Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December's Night Out at the Cinema

It's a chilly December night, and the gang is gathered for our last night out...until the New Year, maybe? The waiter at the usual restaurant points us toward a seasonal special, and we enjoy a cocktail or two before heading off for the show, exchanging horror tales of Christmas shopping and strained family gatherings.

Tonight, it's a simple show...a neglected 1933 film that critics now say was very innovative for its day, and a heavy influence on later avant-garde filmmakers like David Lynch...THE SIN OF NORA MORAN.

After the show we adjourn to our favorite cafe down the street...but not too late a night, as we have the whirl of holiday parties ahead...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bits & Bobs

A few little things...

  • I recently read Kevin Guilfoyle's THE THOUSAND, which had all sorts of interest because of its plot centering on a secret society of followers of Pythagoras who guard secret knowledge that makes them rich...but it ended up being a depressingly generic thriller about young lovers on the run and while we're told the secret society has all sorts of wild forbidden knowledge we're never told exactly what and what about it is so dangerous to the general public. It ended up being very blah and forgettable. Avoid it.  
  • A better read was Dana Cameron's SITE UNSEEN, a nice little murder mystery set in an archaeological dig in Maine. It's all contemporary and there's a lot of great factual information about archaeology. It's not quite got the macabre gothicism that I would give a full-throttle review to, but at the same time was quite a good read and with a cool plot involving an archaeological find. It's the first of a series and I'll definitely be checking the others out. 

  • Added to the Link List is the amazing Hypnogoria site, which I am very impressed with. Go check it out.
  • While you're at Hypnogoria, listen to the excellent Hypnobobs podcast. Host Jim Moon has a terrific voice that I could listen to for ages, doing some impressive dissections of various aspects of the genre, as well as readings of classic stories and poetry. 
  • Jim Moon's purr shows up on some other podcasts as well, most significantly the hilarious Witless for the Defence, where a jury passes judgement on listeners' guilty pleasure movies.
  • I believe I've mentioned the impressive Edgar Allan Poecast before, but if I haven't...well, they're the latest in the literary-analysis podcasts that's cropping up lately, dissecting the works of Poe. I've also made a crack recently about a Robert E. Howard Bicepcast...well, it turns out a Howard pocast just got off the ground, and so far they're doing a great job. Go check out the Cromcast!
  • As a longtime fan of tabletop role-playing games I'm enjoying the new Improvised Radio Theater with Dice podcast, and the Video Nasties podcast has fun analyzing controversial shlock from the 80s video boom.
  • On a personal note, our first Thanksgiving without Dad was odd but we got through it. Mom insisted I sit at the head of the table, which felt very, very weird for me. I still don't have a car but have hopes that situation will be resolved in a few months...and if not, it will be a while. Sigh.
That's about it for the moment...hope all my readers are doing well.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dust & Corruption Calendar for December 2014

December can be a month full of annoyances and madness, but here's a few events that may offer distraction.

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

12/6 - St. Nicholas' Day. Some folk give presents this day.

12/7 - Celeste Giuliano's Pin-Up Peep Show. Looks like a great show, "inspired by classic cabarets and supper clubs," and featuring many great burlesque artists, like the Peek-A-Boo Revue, D'Arcy Deluxe, Reggie Bugmuncher, and Anita Manhattan, with music by the Strip Tease Orchestra, all hosted by Miss Candy Mayhem. Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St, Philadelphia, PA. Tix $20, available here. Doors at 8:30pm.

12/13 - Friday the 13th! Also St. Lucia's Day.

12/13 - Calendar Girls Burlesque. Bump & grind with Tapitha Kix, Cherie Nuit, Mab Just Mab, Glam Gamz, Sunny Sighed and Bal'd Lightning, and hosted by Hot Todd Lincoln. The State Theater, 220 N Washington St, Falls Church, VA. Doors 8pm, show at 9. Tix $12 adv, $15 at the door.

12/13 - Brews & Burlesque. Now taking place every second Friday, this showcase of Richmond-area talent stars Dev L. Ish, Moxie LaBouche, Dante the Inferno, and newbie Lindy Avalon. Strangeways Brewing, 2277A Dabney Rd, Richmond, VA. Tix $8 adv., $10 at the door. Showtime 9pm.

12/14 - The Weirdo Show Wounded Warrior Benefit Show. Burlesque & sideshow with Maria Bella, Prof. Sprocket, Alex Doll, Candy del Rio, Cori Dials, and host Jim Dandy. All proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. The Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC. Tix $12 adv, $15 at the door. Doors 8:30pm, showtime at 10. Have dinner and a few beers before the show; the fish'n'chips are killer.

12/19-21 - Trixie & Monkey's 9th Annual Holiday Spectac-u-thon. My pals Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey do their thing with friends Murray Hill, Mr. Gorgeous, Perle Noire, Gin Minsky, and french horn trio Tres Horny. The Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave, Baltimore, MD. Tix $25, $20 to Creative Alliance members. Five shows.

12/20 - Stocking Stuffers! Hot Night Productions presents a holiday-themed burlesque show. Featuring Maria Bella, Spinnabel Lee, Karen Beriss, Cherie Nuit, Dainty Dandridge, and host Hot Todd Lincoln. The Bier Baron, Washington, DC. Tix $10 adv, $12 at the door. Doors 8:30, show at 10.

12/21 - Winter Solstice/Yule. The year's midnight, the shortest day. Honor it in some way. Also my parents' anniversary.

12/24 - Christmas Eve.

12/25 - Christmas Day.

12/26 - Boxing Day

12/31 - New Year's Eve.

And that's pretty much all I have. Go find a concert or museum exhibit where you are, or one of those holiday open houses at a historic site. Take time to relax and read. Do something fun with your family, if you can stand being with them. And hang in there, the new year is just around the corner.

Monday, December 2, 2013

December at the Phantom Recital Hall

We've got concert tickets tonight! Laura has a new dress, and Viola has one of her vintage outfits complemented by some stylish new jewelry. Ramsey is in tweed, while both James and May are adjusting the boutonnieres on their evening jackets. And of course, you check your buttons and run a hand over your hair, but your friends all smile and insist you're just FINE.

This is one of the older venues in town, but still serviceable. Once it saw the glamour of the elite; now, a more bohemian crowd, to be sure, and the ticket prices are cheaper, but it's still a lovely place.

The pianist does some dazzling work, including this striking piece.

It's an amazing performance, and we go home exhausted but happy. But later we are chilled by news of a murder near the hall just before the concert...and a witness describes someone who sounds a little like the pianist...what is his secret?

Monday, November 18, 2013

November's Night Out at the Movies!

It's an unseasonably warm evening in mid-November. Our monthly gathering starts at that charming restaurant, sampling the specials and flirting with the waiters, discussing our latest life changes and plans for the upcoming holidays.

And then, it's up to that shabby yet charming movie house up the street!

Tonight, we open with Segundo de Chomon's 1908 charmer "Les Ombres Chinoises," or "Chinese Shadows."

And then after that is the 1932 thriller "Out of Singapore."

After the show, we retire to the nearby cafe for a beverage and more conversation before we part ways for the night. As we go, we feel the chilly breezes begin to blow....

Friday, November 15, 2013

THE MONSTERS by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler

I picked this up at the local library after having heard of it here and there, and while it's not exactly of the genre I deal with, it takes a look at some prominent figures and works in it, and so is worth delving into.

This is, basically, a biography of Mary Shelley, focusing on her authorship of Frankenstein, and also looking into the lives of those around her during the famous "haunted summer." We get an enjoyable look into the life and writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and her marriage to William Godwin...radicals and revolutionaries both, they resisted marrying until a child comes along, and they eventually cave in to convention to be sure their child will be regarded as legitimate.

But Mary Wollstonecraft dies soon after giving birth, and young Mary grows up in an unsettled home. Eventually she meets young Percy Bysshe Shelley, the noble-born poet and radical who is inconveniently married, and the two run away together to Europe...accompanied by Mary's stepsister Clara (soon to be called Claire), who soon becomes Mary's rival for Percy's affections.

It's a hot mess, when you throw in Lord Byron and his neurotic and needy doctor, John Polidori, who has literary ambitions but not the talent to realize them. And all the bed-hopping going on, and turbulent relationships, between Mary and Percy, and Claire and Byron, and Claire and Percy, and...well...who knows who else. Mary craved a stable home life but Percy kept her moving from one place to another, never staying anywhere for long. And then there was the fateful summer of 1816, The Year Without A Summer (caused by historically low solar activity and a series of volcanic eruptions that threw a load of dust into the atmosphere that blocked the sun), a summer of failed crops and frequent storms and cold temperatures and food shortages and riots and typhus and death.

Of course, there's the whole well-known summer that resulted in Frankenstein, but there's also Mary's dead child, and Claire's child by Byron, Allegra, who dies young, and the suicides of Percy's wife and Mary's sister. Needy Polidori eventually self-destructs, Byron gets in over his head trying to be a Greek patriot, and Percy's fascination with the sea, and inability to swim, destroys him eventually.

The portraits of the personalities involved are compelling and realistic. Percy is restless, perhaps too self-absorbed, and is a model for Victor Frankenstein in many ways. Byron is immensely talented and immensely handsome, but also with serious body image issues that lead him to go to great lengths to disguise a malformed foot, and to always go on crash diets. John Polidori is blinded by optimism and a need for affirmation and reassurance; despite his own talents and striking good looks (he was quite dishy, even when next to Byron), he was always striving for something just beyond his grasp.

Like I said, dishy.
The tragedy of some of these characters' lives touches me; I came away really liking Mary and wishing she could have had better. She and Shelley were an ill-sorted couple, and although she seems to have loved him and devoted herself to his memory after his death, it sometimes seemed as if they would have been better off going their separate ways. Byron was compelling and yet often contemptible. Polidori is likable despite his pathos; he needed support and some good friends, even though he seems like he could have been a bottomless pit of emotional need.

But a fun part of this is the discussion of how not only had Mary given horror one of its most iconic characters, but also how Polidori had codified and defined the image of the vampire for generations to come. The Hooblers look at how Mary's life and circumstances may have shaped her writing of Frankenstein, and how her early politics and radicalism softened in later life...leading to a revision of her signature work that blunted some of its sharper edges.

It does have a few debits, including occasional conjectures not backed up by much documentation, and it ignores Mary's final work, a travelogue of Germany and Italy that included quite a bit of political and philosophical commentary that is now regarded by many as her second-best work. But I can forgive that given its focus on Frankenstein.

This is a quite enjoyable and informative peek into the lives of some influential people in the genre, and of a time of poetry and miniature portraits and long holidays by the lake and amateur scientific experimentation. If you're interested, get it and read it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

AYLMER VANCE: GHOST-SEER by Alice and Claude Askew

Wordsworth Editions has started a marvelous series of horror and mystery reprints, and I snapped a handful or two when I could, and am finally getting around to reading them now that I've getting settled in at the new place and adapting to a new normal.

Alice and Claude Askew were prolific writers of pulp fiction in the early part of the 20th century. A husband-and-wife team, they wrote a slew of works, and even had a few adapted for the stage and the silent screen. They were involved in support and relief for Serbians during WWI, operating in Serbia and Corfu. (For some reason I find Corfu impossibly exotic and enticing. I'll say it again. Corfu.) They died together in 1917 when a ship they were traveling on was sunk by a German torpedo.

This slender volume of short stories (only 127 pages) is a very nice example of the early 20th century occult detective genre.Some are built around supernatural menaces, and a few are more mystical in their outlook. The first tale, "The Invader," is a tale of possession, but the next, "The Stranger," tells a story of a woman who is apparently beloved of a pagan god and eventually rejects an earthly suitor to join her true love. (In that respect it's reminiscent of the preachy Dr. Tavener stories by Dion Fortune, only less preachy.)

"Lady Green-Sleeves" is an occultist love story with no real detection. "The Fire Unquenchable" tells of a series of mysterious fires and poltergeist activity ties into a deceased poet's unfinished work. "The Vampire" is a fun variation, mixing vampirism with possession. "The Boy of Blackstock" revolves around a haunting and an unhappy marriage. "The Indissoluble Bond" is more mystical in exploring a girl's bond to a man who may be her destruction. "The Fear" is a more straightforward tale of a destructive haunting.

The stories do follow a progression; the narrator, Dexter, moves from being an acquaintance hearing some stories, to Vance's partner in detection. And there's a thread in these stories that distresses me...a few times, the solution to a haunting is the complete razing and destruction of an old manor or castle, something that would have M. R. James screaming in horror. It made me blanch, that's for sure.

This entertaining collection can be purchased by itself in paperback by the aforementioned Wordsworth Editions, but you can also get an electronic edition from Ash-Tree Press that contains two other collection of occult detection, Rose Champion de Crespigny's Norton Vyse stories, and Kate & Hesketh Prichard's Flaxman Low stories. Take your pick with these.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dust & Corruption Calendar for November 2013

November is cold, chilly, and often gray. But when the days are good, they're wonderful. Now that the clocks have changed, it's dark earlier and it's more convenient to spend time by the fireside. Or to go out and partake of some entertainment....

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

11/1-26: Horror '73. A series of horror films, all from 1973. Check out the schedule here. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD.

11/8 - Wassabasco's 9th Anniversary! The Wassabasco burlesque troupe celebrates their ninth anniversary with much bump and grind, and a list of guests too large to go into here. Doors 8pm, tix $20. The Bell House, 149 7th St, Brooklyn, NY.

11/8 - Burlesque Behind Bars: Bustin' Out! DC's own Valentine Candy Burlesque presents an evening of prison themed fun, with Rev. Valentine, Candy del Rio, Ellie Quinn, Kat De Lac, and Mab Just Mab. Doors at 9pm, tix $12 at the door, The Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC.

11/8 - Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque! Thirsty Girl Productions presents this evening of burlesque, comedy, and magic. With The Maine Attraction, Rosie 151, Brewster, Broadway Brassy, Boo Boo Darling, and hosted by Albert Cadabra. Doors 9pm, tix $20. Two Boots Hudson Valley, 4604 Route 9G, Red Hook, NY.

11/8 - Brews and Burlesque! Richmond's own Those Freaking Weirdos troupe presents an evening of fun. Doors at 9pm, tix $10. Strangeways Brewing, 2277A Dabney Rd, Richmond, VA.

11/9 - The Maxie Ford Massacre! The Moxie Fords are Baltimore's new tap and comedy team, and this will be a horror-themed tap dance show. With Stanley Bothered and Jambi. Shows at 8pm and 10pm; tix $10. The Yellow Sign Theatre, 1726 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD.

11/15 - Chocolate Lounge! My lovely pal GiGi Holliday presents her monthly evening featuring burlesque artistes of color. Shows at 8:45 and 11pm; tix $12 adv/$15 and the door. The Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC.

11/16 - Gilded Lily Fall Sweep! Not exactly a performance, but a unique flea market sponsored by Baltimore's own burlesque troupe Gilded Lily, with handmade wares and secondhand finds. It's bound to be an experience. 12pm to 5pm. The Windup Space, 12 West North Ave, Baltimore, MD.

11/17 - Barbarellesque! A burlesque tribute to Barbarella. Yes, Barbarella. It's been waiting to be done. With Cherie Sweetbottom, Swami Yohmami, Maria Bella, Buster Britches, Sunny Sighed, Mr. Gorgeous, Kay Sera, Missy Aggravation, and a load of gorgeous go-go girls. Guaranteed to be one of those must-be-seen-to-be-believed evenings. Doors 7pm; tix $12 adv/$15 door, available here. The Windup Space, Baltimore, MD.

11/28 - Thanksgiving. Do whatever you usually do.

11/29 - Black Friday. Avoid the crowds, stay home, and read. Or go antiquing or used-book prowling. Go to a museum or a movie. Get together with your friends. Take a walk in the park. Just avoid the malls. Unless that's your thing, then at least be safe.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Phantom Ballad for November

It's a chilly day in early November, and we've been rambling through the new neighborhood, peeking in shops, strolling through the library, gazing at picturesque old houses and churches, and taking an amble through an old cemetery.

After dinner, we linger in a little cafe where some musicians are jamming, and one plays this old ballad...

These old ballads are interesting; there's always about a dozen different versions and someone claiming it's a true story somehow. Or else someone finding hidden meanings. "Sweet William" is about a ghost seeking release from an earthly commitment, and how it won't let him rest...I'm sure other versions get weird with occult meandering.

More comin', folks...stay tuned.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Just a quick wish for a safe and happy Halloween, no matter what you're doing. That emo pumpkin above is my current jack; I was aiming for skull-like gruesomeness but he ended up looking like he was about to cry. Maybe he needs a hug. (I could use a few myself.)

I'm grouchy from lack of sleep and frustration over not having a car. I'm also dealing with a bit of loneliness; being new in town and unexpectedly without transport, it's a bit difficult to hang out with friends and/or seek adult company. I'm still reeling from Dad's death. And I may be staying in tonight; there's shows and stuff but unless I can catch a ride it just ain't happenin'. So I hope wherever you are and whatever you're doing, it's better than my day so far.

And if you're dealing with crap like I am, hang in there. I keep telling myself, "This is temporary." Things could change in a heartbeat.

Best wishes and happy hauntings! Don't eat too much candy all at once.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

THE MEMORY OF BLOOD by Christopher Fowler

It's the opening-night cast party for "The Two Murderers," a gruesome new play on the London stage, and it's at the ritzy penthouse of producer Robert Kramer. Of course, there's all the usual conflicts and rivalries in the company. But things take a gruesome turn when Kramer's infant child is thrown out the window of the locked nursery...and seemingly done by a life-sized Punch figure.

Naturally, given the big names involved and the bizarre nature of the crime, detectives Bryant & May, and the rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit are on the case. And it leads them into all sorts of theatrical bizzarerie, including Punch and Judy shows and the Grand Guignol. Also, a young lady helping Bryant on his memoirs dies suddenly and strangely; was it an accident or murder? Is it associated or not?

I have to admit...I started reading this, then had to put it aside for a while. I didn't like the murder of a baby. I've read novels that have the murders of children and sometimes it's done for sheer lurid shock value. But, after a break, I made myself pick it back up and finish it. And I have to say...the murder of the child makes sense. Not only is it a reference to Punch and Judy shows (which does figure in the plot and you'll learn a bit from reading this), but it also makes sense in the murderer's plot. So even though it may strike some as distasteful, it serves a purpose.

And there's further murders, mostly following in the classic theatrical madman fashion. And the deepening mystery around a young transcriber's death. And more looks into some byways of English history and culture, like a visit to Brighton and a horror sculptor's studio.

Despite my initial distaste for the story, I ended up enjoying this a great deal. I did get a chill down my spine at hints that the next book would be the last in the series. In this book several simmering subplots near resolution, and there's even a passing reference to going out with a bang. Eeep.

So yeah, this is on the Required Reading shelf, with the rest of the Bryant & May series. And the next one is waiting in the wings.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

THE DUEL OF SHADOWS by Vincent Cornier

Vincent Cornier was a pulp author who kept busy in the 40s and 50s writing stories for magazines like Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Golden Fleece. He's largely forgotten today, but there are some lucky few who know of his detective Barnabas Hildreth, "The Black Monk." I knew of him only because of a reference to him I came across once as an occult detective, and another as a scientific detective, so I was hoping to see what Hildreth was really like.

Naturally, he's not really either. Hildreth's cases often smack of the occult, but have "rational" explanations...although often the science is utterly cockeyed.

Hildreth is supposedly a high-up figure in the British government, or maybe secret service, and is described as "half-poet, half-scientist, maybe all genius." However, he spends a lot of time investigating bizarre crimes. And the more bizarre, the better. These mysteries all have generous dollops of the weird and grotesque, so fasten your seatbelts.

"The Stone Ear" has a murder committed with a strange weapon, a glass goblet that mysteriously disintegrates, leaving a sharp poisoned shard in the bearer's hand. The source, and exact secret, of the goblet drive the story, and while it's damned unlikely, I love it. The element of the weird goblet is just the sort of gothick touch I adore.

Next was "The Brother of Heaven," a slightly racist story in which an Asian man commits several murders with a bizarre, Fu Manchu-ish indirect weapon. "The Silver Quarrel" smacks of M. R. James with its story revolving around a treasure hidden in an old English mansion, hidden by an elaborate trap.

"The Throat of Green Jasper" is as occult as this collection gets, a story revolving around Egyptian relics with hints of reincarnation. For me, it had echoes of Dion Fortune's Dr. Tavener stories. "The Duel of Shadows" is probably the best story in the book. A man is shot and wounded in his house...by a bullet fired two hundred years earlier. How did it happen? Who was responsible? There's no time travel going on here, and the solution to the mystery, while unlikely and baroque, seems actually halfway plausible.

"The Catastrophe in Clay" is the least likely and most science-fictional story in the book, and is utterly implausible. People are being transformed into statues, by what appears to be some sort of gas. Who is responsible, and why is it happening? The solution may have seemed like legit science once upon a time, but is risible now.

"The Mantle That Laughed" and "The Tabasheeran Pearls" are both built on artifacts with seemingly strange properties, and that aren't what they seem. One is about a golden chainmail cloak, supposedly Aztec, that makes strange noises when shaken, and the other is a pearl necklace that seems to kill its wearer.

"The Gilt Lily" has a series of daring crimes committed with the aide of a strange plant, and "The Monster" is a twisted tale of family secrets and twisted souls....and believe it or not, the only story with a 100% plausible solution.

This was enjoyable reading, despite the preposterousness of the plots, and perhaps because of them. This is pulp nonsense, but fun pulp nonsense, and often with quite a bit of atmosphere. These are the kind of detective adventures I wish I could have, and I'm sure some of you are right there with me. This is a paperback from the good folks at Crippen & Landru, who are making it their business to resurrect lost and forgotten crime writers. Find it if you can, folks, this is fun stuff.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Just like a vampire or a fungal infection, you can't keep me down.

My FIOS connection just got hooked up today, and soon I'll be back to posting regularly. I finished a couple of books while I was away from the 'net, and given that I have to take the bus everywhere for the time being, I have more time to read.

Dad's death was a shock, and it's still sinking in. At least my car waited until I was back at the apartment before breaking down. Local mechanic says it's either the transmission or the onboard computer, and neither seems to be worth fixing given that it's a 2001 car in so-so condition anyway. So now I'm waiting on my cut of Dad's insurance money so I can get a half-decent used car. At least I have the local bus system to get to work, as annoying as it is.

My new lair is slowly taking shape; it's twice the space of my former space at the same rent, and walking distance from some great restaurants, a great liquor store, and the local library. A bus goes right by that can take me right into downtown Baltimore. The neighborhood is slightly better; I'm now in a former dental practice in a sold middle-working-class neighborhood rather than a cramped termite-ridden pesthole in a borderline ghetto. So much of my life is changing, but this part won't.

So, onward and upward! Halloween is almost here!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A little longer, maybe

There was a snafu with Verizon about getting hooked up to FIOS so I need to reschedule. So it may be a while longer before I'm back and posting regularly. Sorry folks.

If it's any consolation, I'm a mess. My car is having problems, too, so I'm going to have to bide my time until I have cash for a replacement. I'm also positive I'm coming down with something, and all the stress I've been under (moving, Dad's passing, car troubles, getting the new place organized, work) isn't helping at all. I may just have to let things sit for the next few days and get as much rest as I can.

My deepest apologies to my readers and I hope to be back soon.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I'm back

My break was a little longer than anticipated. Just as I finished moving I got news that my father had just passed away. (Double pneumonia, complicated by possible acute leukemia that had gone undiagnosed.) I had to go spend the week with the family. I'm still reeling from the blow. And still figuring out how to sleep in the new place.

My internet access from home is yet to be set up; hopefully by the weekend I'll start posting regularly again.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Taking a break...

Things progressed at a rapid clip with the new place, and I'm busy packing and getting things organized. Got all the utilities seen to, need to see about the bank accounts, get a new library card, etc. I'm to have moved out of my current place by the 30th, and have been moving stuff up to the new place in dribs and drabs, throwing one of the more portable pieces of furniture in the back seat and loading up the rest of the available space with boxes. So if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to packing and wondering why I still have 2nd Edition AD&D manuals, and sorting through the nerd detritus, as I've just dubbed it. I'll be back in early October; internet should be up and running at the new place when I move in but you know how these things go...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A quick announcement

It looks like I'll be moving house in a few weeks, from Takoma Park to Catonsville. That means I may be not be blogging for a while until I get internet up and running. If all goes right, I'll be moving into that former dentist's office I mentioned in the calendar. So be warned!

Dust & Corruption Calendar for September 2013

Sorry I'm taking so long with this, folks. As you know, I've been apartment-hunting and yesterday saw a good one, so I've been filling out applications and doing research. It's in Catonsville, a suburb of Baltimore, is huge, and amusingly is a former dentist's office. Good location, reasonable rent, lotsa space...here's hoping. I also got word that Dad is improving; it seems the tumor isn't growing after all, but the dozen medications he's on are causing disorientation and trouble with movement, so he's experimenting with the cocktail, and has been able to stop using his walker and just gets by with a cane. Last weekend I was at a steampunk croquet picnic (a blast) and then at the Takoma Park Folk Festival, and was too exhausted to even think. It's been a busy month so far.

Anyway, here's some fun stuff going on this month.

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

Saturdays: Speakeasy Saturdays continue at The Big Hunt; shows start at 9:00, and every Saturday is something different.

9/13 - Friday the 13th! Have a drink, watch a movie, walk under a ladder, break a mirror, whatever. Defy bad fortune! 

9/14 - GiGi Holliday present Zou Zou Revue, Bisou Edition. My pal GiGi does her monthly burlesque/comedy revue, inspired by Josephine Baker. With Deanna Danger, Cherry Bomb, Heart O. Harkness, Mab Just Mab, Maki Rolle, Maria Bella, and Vera Valentinaa. The Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC. Showtime 8:30; tickets available here.

9/18 - Staxx Hot Happy Hour Revue. Burlesque and belly dance with an early-evening happy hour twist. With Shortstaxx, Mourna Handful, GiGi Holliday, and Alyssum Pohl. Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St NW, Washington, DC. 5:30; free admission.

9/20 - Le Bon Ton Circus Extravaganza. Burlesque (from GiGi Holliday, Rev. Valentine, and Cherie Nuit) and sideshow (from Charlie Artful and Alex Doll), hosted by my pal Hot Todd Lincoln. The Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC. Two shows, 8:45 and 11:00; tix $12 advance, $15 at the door, available here.

9/21 - The Autumnal Equinox! Summer is finally over. Have a dinner party, get together with friends, gather leaves, say a prayer or have a ritual if that's your thing. Do something fun to mark the day. (I'll be at a friend's birthday party.)

9/28 - Hot Todd Lincoln's Fall Extravaganza! My pal Todd is at it again, bringing burlesque and comedy, with Mavi, Valeria Voxx, The Red Huntress, Cherie Nuit, and Cherry Bomb. The Bier Baron, Washington, DC. Door 8:30, show at 10:00; tix $10, available here.

That's all I have right now...as always, if anyone knows of anything, give me a yell.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

September at the Phantom Concert Hall!

It's a cool night in early September, and we're all dolled up in our best bohemian finery and out at the concert hall again. Tonight, we thrill to a soprano's rendition of an aria from a Hungarian operetta...

This is the opening song from "Die Csardasfurstin," the most popular work from Hungarian composer Emmerich Kalman, and I find it a delight. The title translates to "The Gypsy Princess" although she's not actually a gypsy, or Romani as some prefer, but a cabaret singer in the midst of romantic misunderstandings. I'll have to track down a recording of it sometime.

How have I been? I survived my birthday, and visited the family. My niece was in town so we had a get-together, as heaven only knows when we'll see her again. (She's a chemical engineer in the Navy.) Dad was hobbling along; I saw him using a walker for the first time which was damned alarming. But now word comes from his doctor that the benign tumor they thought had grown actually hadn't, and the problems he's having are really due to the medications he's on. So they're adjusting the cocktail and tracking the results. Work has kept me busy in the meantime.

I hope to have the calendar done tomorrow night. Sorry to be lagging behind but I've had a seriously insane week. Just groove to that aria and dance a little if the spirit moves you.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August Miscellany

Some smaller things...
Le Fanu

  • Today is the 199th birthday of J. Sheridan Le Fanu and the 264th birthday of Goethe, so go read "Carmilla" and "The Erl-King" to honor them. Or listen to an audio version. Or just have a drink. That's what I'm doing.
  • I'm stressed out as hell; I'm hunting for a new lair in Baltimore and my father is having some fairly icky health problems, in the form of a benign brain tumor that's pressing on his motor centers and making him limp, as well as causing occasional seizures. He's on a stack of meds but this seriously blows. And my birthday is Saturday and I have mixed feeling about being 48. But I guess still being alive and kicking is something to celebrate. And if someone knows of a reasonably-priced two-bedroom place with a nice kitchen and near a light rail station in Baltimore, please get in touch.
  • A new genre of podcast has arisen, where hosts go through an author's work story by story and analyze it, and so far it seems focused on weird fiction...or at least as far as I can tell. And I think it's cool. The grandaddy of them is The H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, and in its wake are The Double Shadow (dedicated to the fiction of Clark Ashton Smith) and A Podcast to the Curious (dedicated to M. R. James). Now a brand-new one has arisen, and just in time: the Edgar Allan Poecast. Just one episode so far, where they dissect "Meztengerstein", but it's a corker. I anticipate good stuff from them. And what's next? The Nathaniel Hawthorne Guiltcast? The Robert E. Howard Bicepcast? Fitz-James O'Brien's Podcast Bohemia? If someone decides to kick off a J. Sheridan Le Fanucast without me I'll be peeved.
  • A friend observed my fondness for Japanese ghost stories and taste for J-horror, and asked if I was into manga and anime. And, well, I'm not. I've found most anime to be incomprehensible, and sometimes pretty vile, although I think I've just had the bad luck to be shown some of the more extreme variations. Manga just doesn't appeal to me. If it's your thing, go for it, but it's not mine. My mental image of Japan is more the land of Lafcadio Hearn and Akira Kurosawa than Sailor Moon and  Kekko Kaman or anything else...I know, hardly up to date, but that's the way it is. And I'm not likely to visit any time soon anyway...
  • I have found my dream car: the 1938 Phantom Corsair. Too bad for me only one was ever made. Who wants to build up a team to steal it? (NOTE TO LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL: Yeah, right. Like I could afford the gas that thing would require. It's mere a silly daydream.)    

Sunday, August 25, 2013

YUREI ATTACK! by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt

Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide is one of a series of books by husband-and-wife team of Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt on Japanese pop culture; notably, there's also Ninja Attack! and Yokai Attack! One senses a theme. I first learned of it when I heard Yoda & Alt interviewed on the podcast "Monster Talk" and hope to get the other two eventually. Being a bit of a ghost person, I want for this one first.

The book opens with a general introduction to yurei, or ghosts of Japan, as opposed to yokai, or monsters. There's an extensive literary, folkloric, and artistic heritage of the uncanny in Japan, and it's really clear that it's the book's purpose to open that up to western viewers whose familiarity may not run much past Ringu and Ju-On and other J-horror films.

There are themed sections to the book. In "Sexy & Scary" there's a series of seductive female phantoms, including some from The Tale of Genji and my beloved Ugetsu Monogatari. These ladies range from the pathetic, like Okiku, the plate-counting phantom, to the infamous Oiwa, the template for Japanese female ghosts.

Oiwa emerging from a lantern.

Up next is "Furious Phantoms," with specters motivated by rage and revenge. Included in this section are Taira No Masakado, a historical figure whose shrine occupies valuable Tokyo real estate but is still honored and feared today. Another is a fictionalized ghost story based on real-life kabuki actor Kohada Koheiji, who died in the 1700s.

Koheiji, in a famous print by Hokusai.
 "Sad Spectres" includes Miyagi, from Ugetsu Monogatari, and who was incorporated into the 1953 film Ugetsu. Another interesting one was Ame-Kai Yurei, or the candy-buying ghost. In this tale, a sad-faced woman shows up at a stand for several nights in a row to purchase a small piece of candy, of the sort normally given to a baby. The shopkeeper eventually follows her when she leaves, to a cemetery, where she vanishes over a recent grave. Digging it up, the shopkeeper and his friends find a mother and child together; either the woman died while pregnant but managed to give birth in the coffin, or they were both ill and while the mother had died the baby had been mistaken for dead and buried with her. And in it were the remains of the candy, along with the living child; obviously she had been sustaining the baby's life with the candy. I recount all this because long ago I read a story that had been told in the North Carolina mountains that was almost identical, except it was a general store being visited by the ghost and she was buying bottles of milk. Hard to know which came first, but it's yet another example of how uncanny folktales from different cultures can be so similar.

The Okiku Doll, another haunted possession in Japanese lore.

"Haunted Places" is a fun chapter because so many of the stories are from historical sources, some not all that long ago. Tabaruzaka, a hill near Kumamoto, has a haunting from a real battle of the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. Mount Hakkoda is haunted by soldiers who died there during a disastrous training exercise in 1902; they were trapped, unprepared, during a "normal" cold-weather survival mission, that went hideously awry when a history-making blizzard hit the area, with record low temperatures, and out of 210 soldiers, only 11 survived, some as multiple amputees. There's also Japan's famous Suicide Forest (where a staggeringly high number of people go to off themselves), Jomon Tunnel (haunted by those who died during the construction in 1914), and Oiran Buchi (a waterfall where 55 courtesans committed suicide in the 1570s).
The Hakkoda mountains, now a ski resort.
"Dangerous Games" looks into various spooky pastimes, including a form of ouija board, a popular curse, and the hyaku monogatari, a sort of seance game where you and your friends light 100 candles, then sit around at night telling scary stories, and blowing out a candle after each story. When you blow out the last one...well, something scary is supposed to happen, but the stories are very vague as to exactly what. It's supposed to be done in summer, which is the spooky season in Japan. (In the West we tend to associate ghosts with autumn, thanks to Halloween, I guess, and also with winter, because of the long nights. Remember A Christmas Carol?)

Chapter Six, "Close Encounters," has three tales of famous meetings with ghosts, including the famous "Hoichi the Earless" which was recounted in Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan and dramatized in the famous film of the same name. There's a tale each about Yuten Shonin, a famous real-life exorcist, and Ono No Takamura, a poet and scholar who is supposed to have visited Hell. The appendices include a selection of ghost-related toys and merchandise, and suggestions for further reading.

Yurei Attack! is fun, spooky reading; Yoda and Alt do a very good job of making this part of Japanese pop culture accessible to Westerners. It's got a ton of illustrations, with a lot of classic Japanese ghost art from great artists, and modern manga drawings from Shinkichi.

This is great stuff, folks. Look it up, find it, and read it. It's available as a physical book and I think also for the Kindle.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August Afternoon at the Movies!

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon in August, when it's surprisingly cool but you still need air conditioning because it's so damp and clammy outside. After lunching at our favorite restaurant, we proceed down the street to the comfort of that old movie house...

First up is a short from 1900, the first in a supernatural-themed film trilogy. Watch the antics of Uncle Josh, in this film from Edison's production company, in "Uncle Josh's Nightmare".

And then the feature presentation, a fun 1932 mystery drama with a young Ginger Rogers, "The Thirteenth Guest."

Show's over, and we amble down the street for something cold at that little cafe, and take comfort in our little routine...

Sunday, August 11, 2013


A. N. L. Munby (1913-1974) was a man after my own heart. A rare-book dealer and librarian, he also served in WWII and while in a German POW camp wrote a series of low-key ghost stories in the antiquarian tradition of M. R. James. They were collected and published in 1949 (I think the image above is the hardcover) and for many years it was a much sought-after collector's item, accessible only to a few. The lovely people at Ash-Tree Press resurrected it first as a print book, and now it's happily available as an e-book.

And now for an overview. "Herodes Redivivus" is a fairly forward-thinking story, of a boy whose taste for old books almost delivers him into the hands of a Satanist and presumed pedophile, with some possible deliverance from beyond. "The Inscription" is a nicely spooky tale of a haunting driven by old sorceries. And then there's the title story, a gentle tale of a haunted church and its clerical phantom who has a unique manifestation.

"The Topley Place Sale" is a nicely morbid tale of an estate sale and a ghost that takes exception to the belongings being scattered to the wind. In "The Tudor Chimney" proposed renovations to an old house unleash a phantom. Playing "A Christmas Game" leads to horrifying results as vengeance takes a hand. "The White Sack" takes us to a trek in the mountains that almost leads to death at the hands of a malignant and unknowable local fiend.

"The Four-Poster" has an old bed with a vengeful haunting...not as fiendish as that legendary bad movie, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, but bad enough, and with a surprising cause. "The Negro's Head" is a rather surprising tale of wry reflections on race relations and their repercussions. "The Tregannet Book of Hours" is a fun tale of a book that gives hints of a dire haunting in the past. "An Encounter in the Mist" is along the lines of "The White Sack," in which a traveler almost meets doom at the hands of a malignant specter.

"The Lectern" is a tale of spectral revenge, and "Number Seventy-Nine" has evil surrounding an old book. The final story, "The Devil's Autograph", is about the rarest collectible of them all.

 I've downloaded a handful of Ash-Tree Press ebooks, and I'm most impressed with them so far. There's good introductions and biographical material, and they do a great job of bringing obscure ghost fiction to light. And Munby's tales are a joy. The usual ghosts and chills are there, although not as vivid as some authors' work, like James or the Benson boys. Munby is low-key and especially in the first story it's easy to miss the supernatural content. In a number of tales the haunting is not a present menace, but something to be read about in the past. But they're full of the usual antiquarian stuff...old books, old houses, old churches, as well as some excursions into the wild. But he's also a bit more liberal that some; "The Negro's Head" especially gives thanks that the author is in more enlightened times, but also some of that in "A Christmas Game" as well. There is a fondness for the old and for tradition, especially with "The Topley Place Sale" which is almost funny in its depiction of a ghost who doesn't want to see the family antiques sold off, but there's also an acceptance of renovation, like in "The Tudor Chimney" in which respectful renovation is the key to ending the haunting, and even in tales like "The Inscription" it's the best thing for all involved that the haunted building be razed. Something like that would give M. R. James twitches; he abhorred the thought of renovating. But Munby was a bit more forward-thinking than the usual antiquarian storyteller.

Get this and read it, folks. This is a joy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dust & Corruption Calendar for August 2013

Ever since July's hellish heat wave broke, the summer has been relaxed and easy, with a number of surprisingly cool and agreeable days. I took a walk around the parking lot at work yesterday and was surprised at how much it felt like September. Perhaps, hope against hope, we're going to have an early and cool fall?

I'm also starting to apartment-hunt in earnest, looking for an affordable and nice place in Baltimore where I can have a separate room for all my books. Wish me luck. If all goes well, I'll be celebrating Halloween with Edgar Allan Poe.

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

In Frederick, MD, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine has a series of free lectures every Thursday evening during the summer; if you're into history or medicine or both, look into it.

Saturdays: Speakeasy Saturdays continue at The Big Hunt; shows start at 9:00, and every Saturday is something different.

8/7 - Beauty + Brains/Burlesque + Variety. Burlesque, sideshow, and comedy. The Raven Lounge, 1718 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA. Doors 8:30, show 9:30. Tix $10.

Also that night is Sizzling Summer Nights! Burlesque, fire performance, and variety, with my friend Crystal Swarovski. Bossy Grrrl's Pin Up Joint, 2598 N Night St, Columbus, OH. Doors 8, show 9, tix $5.

8/9 - Once Upon a Tease! Disney-themed burlesque with the best of Virginia talent.  Gallery 5, 200 W Marshall St, Richmond, VA. Doors 8, show 9; tix $10 advance and $15 at the door.

Also that night is Lady Rockwell Presents: Swingin' Burlesque Babes with Mark Whiskey & the Sours. A night of live swing music and burlesque performances, including my pal Shortstaxx. Club Orpheus, 1003 E Pratt St, Baltimore, MD. Doors 8:30, show 9:30, $15.

8/10 - Boudoir Betties! Baltimore's own Gilded Lily Burlesque troupe presents a tribute to all that is classy and sexy, with an array of talent from Baltimore, Knoxville, and St. Louis. The Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave, Baltimore, MD. Show 9pm, tix $15.

8/16 - Clash of the Tit-tans! Valentine Candy Burlesque's latest production of mythical proportions! With Candy del Rio, Reverend Valentine, Gigi Holliday, Alyssum Pohl, Deanna Danger, and more, hosted by Hot Todd Lincoln. The Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC. Two shows; one at 9pm (doors 8:45) and the next at 11pm (doors 10:45). Tix $12 adv, $15 at the door, available here.

Also that night is Rasputin's Room! Presented by Lil' Steph, this is an "All-Classic Burlesque Show" that will feature my friend Miss Joule, who is always a class act. Ruba-Club Studios, 416 Green St, Philadelphia, PA. Doors 9pm, show 10pm, tix $10.

8/17 - A Night of Wonders! The Cheeky Monkey Sideshow (which features my pals Swami YoMahmi and Mab Just Mab) will be joining musical stars Frenchy & the Punk AND Eli August & the Abandoned Buildings. Should be quite a show. The Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC. Doors 8:30, show 9:30, tix $12.

8/24 - Surrealesque. A tribute to the surreal and the erotic, with a top-drawer array of talent: Peekaboo Pointe, Tyler Fyre & Thrillkill Jill, Dr. Lucky, Maria Bella, Kay Sera, Gigi Holliday, and Sophia Sunday. The Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave, Baltimore, MD. Show at 8pm; tix $20 and available here.

8/27 - Science Cafe! The National Museum of Health & Medicine presents a talk, "About Face! Reconstructive Plastic Surgery in World War 1" which may appeal to some folks...like myself. Silver Spring Civic Center, Fenton Room, 1 Veterans Place, Silver Spring, MD. Free.

8/31 My birthday.

Also that night...Pastius Revelio! A Burlesque Tribute to Harry Potter, with Paco Fish, Swami YoMahmi, Reverend Valentine, Nelson Lugo, Lola Rose, Gigi Holliday and Cherie Sweetbottom. The Bier Baron, Washington, DC. Doors 8:30, show 10:30; tix $10 adv and $12 at the door.

That's all I've been able to find...if you know of something, speak up!

Monday, August 5, 2013

August at the Phantom Concert Hall

And once again we're in our bohemian best at the concert hall. It's a cool evening, and we've already arranged for dinner later, and tonight is a special treat. A rare performance of Prokofiev's Third Symphony!

Almost sounds like something by Bernard Herrmann, doesn't it? Prokofiev is famous for things like "Peter and the Wolf" but there's a rarely performed repertoire of his works that spectral and sometimes horrific. Symphony No. 3 borrows some themes from an opera he composed, "The Fiery Angel," which I'm told is full of witchcraft and demonic possession. I can believe it; this piece is utterly diabolical. Prokofiev himself seems to have been most fascinated by mysticism and the occult, and it shows.

Sorry I'm a bit late with this; I'm apartment-hunting in earnest so that's taking up a bit of my time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Some minor things, and stuff I've read that doesn't warrant a full entry...

  • In 1852, classic horror author Fitz-James O'Brien proposed a horror/weird-fiction magazine to be entitled "The Pyramid of Horrors." That would have been a blast; too bad he died in the Civil War. P.S. He was gay.
  • Recently read the second Spider pulp novel, The Wheel of Death. Mostly takes place in a lavish private casino, and revolves around a power broker who is bumping off various officials so he can stuff city council with his puppets. An OK read but not spectacular, and found it a bit of a slog here and there. It lacked focus.
  • Another recent pulp read was a lot of fun. The Land of Terror is the second Doc Savage novel, and has Doc and his pals battling a villain (referred to as "Kar") who possesses a macabre new weapon, a disintegration gas. Its effects are interestingly described, including little flashes resulting from the atomic bonds being discharged, a neat little detail. They end up tailing the villain to a remote island in the South Seas, the only source for a unknown element required in making the gas. Thunder Island is a vast volcanic cone...and inside the dormant crater is a steamy jungle populated by dinosaurs. This really ups the game from the first novel, which had a lost tribe of Maya, and goes full-throttle Lost World on you. It's vastly entertaining and a lot of fun.
  • I saw Pacific Rim the other day, and had a blast with it. Yes, it's nearly plotless, but that's OK. Guillermo del Toro is obviously a big fan of the kaiju and mecha genres, and recognizes that part of their appeal is the mindless destruction. He also doesn't make the mistake of having the monsters being sympathetic or cuddly; they're vile creatures who have to be destroyed. It's got humor that's actually FUNNY instead of eye-rollingly lame. And there's nice human drama that doesn't get in the way of the action and isn't mawkish or overdone. Most of all, it's got some sexy men. Charlie Hunnam doffs his shirt and displays an impressive body, but there's also Max Martini and Robert Kazinski as an Aussie father-and-son team of mecha pilots and Robert Maillet (aka pro wrestler Kurrgan) as a Russian mecha pilot. There's also Idris Elba, who I know a lot of people lust for, but he doesn't do anything for me. (Sorry, folks.) Anyway, a good afternoon's entertainment, and it's too damn bad it's not doing better. I want to catch Byzantium and The Conjuring, and hopefully I'm So Excited!, so here's hoping.
  • Have your shirts, or even your sheets, acquired sweat stains in this godawful heat wave? The men's style blog Put This On has a great system for getting stains out of whites; I've used myself several times and it does work.
  • I found out today that an absinthe bar, "Libertine", opened earlier this month in DC. Why the hell did it take so long for me to find out? Anyway, I hope to sample it this weekend.
  • Summer TV is so lame I've been watching old MST3K episodes on YouTube, and laughing myself silly.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Hot Night at the Movies!

It's blazing hot tonight, and it seems a good night for our monthly movie date. Dinner at the usual restaurant is light, and conversation may be lagging a bit; we're all worn and tired from the heat.

At least the sun is down by the time we leave, and the movie house's air conditioning is going full blast. Our favorite seats are waiting for us; what will the show be tonight?

First off, here's a bit from 1899, George Melies' "Summoning the Spirits.

And a bit more from Melies, 1905's "Le dirigeable fantastique."

And now the main feature...the 1932 Bela Lugosi classic, "White Zombie"!

This little film was dismissed when it came out as a terrible film, but I think it's held up remarkably well and now boasts quite a bit of naive charm.

Show's over, time for a scramble in the heat to the cafe down the way, where something cold awaits!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Few More Thoughts on Adventuring

A scene on the Patuxent River.
I initially focused on adventuring in the summer. There's a good reason for that; it's when the kids are off from school and naturally vacation time. Lots of places are open only in summer. Summer is that time when living in the city can get you down and you want, NEED to get out in the country and breathe in fresh air.

But it's good for other seasons as well. Spring adventuring can be a chance to dispel cabin fever, to see earth reawakening and springing back to life. Winter adventuring gives you a chance to take in snowy scenery, and especially to see some sights and attractions when they're not choked with tourists.

At Sugar Loaf Mountain in Maryland.

Autumn adventuring can be glorious. Taking advantage of one of those golden days when the sun is bright and the colors are blazing can lead to a memorable day's outing. Stuff's still open, farmstands have apples and pears, and the roads beckon. If your plans include wildlife areas, though, be sure to check on hunting season.

Autumn and winter can also be good for overnight trips, as it's the off-season for most places and hotels and motels are often cheaper. The reverse is usually true in ski areas, though, so a weekend away in the mountains during summer can be surprisingly affordable.

Picnics are good for spring, summer, and autumn adventures. Maybe not so much for winter, although I remember a winter picnic with the family in my early teens, in a park pavilion covered with snow. Still, probably best to figure out a place to nosh at, or to keep your eye open for a friendly, cozy cafe. Spring picnics are glorious celebrations of renewing life, but watch out for wet ground or unexpectedly chilly parks. Autumn picnics can be an opportunity to experiment with the picnic formula; perhaps a thermos of hot soup? Or find a place where you can build a fire or even set up a hibachi, and warm up some precooked items? I once saw a recipe for apples, halved and filled with an apple/bread cube/sausage stuffing, baked, then wrapped in foil, taken on a picnic and reheated. Looks reasonable to me.

Adventurers with a scientific bent can go to SciStarter to find out about citizen science projects they can take part in. You can participate in bird counts or insect-spotting or any number of projects that can spice up your hike in the park.
Lighthouse on St. Clement's Island, MD.
 Adventures can be keys to future trips. Always look for signs that grab your interest, and pick up brochures and information when you can for future reference.

Wear clothes that bring out your inner adventurer. Don't be schlubby, but don't go on a hike in high heels, either. Nothing like being a put-together adventurer; in summers I love an outfit of olive cargo shorts and a short-sleeved white linen shirt, with hiking boots and a straw hat that leaves me feeling rather dashing. Scour your closets and hit the thrift shops until you get some season-appropriate outfits that can function for both a museum visit and a walk in the woods.

Music can add to your experience, too. I took a ramble along the lower Chesapeake shores and downloaded a couple albums of historic sea chanties and songs from the Revolution and Colonial era. There's something about driving along the seaside and humming along to an old sea song.

Take your binoculars, camera, iPod, phone, pocket knife, compass, flashlight, and enough cash to keep you going. Pack a cooler, your picnic basket (I got a nice one cheap on Ebay a while ago), a blanket, and an emergency kit (nicely priced ones at Target). Gas up the car and get the oil changed if it's close to being due. Grab your maps, brochures, and guidebooks. Leave room for souvenirs and discoveries.

And that's all for now...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dust & Corruption Calendar for July 2013!

Sorry to be dragging this month, folks. I was up at my parents' for a few days and it wasn't until after I got up there that they remembered to tell me their computer was on the fritz and there was no internet access. ACK. My hometown's Independence Day celebration featured a tedious country band (sorry, not my musical genre) but at least had a good fireworks display, a surprisingly impressive one for such a small town. Their celebration is always the evening of the third, partly to avoid competition with other local events but mostly because getting fireworks for July 3rd is shockingly cheap.

Anyway, July promises to be hot and steamy, so here's some fun to keep you distracted.

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

In Frederick, MD, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine has a series of free lectures every Thursday evening during the summer; if you're into history or medicine or both, look into it.

Saturdays: Speakeasy Saturdays continue at The Big Hunt; shows start at 9:00, and every Saturday is something different.

7/1-28 - Edvard Munch 150th Anniversary Tribute at the National Gallery in DC. The National Gallery of Art, 4th & Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC. Free.

7/3 - 9/18 - Scandinavian Crime Cinema film series at the AFI Silver. Too many to list here; check out the schedule here. AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD. (They also have an upcoming series of 80s films, including some horror and thriller films, and a series called "Ozploitation," or Australian genre film.)

7/11-28 - The Capital Fringe Festival. Not sure how much I'll be doing, but there promises to be some interesting stuff. If you're in the area, check it out.

7/12  - Pretty in Pasties: A Burlesque Tribute to Movies of the 80s. My dear friends at Black Tassel Boolesque present this show, the title of which pretty much sums it up. With Cherie Sweetbottom, the DDP Drill Team, Mourna Handful, Maria Bella, Missy Aggravation, Mab Just Mab, and hosted by Hot Todd Lincoln. The State Theater, 230 N Washington St, Falls Church, VA. Doors 8:00, show at 9:00. Tix $12 advance, $15 at the door.

7/12 - Queer Burlesque Dance Performance Art Party! Queer-themed event with punk music, folk music, drag, and burlesque, featuring Lucrezia Blowzia, Marla Meringue, Shortstaxx, and Victoria Vixen. The Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC. I don't have any info about tickets, and I have a listing of 8:30 but don't know if that's the doors or the showtime.

7/13 - Open Sketch Sessions. If you're in Philadelphia and want to work on your artistic skills, check this out. The Mutter Museum will allow artists and amateurs to sketch from their collection of historic anatomical etchings and illustrations. The Mutter Museum, 19 S 22nd St, Philadelphia, PA. 11am to 4pm, no admission but registration recommended. Details here

7/14 - 8/4 - The Hitchcock 9. A series of silent films, four directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Easy Virtue, Downhill, The Lodger, and The Pleasure Garden) and two written by his wife, Alma (The First Born  and The Constant Nymph), with others to be shown at the AFI Silver. All with live musical accompaniment. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Free, but get there early; check out the schedule here.

7/18 - GeekBoys Burlesque. Billing itself as an all-male nerdy-burly review, I wish I could be there. SERIOUSLY. Featuring Lucky Charming, Matt Knife, Christopher Bousquet, Hardy Corey, and Brief Sweat, hosted by that charmer Nelson Lugo. The Kraine Theater, 85 E 4th St, New York, NY. Doors at 6:30, show at 7:00, tix available here.

7/19 - International Burlesque Review. LA's Scarlett Letter, Boston's GeeGee Louise, Italy's Miss Satine, and DC's 'Stache show up in this fun show, hosted by Christopher Inlow. MOCA, 1054 31st St NW, Washington, DC.  8:00; ticket price unknown.

7/19 - Twisted Knickers Presents "La Bell Epoque"! Baltimore's burlesque scene presents its own version of a Parisian cabaret, although perhaps minus the absinthe. (bummer) With Tapitha Kix, Beaujolais Nouveau, Ruby Rockafella, Cherie Sweetbottom, Cherie Nuit, Bunny Vish'us, Maki Rolle, Kitty Bermuda, and Dainty Dandridge, hosted by Hot Todd Lincoln. The Yellow Sign Theater, 1726 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD. (Cthulhu fans: they really mark your hand with the Yellow Sign...) Doors 8:30, show 9:30. Tix $10 adv, $15 at the door, available here.

7/20 - Cartoon-a-Rama! Richmond burlesque troupe Those Freaking Weirdos puts on a fun-sounding show. With Cherrie Canary, Dante the Inferno, Dev L Ish, Ellie Quinn, Moxie LaBouche, Melody Magpie, and more. Richmond CenterStage, 600 E Grace St, Richmond, VA. Showtime 9:00pm. Tix $12, available here.

7/23 - Science Cafe: Quack Medicine. I just found out that the National Museum of Health & Medicine has a series of talks and workshops on scientific subjects for the interested layperson. This month it's a discussion of medical quackery and health fraud in the 20th century. Fenton Room, Silver Spring Civic Center, 1 Veterans Plaza, Silver Spring, MD. Admission free; starts at 6pm.

7/26 - Hot Todd Lincoln's House of Weird! Keeping up the weirdness for the month, my pal Hot Todd presents an array of talent, with Swami Yomahmi, Kiki Allure, Alyssum Pohl, Cherie Sweetbottom, and Cherokee Rose. The Bier Baron, Washington DC. Showtime 10:00, tix $10.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Phantom Ballad for July

On a summer ramble, we stop by an old cemetery to take some photos, and in the midst of all the decay and sense of abandonment, there's fresh flowers on a very old grave.

We continue on our way, curious about the who and why of the discovery, and then on the radio this song arises unexpectedly...

Feeling a sense of foreboding and of unfinished business, we swing by there again later in the day on our way to dinner. The flowers are still there, but now we can make out heavy footprints leading to the grave from the entrance, and that lead away...and suddenly stop. And the grave itself is over a century old.

We feel a cold chill and run back to the car...

"The Unquiet Grave" is an ancient ballad, thought to date back to 1400. The basic interpretation is that of a man mourning for his lost love, only to have her ghost tell him that his excessive mourning is keeping her from moving on, and that he should enjoy his life while he has it. I've seen some making a case for the singer having murdered his love (although there's scant reason to see that from my viewpoint) and some others have claimed connections to witchcraft (even more tenuous).

I settled on this video as a default; I couldn't find something that exactly matched my preference (acoustic, unenhanced audio) but this one has some nice imagery so I went for it. Long ago I heard a version, done as a duet, with harp and guitar accompaniment, but it's unavailable now.

July brings all sorts of wildness....

Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's Summer! Adventuring and You.

Amber waves of grain, and all that.

OK, so it's summer now, officially. And we're all bohemians here...some of my readers may have big vacations coming up, but many of us can't afford that trip to Albania or the bicycling voyage through Mozambique, or that tour of the art galleries of Bolivia. I know I can't.

So rather than languishing at home watching reruns and waiting for History Detectives to come back on PBS, it's a good excuse to pick a lazy weekend and head out of town for a day.

But where to start? Where to go?

Most of us are curious folks and we have spots we've always wanted to go that we've heard of. Or maybe we need something new. You could always pick up a map and look it over. Maybe there's a park you've never been to, or perhaps a town you've never visited. Perhaps you have some interest you can chase somewhere, like gathering shells or fossils or flowers, or browsing flea markets, antique malls, and bookstores. Maybe there's a good restaurant you've heard of, or a museum you've read about. Or perhaps you want some good subjects for photographing or sketching. Or it's just hot in the city and you want to catch some cool breezes from the shore, or up in the mountains, or just simply out in the country.

So why not? Gas up the car, plot a course, and go!

Pick a couple of spots, like a park, an interesting town, a museum, or something else, all in fairly easy reach of each other. Track a course; maybe something not too direct. Give yourself room to ramble a side road or two. Give yourself time and room to improvise. Feel free to stop at anything that catches your fancy, like:

  • an old cemetery
  • a historic church
  • an eerie, ramshackle house
  • a farmer's market
  • a great view
  • yard sales and flea markets
  • an interesting ruin
Even an old railroad bridge can be worth a stop.

Keep a cooler in the trunk for any culinary purchases you may make. Take your camera, your sketchbook, binoculars, and anything else you find appropriate for adventure. As always, take a book or two; I rarely go far without my Kindle, and no adventure is complete without my volume of Robert Herrick's poetry to dip into during a relaxing moment in some charming spot. Also, old travel books are fun, as you can compare what's described in the book with what exists now. (I've had some entertaining times with an old book I found...)

Issues to decide on...

Alone or with friends? That can depend on your mood and availability. There are advantages to both; a lone ramble allows you to do what you want when you want it, but can feel lonely. Friends are great to share an adventure with, until they start demanding stops here and there or pressuring you to go somewhere you don't want to go. (Of course, good friends will discuss these things beforehand.)

Picnic or eating out? A meal at a fun restaurant can be great, if you know of one where you'll be going. Sampling local specialties at a local spot is a great adventure. But so is a picnic; eating outdoors in a nice park or other pretty spot can make for a memorable part of your day. And depending on your tastes and friends, you can do anything from the usual sandwiches or fried chicken, to something more elaborate. What about cold poached salmon and a cucumber salad, with a melon or some plums you bought at that farm stand? A grand compromise for a full-day trip is a picnic lunch and dinner out, either at a pre-selected restaurant or at some place spotted by chance. And a stop at a small-town market for a soda or a popsicle can be fun too. (It's summer, you gotta have popsicles.)

Some restaurants are destinations in themselves, like The Hutte, a Swiss restaurant in the remote West Virginia mountain town of Helvetia. I visited there last summer.

 What to do? Activities planned can depend on the interests of those going. When I'm on a ramble by myself, my plans usually revolve around historic sites and natural attractions, with occasional forays for antiquing and used books. But friends may want side trips to gather shells or pick flowers or whatever; that depends on your patience. If you're a good friend, you'll be at least tolerant of that!

So, let's say you've planned a trip; you're driving, with James, Viola, and Laura along for the fun. You've met for a quick breakfast and headed off on a rural ramble. Bright conversation flows, and you stop at a farmstand for a cantaloupe, some plums, and a bag of cookies. You planned for a stop at a historic house museum, a waterside park, and at an old town so you can walk around and explore. There's always a couple of pauses; James likes to take photos, Laura gathering flowers and plants to press and keep in her herbarium, and Viola loves old cemeteries and antique stores. But you're all in synch and all on the same page. The group picnics at the park, in a lovely spot by the water; a cold roast chicken, homemade bread, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and a green bean salad, followed by plums and cookies, all very satisfying. You make it to the town after some more unexpected stops, like that old church that dates from the Revolution, and leave the car to explore, and after visiting an antique store and used book store, you all have an armload of souvenirs. After a cone from the ice-cream parlor, you take off to another park that you'd spotted signs for, and go down a side road that takes you through some villages and farm communities that you stop to take in for a bit. As the sun sets, the group is tearing into shrimp and crabcakes at a small waterside place you'd been told about at the ice-cream parlor, glad you were open to suggestions. A quick pause in the parking lot to scan the maps for the most direct way home, and you're back to the city after a long, full day.

Sounds nice? It could happen to you. Take time and do it.

Print Resources:
Check out the "Local Interest" section of your local bookstore; you may be surprised at the number of guidebooks for local history, gardens, natural sites, ghost stories, hiking trails, and other adventure fodder. Also pounce on local tourist information places and see what obscure spot catches your interest. Check out the local used book emporia; you may find something good that's only a few years old and not horribly outdated. Or something a few decades old that will provide some contrast.
Outside Lies Magic by John R. Stilgoe is a great book that raises awareness of the built landscape around us, and encourages exploration of small towns.
Simple Foods by James Beard is a good work on cooking for beginners with several chapter discussing picnics ranging from the simplest to the luxurious.
And for really luxurious picnics, The Impressionists' Table by Alexandra Leaf (out of print but used copies available cheaply) has menus and recipes for a series of meals, including picnics inspired by Impressionist paintings and 19th-century French cuisine.

Online Resources:
Weird U.S. is a nationwide directory of strange stories and places.
Roadside America is chock full of oddball sites, muffler men, giant chairs, oddly shaped buildings, and all sorts of other stuff, and is a must.
Roadfood is an essential guide to the best places for regional eats. It may not direct to the prettiest places but you can usually depend on a good meal.
Nerdy Day Trips is a crowdsourced site where people submit their own interesting spots; I've put in quite a few in Maryland and DC. It can range anywhere from high-toned museums to wildlife sanctuaries.
The U.S. National Park Service is a great resources for adventure material.
Your state's Department of Natural Resources website should have a list of state parks and natural areas; you can also dig for local history websites.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

June's Night at the Cinema!

The heat has descended, with an almost audible thud, and after our usual meal at the restaurant down the street, we go almost as fast as we can manage to the old movie theater for our monthly night out.

And thankfully...the air conditioning is working! We sigh, and after fetching cold drinks at the refreshment counter, we find our favorite seats for tonight's program.

First up is an 1898 rarity from George Melies, "The Damnation of Faust."

The feature presentation is a rare thriller from 1932, "Get That Girl!"

We have a great time as always, and then head up the block to that little cafe for a parting glass...