjoyed it, far far more than the last entry, Quantum of Solace, which I disliked intensely. But I didn't find it as good as Casino Royale, which was pretty darn close to my idea of the perfect Bond film. I had serious misgivings about Sam Mendes directing; I find his films problematic, with a tendency to focus on men who hate their jobs, and a VERY bad habit of looking at people coping with miserable lives and situations, without ever really exploring the decisions and experiences that got them into those situations in the first place. (Which is why I consider Revolutionary Road to be hugely overrated.) But I have to admit, he did a good job with this; it lacked the listlessness that doomed Jarhead, that's for sure. Roger Deakins' cinematography made it very easy on the eyes, and some scenes are very, very memorable.

And I'm going be very spoiler-y from here on out, so please skip the rest of this post if you're wary of those things. The film is really equally about M (Judi Dench) as it is about Bond (Daniel Craig, very dishy this time), and the motherly bond she builds with the agents she chooses, and how that bond can go wrong. That's very obvious with villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former field agent with an almost Oedipal loathing of her but who ends up being as self-destructive as he is destructive. Naomie Harris is good as Eve Moneypenny, and Berenice Marlohe is memorable as Silva's mistress Severine. Ben Whishaw is fabulous as a young hipster Q. There was some real tension in the film as it shows Bond not at the top of his game but slowly getting back there, and some real emotion as M dies at the end.

A few things I didn't like included Eve suddenly turning out to be Moneypenny, which annoyed me a bit as she had denied the rumor months ago. Also, an Aston-Martin DBV that was supposed to be Bond's private property turns out to be loaded with Goldfinger-era gadgets; how did they get there? And the dialogue seemed clunky at times, and the last act (at Bond's crumbling family estate in Scotland) seems a little drawn out. Something very minor that still bugged me a tiny bit was the gunbarrel scene which again was at the end; I'm ready for it to be back at the beginning, thank you.

Still, at the end, Bond trades banter with Moneypenny, and then goes into the office of the new M (Ralph Fiennes) which is almost a dead ringer for the traditional office of the Connery films. The viewer is left feeling ready for more action. Reportedly they're planning to do Bond films every two years from now on, and screenwriter John Logan is on board for two more films. It's said that Mendes might stick around (he might as well, he's had a string of box-office disappointments and Skyfall will be his first unqualified success since Road to Perdition). And now we have a new M, Q, and Moneypenny, and I hope in the future they manage a balance between action and cerebral intrigue. And put the damned gunbarrel at the beginning again!

So yeah, go check 'em out if you have an evening to spare...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dust & Corruption Calendar for November 2012

Again, sorry I'm late with this; I've had quite a week and only now have the time to do this.

All month long: Fascinating lectures and soirees at the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY. Check out their schedule here.

 11/10 - Beauties, Creeps, and Geeks Burlesque and Sideshow. Pretty much speaks for itself, with my friends Reverend Valentine, Candy del Rio, Cherokee Rose, Charlie Artful, and Swami Yomahmi. Doors at 9pm, $12. The Red Palace, 1212 H St NE, Washington, DC.

11/11 - Veteran's Day. Thank a veteran. Also Corduroy Day, for obvious reasons, so wear some corduroy.

11/14 - DC Variety! A monthly open mic night for budding variety talent in the DC area; this month with Moxie Labouche, Adora Coquette, Abby Nightingale, Dainty Dandridge, and Glam Gamz. Doors 8:30pm, $8. The Red Palace, Washington DC.

11/18 - Hot Todd Lincoln's Thanksgiving Feast. A burlesque show with a difference, in that it's a canned food drive and fundraiser for Food & Friends, a local charity that delivers meals and groceries to those suffering from severe chronic illnesses. (I used to volunteer in their kitchens back in the 90s.) With Maria Bella, Cherie Sweetbottom, Ula!, Miss Abby, Charlie Artful, and Dolly Longlegs. Doors 8:30pm, $12 or $10 if you show up with 2 canned food items. The Red Palace, Washington DC.

11/21 - Sherlock Holmes in Cinema! Film series at the AFI Silver Theater featuring Holmes in many incarnations, from John Barrymore to Arthur Wontner to Basil Rathbone to Peter Cushing to Robert Downey Jr., and who knows who else in between. Running till Dec. 18. Also starting that day is a Hitchcock series and a Tarzan series. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD.

11/22 - Thanksgiving Day. Don't eat too much.

11/23 - Sticky Buns Burlesque. Baltimore's own goofy troupe do a special Black Friday show. With Paco Fish, Marla Meringue, Shortstaxx, Sunny Sighed, Nicolette LaFay, Cherokee Rose, and Hot Todd Lincoln. Doors 9pm; $10 in advance, $12 at the door. The Red Palace, Washington, DC.

11/30 - Billtown Burlesque Presents: The Great Tang Hoochie Coochie Show! Williamsport PA's resident troupe visits the nation's capitol. Two shows. Doors 8pm and 10:30pm; $10 advance, $12 day of show. The Red Palace, Washington DC.

Well, that's a sampling of what's going always, if you know of something, let me know...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November's here, at the Phantom Cabaret

It's chilly out tonight, we're gathered for a drink in the aftermath of the election, relieved that it's finally over, with no more robocalls and leaflets in the mail and dreadful TV commercials and hearing about the same issues over and over on the radio. And up to the piano steps an elegant lady, who sings a tune that speaks to the time of year...

There have been many versions of this lovely Johnny Mercer tune, ranging from Barry Manilow to Nancy Wilson, but this version is my absolute favorite.

Sorry to have been so late with this, folks. In between the election and my office moving to a new location, I've been freaking exhausted and barely up to posting. I'm in bad shape tonight after being up half the night and I'm still adjusting to my new commute...I've gone from a 15-minute bus ride to a 40-minute drive. And my new office has no internet or phone hookups yet, and we're waiting for Verizon to see fit to connect us. Sigh.

Anyway, hope everyone has a great November...I'll be back...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween from Dust & Corruption!

Hope you're doing something fun...even if you're at home handing out candy. Curl up with a movie or a good book if you're at home. If you can. My heart goes out to folks displaced by Sandy and I hope they have some glimmer of comfort and that next Halloween will be better.

So, just for fun, here's some musical interludes for the season...

No matter if this is a solemn religious occasion or just a chance to party and act silly, I hope all my readers have a Happy Halloween! And may next year's be even better!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Well I'll be damned

I never lost power. Fully expected to, was prepared for it, but it never happened. Made me nervous as hell because the whole time the wind blew I expected it to go out. And today in my area it's no worse than if there had been a hard rain. It's plenty cold, too.

My heart goes out to the folks who did get whomped, especially in New York and New Jersey, and I call on my readers to make donations to their favorite charities for aid. Every year I donate to Mercy Corps; another favorite is the Red Cross. A friend speaks very, very highly of Mennonite Disaster Service, which is faith-based but does absolutely no proselytizing (according to him) and is very efficient with putting donations to use, much more than many other charities. But please, if you can, give to a charity you believe in and give some help.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pre-Halloween Update

So far this weekend...well, I've had quite a time.

Friday night I went to the AFI Silver for the annual screening of Nosferatu with live music. It's been the Silent Orchestra mostly in years past, and the Alloy Orchestra last year, but this time we had Not So Silent Cinema, a group out of Philadelphia, doing the music. Surprisingly, very acoustic, not as electronic as others, and very klezmer-influenced. I met a friend for dinner before the show and we had a great time.

Saturday night was Happenstance Theater's Cabaret Macabre 3 at the Round House Theater in Silver Spring. It was opening night of their newest Gorey-influenced Halloween show, and as always a great deal of fun. It's playing till 11/11 and I strongly recommend that any readers who can get there to go. It's an almost dead-on distillation of this blog's aesthetic.

Today I joined others in laughing at the impending weather crisis by attending my first ever Rock Creek Cemetery Potluck, organized by my new friend Phil Powell, the pope of DC-area dandies and goths. It was a smallish, intimate gathering by the infamous Leiter tomb (carved of Carrara marble, and then with a little greenhouse to protect it from weathering), but the food was good, the company scintillating, and I got to try some homemade rose cordial that was perhaps the most seductive liqueur I've ever sampled, with an astonishing scent. When I sipped, it went down like a caress. We were also treated to a private performance by Eli August & The Abandoned Buildings, quite a pleasant coup for this gathering. (That's them above.)

And now? Sheesh. As everyone knows, the east coast is going to get nailed by Hurricane Sandy, or as I've heard it called, the Frankenstorm. Right now it's only windy and lightly raining, but by tomorrow afternoon we're expected to have hard rains and 70mph winds. So I may not be up and going again for a while; we'll see how it pans out. But it's a damned nuisance as we're packing up at the office for our move next weekend, and we're definitely closed tomorrow; local government is urging everyone to stay home and keep off the roads.

So I may be offline for a few days. I'll update as events warrant. Happy Halloween! And stay safe if you're in the Frankenstorm's path.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


J-horror was everywhere for a while, and is still an influence, so it's good to look back on some of the sources of it.

Ugetsu Monogatari (translated as Tales of Moonlight and Rain) was first published in a woodblock print in 1776, although it appears to have been complete in 1768 and in the works since 1770. The actual cause of the eight-year gap is unknown and still debated today. It depicts both the yokai (monsters and demons) and yurei (ghosts) of Japanese lore, and is a great read, although some stories aren't all that great.

First up is "Homecoming," in which a man goes on a long trip hoping to make a profit from a business deal, but is kept away from his wife for several years by a war. He eventually makes it home, spends a cozy night with the wife, and wakens alone in a dilapidated ruin. Turns out she's dead, and was waiting for a final reunion. "Bewitched" concerns young Toyo-o who encounters a lovely woman and proceeds to romance her, eventually discovering she's a malicious cobra spirit who will not leave him alone. Almost a case of supernatural stalking.

"Exiled" concerns itself with the conversation between a holy man and the spirit of a former emperor, who has now become a demonlike spirit. "Birdcall" is about a father and son who visit a mountaintop shrine who encounter an army of spirits. "Prophesy" is the most vicious of the tales; a faithless husband is stalked by the insane spirit of his abandoned wife, who won't rest until he pays for his sins against her.

"Reunion" is a tale of loyalty between friends, with one friend making a spectral appearance and the other seeking to right a wrong. "Daydream" is a sort of morality tale in which a holy man has an out-of-body experience and inhabits the body of a fish. "Demon" is interesting, the tale of a priest whose passion for a young acolyte drives him to madness and cannibalism, transforming him into a monster (a sort of gay wendigo), and who is finally redeemed because of a holy man. "Wealth" is a bit of a clinker, an extended conversation between a miser and the spirit of Wealth.

The version I read, borrowed from a local library, is a 1972 edition from Columbia University Press, and contains some of the original woodblock illustrations which lends an air of authenticity to it all. The stories are all based on real Japanese folklore and reference historic events, so you may end up running to do some research as you read. And two of the stories were used to make the 1953 film Ugetsu, now regarded as a masterpiece of Japanese cinema. (It also uses a story by Guy de Maupassant.)

Hunt this down; there are versions in print and it's worth reading for horror fans and those fascinated by Asian culture.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

THE SEANCE by John Harwood

I read Harwood's first book The Ghost Writer a number of years ago, and just ate it up. It was horrific and eerie and had some devilish twists, including a truly fiendish murder scheme. I'm not sure how I missed this until now, but when I happened on it at the library I snatched it up.

The Seance opens in 1889 with narrator Constance Langton giving some of her life story; her sister died as a young child, and her mother never recovered and spends her life grieving. Her father grows ever more distant as the mother's mental health declines, eventually leaving the family altogether. Constance hears of spiritualists, and takes her mother to a seance, hoping that even faked contact with her dead daughter will give her comfort and help her out of her horrible depression. However, things take an unexpected twist and her mother dies.

Constance (who has become convinced he was adopted, feeling like an outsider in her own family) moves in with an uncle, and sleepwalks through her life, feeling numb and uninvolved in anything. (Perhaps her mother's depression has rubbed off on her? Harwood may be hinting at a family tendency toward clinical depression...) However, she is contacted by a solicitor, and it turns out she's had an unexpected inheritance: brooding Wraxford Hall, a crumbling mansion with a dire history of mysterious deaths and disappearances.

The narrative is taken up by other people at this point, as Constance reviews a packet of papers given to her. First up is solicitor John Montague, a frustrated artist who created an amazing painting of Wraxford Hall but then found his talent had deserted him. Through him we learn of some of the house's history, and how young Felix Wraxford died in a fall from the gallery in 1795, and his father Thomas mysteriously disappeared thirty years later. Another owner, Cornelius Wraxford, disappears himself in 1858, and the house is inherited by his nephew, doctor and mesmerist Magnus Wraxford. And through it all are tales of a ghostly monk haunting the woods around the house, alchemical experiments in the house, and a bizarre steampunk-y apparatus hooked up to a strange suit of armor that may or may not be some sort of eternal-youth machine.

Next up is Eleanor Unwin, an unfortunate young lady being raised in a toxic household by an unloving mother and self-absorbed sister, but who may have mediumistic abilities after a fall down the stairs in 1866. (Or are they just the aftermath of head trauma?) Through a series of events, she ends up the bride of Magnus Wraxford, although an unhappy one. And then one night in Wraxford Hall, she seems to be set up to play the role of a medium in some sort of experimental seance...but by the time the sun rises, one person is dead, Eleanor and her child have vanished, and before a week is over, Magnus himself disappears as well.

When Constance picks up the narrative again, she is determined to solve the mystery, and wonders all the time if she's not really Eleanor's daughter Clara, now grown. Is Eleanor dead? If not, where is she? What about Magnus? Was the charred body found in the armor really his? What of the other disappearances?

The answers to most of the questions is provided (annoyingly, a few minor ones are left dangling, but not to the extent that it ruins the book) in some pretty harrowing scenes in the old house, including a hair-raising seance. It was a brisk, exciting read, reminiscent of Wilkie Collins but with definite modern sensibilities. Harwood sticks close to the social conventions of the period, to the point that he's obviously being rather critical of them.

The characters are pretty well-drawn; the female ones may be annoying in that they're much less self-determined than modern ladies, but naturally they're products of their time and also struggle against the constraints placed on them. A character introduced late in the book is all too obviously the Love Interest but at least Harwood fleshes him out enough to keep him from being too annoying.

Published in 2008, The Seance is highly recommended, a fun read dripping with atmosphere and menace, and a great read for October.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rainy Monday Night at the Movies!

We're assembled at our favorite restaurant again, trying the special, and teasing the waiter...who by now is used to us, and if he isn't, he damned well better be.

We compare stories of how our months have been, discuss plans for Halloween costumes and what events we're going to, and finish up the last of the wine before haggling over the bill and heading down the street to our favorite movie house!

Tonight we have a fun program. First up, a 1902 bon-bon from George Melies, The Treasures of Satan.

And here's a bit of fun from 1905, The Black Imp.

And for our feature presentation, a creaky but fun old mystery, Murder at Midnight, from 1931.

After the show, we make our way through the rain, wet leaves clinging to our shoes, as we head to the usual cafe for the usual drinks and conversation. Join us, won't you?

Friday, October 12, 2012


The final volume in the Judge Dee series is a good read, but interestingly touches on various topics that van Gulik avoided in other volumes.

Murder in Canton has Dee, President the Metropolitan Court, visiting the titular city in 680 AD. Accompanied by assistants Chiao Tai and Tao Gan, he is there to investigate the disappearance of an Imperial Censor, one Lew Tao-ming. Of course, there's always the three intermingled cases; "The Case of the Imperial Censor" is all about finding out what happened to Lew. "The Case of the Smaragdine Dancer" revolves around an Arab/Chinese dancing girl, Zumurrud, and the mysterious people around her. And "The Case of the Secret Lovers" involves a long-ago death and the repercussions of it in the current time.

This time around, van Gulik talks about the Arab community in Canton, and the Chinese attitude toward them and any non-Chinese. Stories of people with red or yellow hair are dismissed as fantasies by the Chinese characters. It also looks at the Tanka, a real-life ethnic group in China who are outsiders, living on junks in various ports and sometimes referred to as "sea gypsies." (The name "Tanka" is actually a derogatory term applied by the Chinese and is no longer used officially; they're usually called "Boat Dwellers" in China and Hong Kong now.) They're treated horribly by the Chinese, and Dee's conscience is troubled by it, but there's little he can do. Zumurrud, the Smaragdine Dancer, is half-Tanka and even more of an outsider. This is all more of a twist than usual; van Gulik often paints a very sympathetic of Chinese culture and civilization, and this time around he shows some of the uglier side, with some of the Chinese cultural arrogance and prejudices shown full-on.

The plots are all pretty much interwoven, and one isn't much of a mystery until nearly the end. Of course, there's a dastardly mastermind plotting the overthrow of the Empire, and villainous Arabs on the loose. Some good characters include the amusing Captain Nee, a Chinese seaman who's adopted a lot of Arab customs and mannerisms, and has two young slave girls, Dunyazad and Dananir, both of Chinese and Arab mixture. Also Lan-lee, a blind woman who sells crickets, and who develops a connection to Tao Gan.

There's a lot of finality here as well; van Gulik knew this would end the series. Chiao Tai meets a fate that he foretold in the first book, and Tao Gan ends the story with marriage impending. Dee regretfully retires from active investigation, declaring that since his investigative techniques and methods are now so well known, it's become a liability and he's going to focus on administrative and political problems from here on out.

There have been attempts to continue the Dee legacy. A continuation series by Frederic Lenormand numbers 19 volumes, published in France and as yet unavailable in English. Another French author, Sven Roussel, wrote a one-off Dee novel. Eleanor Cooney & Daniel Alteri's massive historic novel Deception incorporated Dee. I have a copy of Zhu Xiao Di's short story collection Tales of Judge Dee, which seemed official when I ordered it on Amazon but the stories are atrociously written, full of anachronisms, and poorly characterized. Plus, it turns out to be the product of a vanity publisher. I got about a third of the way in and gave up. I need to track down Tsui Hark's 2010 movie Judge Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, just to give it a go.

I love the Dee mysteries; every couple of years I reread them all. They're a big comfort; I love Dee's sense of duty and determination to be fair. The descriptions of life in ancient China are fascinating. And it's almost impossible for me to read one of them without being hungry for Chinese food after. Sometimes when faced with a problem I wonder, "What would Dee do?" Dee can be a stickler for the law, but he tempers that with his sense of humanity and justice. He's a great character.

The entire series is Required Reading. Check 'em out.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dust & Corruption Calendar for October 2012

So, of course, it's October. Time for all the obvious stuff, and some not-so-obvious stuff as well.

ALL MONTH: A slew of cool lectures and exhibits at Brooklyn's Observatory that I'm not even going to try to list individually, cuz there's just too many that sound fabulous. If you're in the New York area, check this out.

10/5 - Balti-Horror Freak Show! Burlesque and comedy with a bunch of my friends, including Mourna Handful, Valeria Voxx, Eyrie Twilight, Maria Bella, Lauren Marleaux, Gigi Holliday, Sophia Sunday, Buster Britches, and Hot Todd Lincoln. Tix $15, doors at 8pm. The Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave, Baltimore, MD.

10/5 - Seismic Sideshow II! Showcase of sideshow talent, including Todd Robbins, Heather Holliday, Reverend Valentine, Cherie Sweetbottom, and the Cheeky Monkey Sideshow. Tix $10, doors 8:30pm. The Red Palace, 1210 H St NE, Washington, DC.

10/6 - Cats'n'Bats Cabaret! Spooky burlesque and comedy from the Black Tassel Boolesque troupe. With Mourna Handful, Valeria Voxx, Eyrie Twilight, Maria Bella, Malibu, Fallyn Cahira, Sunny Sighed, Bal'd Lightning, Tapitha Kix, and host Violet Grey. Tix $12 advance, $15 at the door, doors at 8pm. The State Theater, 220 N Washington St, Falls Church, VA.

10/7 - "Lord Help My Poor Soul: Eulogies for Poe". The anniversary of Poe's death is honored by historical figures making speeches in his honor. Further info here. Absolutely free; starts at 1:15pm. Westminster Hall and Graveyard, 519 W Fayette St, Baltimore, MD. 

10/10-20 - Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival! Horror films from all around the world. Exclusively at the AFI Silver Theater; tix and information available here.  AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD.

10/14 - Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree! Burlesque, belly-dance, and storytelling, featuring Deepa Du Jour, Madame Onca, Lily von Grimm, Maria Bella, Mavi, and others, hosted by Buster Britches. Tix $15, available here; doors 6:30pm. Firehouse Theater Project, 1609 W Broad St, Richmond, VA.

10/17-11/4 - Halloween on Screen! Annual showcase of horror films, ranging from classics to modern works. Tix and schedule available here. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD.

10/19 - Naked Ghouls Reading! Ladies au naturel reading spooky stories. With my friends Cherokee Rose, Cherie Sweetbottom, and Roma Mafia. Tix $25, available here; starts at 7:30. DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St NW, Washington, DC.

10/20 - Raven's Night! An evening of eerie bellydance and performance, reflecting both horror and steampunk. Tix $25, available here; start time is 5pm. The Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA.

10/20-11/1 - Noir City DC! Annual film noir festival, featuring some rarely-seen films along with some classics. Tix and full schedule available here. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD.

10/25 - Speakeasy Costume Ball! Dress in your 1920s finery, enjoy music, nosh on finger food, and sample cocktails supplied by DC's own New Columbia Distillery, makers of Green Hat Gin. Tix $45 (available here), starts at 7pm. Woodrow Wilson House, 2340 S St NW, Washington, DC.

10/26 - Tilted Torch: Spook-o-rama! Burlesque, cabaret, dance and music from an amazing and sophisticated group of performers, featuring Miss Joule, Malibu, Jonathan Burns, Shakra, and hosted by Shortstaxx. Tix $10 advance (available here), $15 at the door; doors at 9pm. The Red Palace, 1210 H St NE, Washington DC.

10/26 - History Haunt! Roam Tudor Place's gardens, enjoy the fall scenery, hear spooky tales, and enjoy cocktails and nosh. Tudor Place throws nice grown-up shindigs and it's worth checking out. Tix $15 (available here), starts at 6pm.  Tudor Place, 1644 31st St NW, Washington, DC.

10/31 - Halloween Night. Go out and do something.

Return to the Phantom Concert Hall

Once again, we all have tickets, we're all dressed up in our version of bohemian formality, and we're off to the concert hall. Tonight, it's the Budapest Gypsy Symphony Orchestra!

We spend a lovely evening, clapping and trying not to get up and dance to the energetic music. We leave with smiles on our lips, dances in our feet, and music in our hearts.

"Czardas," or "Csárdás," is a piece by Italian composer Vittorio Monti that's based on a Hungarian folk dance, but in recent years has become a favorite of gypsy and faux-gypsy bands. I've heard versions from more-or-less authentic Romani bands and from Canadian classical ensemble Quartetto Gelato.

Painting by Richard Lipps, 1857-1926. Date unknown.
I've always had a thing for gypsy music...or, well, gypsy-sounding music, especially in the autumn when my inner gypsy goes wild. So listen, have fun, go a little crazy. 'Tis the season.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Found this image that pretty much sums up how I felt last week with my swollen jaw...even if it was barely noticeable, as some said, I still felt like I should put a bag over my head before doing out in public.

This is from an 1847 issue of the British humor magazine Punch, and is brutally spoofing 19th century tastes for freak shows and for ogling the monstrous.

The British Library has a gallery of images from Victorian freak shows on their site; check 'em out here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

D&C's DC: The House of the Temple

The House of the Temple is a huge Masonic temple in DC that is the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction. Completed in 1915, the building apes the appearance of that Wonder of the Ancient World, the Tomb of Mausolus, and is full of berserk and beautiful Egyptian-influenced architecture. This building is one of those great lesser-known tourist spots, and they welcome visitors and encourage cameras. I've visited it twice and both times found a great relaxed chummy welcome there, a contrast to the baroque and very formal atmosphere there.

A sphinx in front of the building.

From the rear.
And now a bunch of photos of the interior...just feast your eyes on that sumptuousness.

The Temple will be featured in the upcoming film version of The Lost Symbol; my guide seemed pleasantly surprised when I dismissed Dan Brown's books as poorly written (my honest feeling) and expressed my skepticism of conspiracy theories. We did have a fun tour and my guide had an irreverent sense of humor that was most appealing. It's gorgeous but also unreal, like you stumbled on the set of an old movie set in Atlantis, and you keep expecting to see Lionel Atwill or Boris Karloff to come around the corner and demand you as a sacrifice.

The House of the Temple is open for tours Monday thru Thursday; it's closed Fridays and weekends. A small admission is charged, unless you're a Mason and then admission is free. It's an architectural marvel and worth checking out when you visit the nation's capitol.

Monday, September 24, 2012

September's Personal Note

I've been slow in posting, partly because I haven't been reading anything notable. I'm working on either some pulp sci-fi that's not really in the purview of this blog, or stuff I'm to review for other sources.

Also, right now, I'm coping with the aftermath of an abscessed tooth. Around the 13th/14th of September I had a bad toothache that lingered over the weekend. Finally, on Monday I called my dentist, who could see me on Tuesday, and who recommended it get a root canal. Thankfully, the endodontist had a spot open that Friday, but in the meantime my jaw got swollen and I was put on antibiotics. Thankfully, the root canal procedure, while certainly not comfortable, was a huge relief from the pain, and they drained most of the infection from my jaw. Abscessed teeth are no picnic; if neglected long enough, they can be life-threatening, and they are certainly painful. Root canals have a terrible reputation for being ordeals but really, I found it nowhere near the pain that I'd had in the tooth for a week.

I'm a lot better but the antibiotics make me groggy. I'll try to get some stuff up this week; if nothing else, sharing some photos from my ramblings and explorations this summer. I've also thought of a "Phantom Gallery" series with photos or videos of works by an interesting artist. I'll have to look into that.

I'm also seriously thinking of opening this up for other contributors. I may put out an official call but if anyone feels like they want to do something regular for this site, I'd enjoy talking to you.

Anyway, I'll be back soon...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday Night at the Cinema!

It's a cool night; autumn is waiting in the wings, and we're enjoying our monthly engagement of dinner and a movie. The restaurant has some new dishes on the menu, and the chef comes out to say hello and ask our opinion. After our usual haggling over the bill, and generously tipping the Portuguese waiter, we drift down the street to catch the show...

The usher takes our tickets, and we gather in our usual row, ready for the fun...

First up, a 1908 short from one of my favorites, Segundo de Chomon, "The Electric Hotel".

And here's a bit from the following year, from George Melies, "Le papillon fantastique."

And finally, here's a 1905 work from America, "The Mystery of the Missing Jewel Casket."

And the evening winds to a close, as we retire to the cafe down the street to share conversation over drinks...

Sorry if I'm late this month, and this isn't up to par. I've had a rough week; a chunk broke off a tooth, and it's been hurting like fury. Luckily my dentist could fit in an emergency appointment and I'm going in for a root canal on Friday. I know, sounds horrible, but I'm looking forward to some relief from the pain; I'm probably ruining my liver by living on Advil and booze. And then tonight I was using a new peeler to peel some potatoes for dinner and cut a chunk off my finger; once tonight I've had to wipe blood off my keyboard while I was typing this. In other words, I'm a mess. I hope to post more when I'm not spewing blood all over the place or rolling on the floor in agonizing pain....

Saturday, September 15, 2012


In The Willow Pattern, Judge Dee is President of the Metropolitan Court, but also has been appointed emergency governor of the capitol city during a drought and plague. He's trying to maintain order and discipline in the city while it's half-deserted (the Emperor and many of the wealthy have left town), and naturally some interesting crimes rise up calling for his attention.

In "The Case of the Steep Staircase," a wealthy philanthropist is found dead after apparently falling down the stairs. But is it all that it seems? In "The Case of the Willow Pattern," a nobleman is found brutally murdered, the only clues being his sadistic, predatory habits, and a smashed vase in the now-familiar willow pattern. "The Case of the Murdered Bondmaid" is a retroactive case; a servant woman was beaten to death a generation ago; how is her death still influencing people today?

Dee is assisted by his lieutenants Ma Joong, Chiao Tai, and Tao Gan, since Hoong Liang was killed in the last book, The Chinese Nail Murders. Dee is much more The Man now; he is Imperial Authority in the city and is not to be questioned or messed with at all. And much of the action takes place in the milieu of the city's "old world," that of decadent noble families with pedigrees that predate the current dynasty...and all the sins that go with it. It's also notable for being the only Dee novel set in the oft-referenced capitol city. (Which is never named, by the way.)

It all ends well, except for one murder that Dee decides to not pursue, stating that he doesn't mind having a few unsolved cases on his record! Ma Joong falls in love and disappears from the series; we find out in the next (and last) book that he's married now. Still, it's a solid, good later work from van Gulik, and worth reading.

Coming soon: the final Dee novel, Murder in Canton.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dust & Corruption Calendar for September 2012

Well, September is finally here, although in DC right now it's still horrendously dank and humid. Summer's still getting in a few licks on us yet. Thank you, global warming.

But here's some stuff going on that should be fun....

9/6 - Rev. Valentine's Attack of the Tit-Tease! Burlesque and comedy with Rev. Valentine, Capt. Chesty, Bianca Dupree, and Swami Yomahmi. Doors 8:30, showtime 9:00, tix $10. The Red Palace, 1212 H St NE, Washington, DC.

9/6 - The Love Show: Mon Petit Chou. Dance, magic, and song, combining Weimar Berlin, gay Paris, the West End and Broadway, featuring guest host Nelson Lugo (on whom I have a mild crush, but oh well). Doors 9:30, show at 10, tix $5. Hotel Chantelle, 92 Ludlow St, New York, NY.

9/6 - "Ecstatic Raptures and Immaculate Corpses: Visions of Death Made Beautiful in Italy." Opening reception for a new exhibition. 6-8pm, free. 11 Mare St, London, E8 4RP. The exhibition itself is in London's Last Tuesday Society

9/7 - The Burlesque and Side Show Show. Pretty much what it says, hosted by my pal Hot Todd Lincoln. Two shows, doors at 8 and 10:30, tix $10. The Red Palace, Washington DC.

9/7 - First Friday Burlesque. The first of what should be a regular monthly program, and featuring my pals GiGi Holliday and Ruby Rockafella. Showtimes 6 and 8. Dreamland, 845 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD.

9/9 - Takoma Park Folk Festival. OK, not exactly in the D&C mood, but I always go, and this is likely to be my last year as a regular attendee. Lots of fun music, crafters, dance, and fair food that you'll enjoy but regret later. I'll bid a wistful goodbye; by this time next year I should be settled in Baltimore. But the fun's at the Takoma Park Middle School, 7611 Piney Branch Rd, Takoma Park, MD. 10:30 to 6:30, and totally free. Check out their website for info on who's playing.

9/11 - Perverse Relics: A Grand Tour of Europe's Historical Underbelly. Illustrated lecture with author Tony Perrottet, describing his exploration of Europe's ribald history and sites unknown to modern travelers. 7:30, tix $10. Advance tix from Atlas Obscura highly recommended. The Observatory, 543 Union St, Brooklyn, NY.

9/12 - DC Variety present Open Mic! An evening of variety performances, including possibly myself making a debut as a singer. Yes, you read that right. I may be massacring some classic jazz tunes, so come and watch if you enjoy a debacle. Doors 8:30, show 9, tix $8. The Red Palace, Washington DC.

9/14 - Valentine Candy Presents: Boobs in Space! Burlesque and comedy from my dear friends Rev. Valentine and Candy Del Rio. Doors 9:30, show at 10, tix $10 adv/$12 at the door. Red Palace, Washington, DC.

9/16 - Viva! & Sticky Buns Burlesque. My pals at Sticky Buns are joined by Brooklyn-based blues trio Viva! for an evening of music, burlesque, and comedy. Doors 8, show 9, tix $10. The Metro Gallery, 1700 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD.

9/19 - Karnevil. The Karnevil troupe arrives in DC for circus, magic, sideshow, and heaven knows what else. Doors 9, show 9:30, tix $10 adv/$12 at the door. Red Palace, Washington, DC.

9/28 - The Powerful Corpse: English Executions During the 18th and 19th Centuries. Illustrated lecture with Dr. Sarah Tarlow, Prof. of Historical Archaeology at the University of Leicester. Explores the mystique of the executed criminal in England's past, ranging from healing miracles to magic to anatomists to gruesome display. 7:30, tix $12, advance tix from Atlas Obscura highly recommended. The Observatory, Brooklyn, NY.

9/30 - Tilted Torch: Modern Elegance! DC's best and most sophisticated variety show (and seriously, one of the most creative) unveils their latest project, with dance, music, burlesque, and comedy. Doors at 8, show at 9, tix $10. Bossa Bistro and Lounge, 2463 18th St NW, Washington, DC.

9/30 - Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden. Illustrated lecture by author Brook Wilensky-Lanford, looking at those who quested in vain for the legendary Garden even after Biblical literalism began to wane, even into the 21st century. 7:30, tix $12, advance tix from Atlas Obscura highly recommended. The Observatory, Brooklyn, NY. (One of these days I'll really make it up there for one of those...that place just sounds so damn interesting and right up my alley. Too bad my job isn't moving to Brooklyn instead of Baltimore...)

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Phantom Serenade: On the Rails

It's the end of summer, and taking advantage of the holiday we're going on a rail jaunt, accompanied by some music by Lumbye.

I've talked about Danish composer Lumbye before, so I won't go into much about him. But this piece delights me; the whimsical reproduction of the train sounds accompanied with an upbeat tone that illustrates the smiling faces of holiday-making passengers. The video illustrates the real train voyage from Copenhagen to Roskilde, at the time a popular destination from Copenhagen for day trips.

Nothing like a train trip to bring excitement! So many stories of mystery and adventure are on trains; I once saw a joking Onion story about a homicide on a train that was quickly solved, much to the disappointment of the passengers who expected something much more draw-out and dramatic. Movies ranging from The Lady Vanishes to Murder on the Orient Express play up the romance of rail, and there's one Victorian author whose name I forget who specialized in mystery stories set on trains. Ghost and horror stories set on trains aren't as numerous, but they are out there, like Dickens' "The Signal-Man."

So relax and imagine joining your friends on a train trip, and fill in your own adventures...