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...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

TERROR TALES by Arthur J. Burks

I recently became aware of the Radio Archives site which carries an impressive array of ebook versions of classic pulp novels, as well as collections of tales from the shudder pulps. This was my first purchase from them and I'm glad I bit.

Terror Tales is the first in a series of collections of pulp horror tales, each a sampling of the work of a single author. And I appreciate how they kick off with a frank word about how these stories are products of their time and can contain examples of racial and ethnic stereotyping typical of the period. In other words, these can be very un-PC and unenlightened, so those inclined to clutch their pearls and judge everything by modern standards had best stay away.

Some of these are more direct horror, and some dance on the edge of weird-menace territory, an odd subset of horror pulp writing that often featured sadistic violence, sexualized situations, and heroes being coerced or convinced into doing horrendous deeds. I've read some full-on examples of that genre...and ew, they can be intense and distasteful. These don't go all the way into that but stay on the borderlands. And interestingly, some stories have mundane menaces, and some are full-on supernatural, and a couple at the end have an odd, almost mystical slant.

"Six Doors to Horror" is a loony, surreal, throw-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-at-the-reader story about a group of people dining in the home of an aristocratic Chinese man in New York, only running afoul of supernatural forces lurking in a sub-basement crypt. (Naturally, every home in Chinatown has a crypt holding supernatural forces...didn't you know that? One of these days I'll do an essay about Chinatown mysteries...) "Eater of Souls" is set in the Dominican Republic, with a jungle doctor running afoul of a local curse, and his lovely wife falling victim to a plague, and corpse-candles dancing 'round in her bedroom...or are they? Although it seems supernatural, all has a material cause.

An artist and his favorite model (who has the clumsy name of "Darda") go out to eat at an out-of-the-way restaurant in New York, and end up having to battle the "Keepers of the Black Tavern." This story is just violence and sadism in a gothic atmosphere, with a cult that celebrates torture. "Blossoms of Doom" gives us the story of a young woman living on a Caribbean estate left to her by her artist father, with orders that she always live there. But as the man she loves (clumsily named "Clel"...Burks had a thing for weird, clumsy names) comes to visit, the very plants on the estate seem to be trying to kill her, and eerie menaces are around every corner. Is it her possessive (and possibly incestuous) father's ghost? Or is there something more mundane behind it all?

"When a Corpse Commands!" is set in Pennsylvania Dutch country, on an island in a river, and while overflowing with gothic atmosphere and overheated emotions, is basically a murder mystery with a young woman accused of murder, and then of witchcraft by the superstitious locals. She must unmask the real murderer and get away from there to save her own life.

"No Man Escapes Me!" is an odd story, VERY odd, and originally Burks published it under a pseudonym. It is basically a rather run-of-the-mill noir story of passion and attempted's narrated by Death, who observes the goings on with a smug feeling that even if someone escapes this time, then eventually they'll be caught in his nets. "Through Death's Thin Veil" is more mysticism as Death plays a firm role, but there's also a bit of ghost action as well. An aging doctor tries to save the life of a young woman during a blizzard, only he's conscious of Death waiting for him, and a deceased rival doctor mocking him, and maybe a ghost showing up.

This was a fun read, although to be frank the writing is rather poor in spots, especially in the earlier tales. Burks developed grace and style as he went on; the last two stories are arresting in their mystical slant on the usual pulp nonsense.

The good folks at Radio Archives currently have this on sale for $2.99 (regular price $3.99), and at either price it's reasonable for the chance to immerse yourself in pulp terrors. This is worth checking out.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dust & Corruption Calendar for June 2013

It's June! Summer heat is on its way (or already here), school is letting out, vacation plans being made, etc. The same old thing done every year.

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.

6/7 - Best of Burlesque(er)! Burlesque with a queer slant, saluting DC Pride Weekend. The Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC. 8:45 and 11:00, tix $15 at the door.

6/7 - Nerdtastic Burlesque. What it says...nerdlesque at its best from the Burlesque Classique troupe. CHAW, 545 7th St SE, Washington, DC. 8:00; ticket price unknown.

6/8 - Bad Girls! Twisted Knickers presents their latest burly-q experience, with Tapitha Kix, Cherie Sweetbottom, Beaujolais Nouveau, Cherie Nuit, Eyrie Twilight, and Miz Hips, MC'ed by my pal Hot Todd Lincoln. Yellow Sign Theater, 1726 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD. 8:00, tix $10, available here.

6/13 - Gurlies on Tap! The DC Gurly Show takes over one of DC's new burlesque venues, with Glam Gamz, Velvet Kensington, Private Tails, and Blanche Boudoir. The Bier Baron Tavern, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC. Showtime 9:00, tix $10.

6/15 - Dr. Who Burlesque: Talkin' 'Bout My Regeneration. Swami Yohmami hosts this evening of Who-themed burlesque, with Rev. Valentine, Candy del Rio, Eyrie Twilight, Mab Just Mab, and Nasty Canasta. The State Theater, 220 N Washington St, Falls Church, VA. 9:00, tix $12 and available here.

6/15 - Shocked & Amazed Presents: The Lucky Daredevil Thrill Show! Wild thrills and chills with Tyler Fyre and Thrill Kill Jill. The Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA. 9:00, tix $15, available here.

6/20 - Zou Zou Revue! My lovely friend GiGi Holliday hosts this enticing showcase of burlesque, with Maki Rolle, Glam Gamz, Moxie LaBouche, Lottie Ellington, Betty O'Hellno, and Kelli Limone. The Bier Baron, 9:00, tix $10 advance and $12 at the door.

6/21 - The summer solstice. Longest day of the year. A holiday for some, or just another trudge. Think of it as a turning point and honor it in some way. After all, it's a Friday.

6/21 - Queerlesque! The DC Gurly Show troupe presents an evening of queer-oriented burlesque, in honor of Gay Pride Month. Phase One, 525 8th St SE, Washington DC. 9:30, tix $10.

6/22 - Hotter Than Hell, Sweeter Than Sin. The Red Hot Heathens, a burlesque troupe from Cleveland, comes to DC, and will be joined with local talent for one night only. MOCA DC, 1054 31st St NW, Washington, DC. 8:00, tix $12.

6/23 - Poe in Paris! Opening of an exhibition of Poe's influence in France, running till 9/8. Poe Museum, 1914 E Main St, Richmond, VA. More info here

6/24-26 - Positively Poe Conference. Probably far too late to register, but I should note this conference honoring Edgar's positive influence on the world and society. At the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA; co-sponsored by the Poe Museum and the UVA Small Special Collections Library. Information here; if anyone goes, give me a review!

6/27 - Burlesque at the Gibson. My pals at Valentine Candy Burlesque do their monthly gig at one of DC's top cocktail spots. The Gibson, 2009 14th St NW, Washington, DC. (Unfortunately I don't have much further info on this...)

6/27 - Poe Unhappy Hour! Enjoy live music and a cash bar while steeping yourself in the atmosphere of this month's them, "The Premature Burial." The Poe Museum, Richmond, VA. Suggested donation of $5.

6/28 - Poe Forevermore Radio Theater! Live old-time radio drama of three Poe tales: "Berenice," "Frank, the Body Snatcher," (an original tale) and "The Cask of Amontillado." Westminster Hall, W 519 Fayette St, Baltimore, MD. 8:00; tix $20 adv, $25 at the door, available here.

6/28 & 29 - Pasties & Popcorn. Burlesque & sideshow, along with short films, in conjunction with the DC Shorts film festival. VisArts Rockville, 155 Gibbs St, Rockville, MD. 8:30 both days, tix $15.

6/29 - Burlesque-a-Pades! The Pontani Sisters' famous travelin' show, which I've seen several times and it's always a blast and different every year. The Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave, Baltimore, MD. 8:00, tix $20 general public, $15 Creative Alliance members, available here.

Well, that's all I can get info on. If you know of anything, feel free to drop me a line.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Phantom Recital and a Daring Escapade

A friend dropped a hint to us, so the gang is going for an evening walk in a part of town we don't frequent much. An abandoned church is on a side street, but some say music can be heard at night.

We hear the strange sounds from the church, and Viola, brave as ever, checks a side door as Ramsey and Laura try to peek in a window. Viola holds the door and pulls out her phone as you, James, and May steal inside to investigate. The inside is a ruin, but a shadowy figure sits at the mysteriously-operating organ, playing a strange modern piece. You're steeling yourself, James has balled his fists, and May's black belt in tae kwon do might be put in use; Viola, Ramsey, and Laura are hanging to the back, but you all are stunned when the figure turns as it finishes the music, and you all see the face before it runs out the side door.

Professor Lipsius! The mad genius of crime and diabolism! But...wasn't he drowned in the harbor after we tracked him down last?

We race to follow, and find a trapdoor leading to the city's catacombs. You all pause, unsure, unprepared, a bit frightened at the thought of dealing with him again...

(The piece is actually "Litanies" by Jehan Alain, a French composer and organist who died young. At 39, he was serving in the French army during WWII and died a hero trying to fight a squad of German soldiers. He was hailed as one of the most original voices in music of the 20th century. His sister, who performs the piece, was a highly acclaimed organist who passed away earlier this year.)