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.