Sunday, March 26, 2017

April Fool's Day—Where Did It Come From?

Friday, April 1, 2016—April Fool's Day or All Fool's Day as it is also known.  A date that has been celebrated for centuries.  But what in the world could possibly be the origins of a day dedicated to pranks and practical jokes?

The exact origins remain a bit of a mystery, the most widely accepted theory says it dates back to 1582 when France switched from the Julian calendar where the new year began on April 1 to the Gregorian calendar where the new year began on January 1 as called for in 1563 by the Council of Trent.  People who didn't get the word that the start of the year had moved or refused to accept the change and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the object of jokes and hoaxes.  Paper fish would be placed on their back and they were referred to as poisson d'avri which means April fish.  It symbolized a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.  These people were considered fools and had practical jokes played on them.

Historians have linked April Fools' Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises.  There's also speculation that April Fool's Day was tied to the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, a time when Mother Nature fooled people with changing and unpredictable weather.

On April 1, 1700, English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools' Day by playing practical jokes on each other.  The celebration spread throughout Britain during the eighteenth century.  In Scotland it became a two day event in which people were sent on phony errands and had fake tails or kick me signs pinned to their rear ends.

All Fools' Day is practiced in many parts of the world with the playing of practical jokes and sending people on fool's errands.  In modern times people have gone to great lengths to stage elaborate pranks.  Here's the top ten hoaxes from a list of the best one hundred pranks of all time as judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.

1)  The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest (1957):  The respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop.

2)  Sidd Finch (1985):  Sports Illustrated published a story about a new rookie pitcher who planned to play for the Mets.  His name was Sidd Finch, and he could reportedly throw a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy.  But Sidd Finch had never played the game before.  He mastered the art of the pitch in a Tibetan monastery.  This legendary player was the creation of the article's author, George Plimpton.

3)  Instant Color TV (1962):  At the time there was only one television channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white.  The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception.  All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their television screen.

4)  The Taco Liberty Bell (1996):  The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had purchased the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.  Outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia to express their anger.

5)  San Serriffe (1977):  British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic consisting of semi-colon shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean.  It described the geography and culture of this obscure nation.  Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse.  Its leader was General Pica.  Only a few readers noticed that everything about the islands was named after printer's terminology.

6)  Nixon for President (1992):  National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again.  His campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again."  Listeners flooded the show with calls expressing shock and outrage.  Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.

7)  Alabama Changes the Value of Pi (1998):  The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the Biblical value of 3.0.  The article soon made its way onto the internet, then rapidly spread around the world.  The Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation.  The original article was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution and had been written by a physicist.

8)  The Left-Handed Whopper (1998):  Burger King published a full page ad in USA Today announcing the introduction on their menu of a Left-Handed Whopper for the 32 million left-handed Americans.  The ingredients were the same as the original Whopper, but the ad claimed all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers.  Thousands of customers requested the new sandwich.

9)  Hotheaded Naked Ice Borers (1995):  Discover Magazine reported that a highly respected wildlife biologist found a new species in Antarctica—the hotheaded naked ice borer.  The creatures had bony plates on their heads.  When fed by numerous blood vessels, they could become burning hot thus allowing the animals to bore through ice at high speeds.  They used this ability to hunt penguins, melting the ice beneath the penguins and causing them to sink downwards where the hotheads consumed them.  It was theorized that the hotheads might have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of noted Antarctic explorer Philippe Poisson in 1837.  To the hotheads, the explorer looked like a penguin.

10)  Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity (1976):  British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9:47AM a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur and listeners could experience it in their own homes.  Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth's own gravity.  Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment the planetary alignment occurred they would experience a strange floating sensation.  When 9:47AM arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation.  One woman reported she and her eleven friends had floated around the room.

Have you ever played an April Fool's joke on someone, or had one played on you?  Tell us about it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

10 Scariest Places On Earth

I recently came across a list that claimed to be the 10 scariest places on Earth.  The list isn't a reference to most haunted places. That would have made it a Halloween blog. :) Although, a couple of the places on this list are said to be haunted. Some of these places have been abandoned due primarily to man's misdeeds. This list is in no particular order.

1)  Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic (pictured above)
When you have the remains of over 40,000 people, what do you do with all those bones? The Abbot of Sedlec went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1278 and brought back some dirt he claimed came from Jesus' burial site. Immediately thereafter Catholics from all over Europe started demanding burial in the Sedlec Ossuary cemetery. The cemetery obviously didn't have the space to accommodate all the continual requests. In the 16th century, the church staff dug up everyone buried there and used those bones for decoration: there's a chandelier made from one of every bone in the human body, garlands of skulls, and a replica of the Schwarzenberg coat of arms made from bones.

2) Centralia, Pennsylvania
Our incredible natural resources is one thing that has made America such a prosperous country. Unfortunately, those natural resources can occasionally turn on us and that's what happened when a coal mine near Centralia, Pennsylvania, caught fire in 1962. The veins of coal ran under the town which ultimately turned Centralia into a literal hellhole. Temperatures over 1000 degree Fahrenheit accompanied by belching clouds of poisonous gas. Once the initial conflagration settled down, people began to move back but soon discovered that the veins of coal were still burning resulting in blazing hot sinkholes that swallowed people without warning. Most of the residents have moved away.

3)  Pripyat, Ukraine
A colossal example of man's ability to really screw up the planet is on display in Pripyat in the Ukraine. The town's former population of 49,000 was evacuated following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Now referred to as the zone of exclusion, it looks like a freaky ghost town. The few people who have ventured back into the town report an atmosphere of desolation and terror. Dolls on school house floors, vehicles in disrepair on the roadsides, and the skeleton of an abandoned amusement park that's hauntingly scary.

4)  Aokigahara Suicide Forest
The Aokigahara Forest at the base on Mt. Fuji in Japan is associated with multiple demons in Japanese folklore. There's something about the supernatural forest that drives people to suicide. An average of 100 people travel to Aokigahara every year to kill themselves, mostly by hanging or drug overdose. Legend says that in the 19th century families would abandon their elderly relatives there to die when they couldn't take care of themselves.

5)  Lome Bazaar, Togo
If you've ever been to a street market in a third world country, then you know how crazy things can be. So, take all that energy and put it in a bazaar that sells only materials for voodoo and you have the Lome Bazaar in Togo. The bazaar is a one stop shop for a wide variety of terrifying things used to perform frightening functions. The absolute volume of grisly death that stares at you is enough to make the strongest person weak in the knees.

6)  Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia
The Khmer Rouge period of Cambodia's past is one of the scariest genocides in history. Millions of innocents were slaughtered and the museum is located where it all happened. In Khmer, "Tuol Sleng" translates as "Strychnine Hill." The museum is housed in a former death camp and notoriously haunted by ghosts of the thousands who died there. Of the 17,000 people who were admitted to the prison, only seven survived.

7)  Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee
Sometimes science has to do some pretty disgusting things to make advancements, but we don't make them vacation spots. Studying the decomposition of the human body can give researchers lots of knowledge useful to medicine, forensics, and others. To monitor a body decomposing in real time, you go to the body farm on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It's a 2.5 acre of land and at any time has multiple bodies laid out in various positions. Over 100 corpses are donated to the Body Farm every year. Several detective/forensics/crime shows, both entertainment programming and documentaries, have used the concept of the Body Farm in their episodes.

8)  Helltown, Ohio
The village of Boston was founded in Ohio's Summit County in 1806 and succeeded until 1974 when something weird happened. President Ford signed a bill authorizing the area to be turned into a national park, the houses were purchased and boarded up, but no park was ever built, resulting in a deserted town in the middle of nowhere. The newly named Helltown spawned some terrifying legends including Satanist sacrifices, mysterious toxic waste spills, and an escaped mental patient who wanders the woods.

9)  Fengdu, China
With China's population, there isn't much room left for a ghost town—except for Fengdu, located on the north bank of the Yangtze River. Fengdu is completely abandoned. It's rumored to be a junction point between Earth and the underworld where rampaging demons grab unaware souls.

10)  La Isla De La Munecas, Mexico
Dozens of small, uninhabited islands dot the canals south of Mexico City. It's not just the polluted runoff from Mexico City that makes the area less than desirable. Fifty years ago, a man named Don Julian Santana lived the life of a hermit on one of the islands. One day he fished the corpse of a young girl out of the water. As a form of protection, he started hanging dolls from the tree limbs and branches on his island. He continued to do this over the next few decades until the entire island was cluttered with broken, weathered dolls giving it the appearance of a terrifying place.

And that's the list of ten. Have any of you ever been to any of these places?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

St. Patrick's Day—history, symbols, traditions, green beer, and Irish coffee


March 17—St. Patrick's religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. A date that falls during the Christian season of Lent. The Irish have observed this date as a religious holiday for over a thousand years. Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon.

The first St. Patrick's Day parade took place in the U.S., not in Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762, (when we were still a British colony). In 1848, several New York Irish aid societies united their parades to form one New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world's oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States with over 150,000 participants.

Today, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by people of all backgrounds in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest celebrations, it has been celebrated in other locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore, and Russia.

In modern day Ireland, St. Patrick's Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. Until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated pubs be closed on March 17. In 1995, the Irish government began a national campaign to use St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to promote tourism.
Symbols and Traditions
The shamrock was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland, symbolizing the rebirth of spring. By the seventeenth century, it became a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism.

Music is often associated with St. Patrick's Day and Irish culture in general. Since the ancient days of the Celts, music has always been an important part of Irish life. The Celts had an oral culture where religion, legend, and history were passed from one generation to the next through stories and songs.

Banishing snakes from Ireland has been associated with St. Patrick. A long held belief says St. Patrick once stood on a hilltop and with only a wooden staff managed to drive all the snakes from Ireland. The fact is the island nation of Ireland has never had snakes. The climate is too cold and damp for reptiles that cannot internally generate their own body heat.

Every year on St. Patrick's Day the traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage is consumed. Cabbage has long been an Irish food, but corned beef didn't become associated with St. Patrick's Day until many years later.

Belief in leprechauns probably comes from Celtic belief in fairies—tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. Leprechauns are only minor figures in Celtic folklore, cantankerous little men known for their trickery which they often used to protect their fabled treasure. The cheerful, friendly image of the leprechaun is a purely American invention created by Walt Disney in his 1959 movie, Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
Chicago is famous for a somewhat peculiar annual event: dyeing the Chicago River green. The tradition started in 1962, when city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. That year, they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river—enough to keep it green for a week. Today, in order to minimize environmental damage, only forty pounds of dye are used, making the river green for several hours rather than days.

Green beer, certainly associated with St. Patrick's Day here in the United States, is NOT an Irish creation. Purists claim that Arthur Guinness would turn over in his grave if anyone attempted to add green food coloring to the traditional Irish brew. Green beer is most likely of American origins.

And Irish coffee?  The forerunner of today's Irish coffee was said to have originated at Foynes' port (the precursor to Shannon International Airport on the west coast of Ireland near the town of Limerick) one miserable winter night in the 1940s. Joseph Sheridan added some whiskey to the coffee to warm the arriving American passengers, proclaiming it to be Irish coffee.

A travel writer named Stanton Delaplane brought Irish coffee to the U.S. after drinking it at Shannon Airport. He worked with the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco to develop the perfect drink. The Buena Vista Cafe started serving Irish coffee on November 10, 1952, and continues to serve large quantities of it to this day starting from the time they open in the morning for breakfast until they close at night.

So, here's to everyone celebrating on March 17 whether Irish or not. Enjoy your corned beef and cabbage, green beer, and Irish coffee.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Daylight Saving Time and the Vernal Equinox

Every March we have two annual observations that are not holidays—one is man made and the other is science/nature. The first is the start of daylight saving time and the other is the beginning of Spring. Grammatically speaking, daylight saving time is correct but the common usage over the years has been daylight savings time.

In the U.S., at 2am on the second Sunday in March we set our clocks forward one hour for the start of daylight saving time—or to put it another way, we lose one hour of sleep. This year, the second Sunday falls on March 12, 2017. And on the first Sunday in November at 2am we reverse that process by setting our clocks back one hour—we get an additional hour of sleep to make up for that hour we lost in March. In 2017, that first Sunday is November 5th.

Standard time—the creation of time zones—was instituted in the U.S. and Canada by the railroads in 1883. Due to the vast width of the two countries stretching thousands of miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, it was necessary to establish some method of standardizing train schedules. However, it was not established in U.S. law until the Act of March 19, 1918. The Act also established daylight saving time which was repealed in 1919 while standard time in time zones remained the law. Daylight saving time was re-established in World War II. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 brought standardization of start and stop dates but allowed for local exemptions from its observance. Since then the official beginning and ending dates have changed several times, the most recent being in 2007.

Those states that have opted for the exemption from daylight saving time are Arizona (except for the Navajo, who do observe daylight saving time on tribal lands), Hawaii, and the overseas territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands

There are several states that are split between two time zones. Oregon and Idaho are split between the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Florida, Michigan, Indiana (I think I read somewhere that one of Indiana's time zones observes daylight saving time and the other time zone does not), Kentucky, and Tennessee are split between Eastern and Central time zones. Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, North and South Dakota are divided between Central and Mountain time zones.

At one time, Alaska covered four time zones. That has been changed and Alaska is now in two time zones. More than 98 percent of the state's population are in one of these zones, now called Yukon time, which is one hour earlier than Pacific standard time and four hours earlier than Eastern standard time.

And then there is the other annual observance, the one dictated by science/nature—the vernal equinox.

Equinox translates literally to "equal night."

On March 20, 2017, at precisely 6:29AM eastern daylight time, the sun crosses directly over the Earth's equator. That moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere announcing the arrival of spring and the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere announcing the arrival of fall. A second equinox will occur in September.

The fact that the Earth has distinctive seasons is due to the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. The Earth receives more sunlight (longer daylight hours) in the summer and less sunlight (fewer daylight hours) in the winter.  The tilt of the axis makes the seasons opposite in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. At the north pole summer gives six months of daylight while at the same time the south pole is experiencing six months of darkness. The closer you are to the equator, the daily hours of daylight and darkness become more equal.

The fall and spring equinoxes are the only two times during the year when the sun rises due east and sets due west. Modern astronomy aside, people have recognized the astronomical connection to the season changes for thousands of years. The ancients of various civilizations all over the world built structures that illustrate this—temples dedicated to their various gods that modern man recognizes as observatories. Not only the spring and fall equinox days, but also the summer and winter solstice days (most and least daily hours of daylight).

I think it's also interesting to note a connection between the spring equinox and Groundhog Day (another holiday derived from the practices and celebrations of the ancients). If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, we have six more weeks of winter. And by "coincidence" that six weeks takes us to within a few days of the spring equinox.

A little bit of equinox trivia: According to folklore, you can stand a raw egg on its end on the equinox. One spring, a few minutes before the vernal equinox, twenty-four almanac editors tested the theory. For a full work day, seventeen out of twenty-four eggs stood up on the large end. Then three days following the equinox, they tried the same test again. And guess what? The results were similar.  Perhaps the second test was still too close to the time of the equinox?  :)

And there you have it—your science lesson for the day. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

SOME OF HOLLYWOOD'S BEST WHO NEVER WON AN OSCAR®

The 89th Annual Academy Awards Ceremonies falls on Sunday, February 26th, this year.  Who will win that coveted statuette?  Who will be taking home an Oscar®?

There are many people in the movie industry who are considered legends, those who were nominated and deserved the Academy Award but never received that elusive prize.  Some of the names will even strike you as What? That can't be true. He/She must have won at least once.

So, in no particular order, here is a cross-section of very deserving movie legends who were often nominated but missed out on the grand prize of the movie industry's top award.

1)  Alfred Hitchcock
With a string of directorial masterpieces to his credit, he never won one of the prized statuettes for directing.  However, in 1968 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

2)  Cary Grant
He made it look easy which sometimes prevented people from realizing just how good he was—adept at drama and light comedy (and even slapstick, after all he started his career as a vaudeville acrobat in England which certainly equipped him with the dexterity and coordination to do physical comedy).  Considered by many to be the epitome of the romantic leading man.  However, in 1970 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

3)  Peter O'Toole
He holds the record for the most Best Actor nominations (8) without a win with his most famous role probably Lawrence of Arabia.  My personal favorite of Peter O'Toole's films is My Favorite Year, one of his few comedy films.  However, in 2003 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

4)  Deborah Kerr
With many outstanding roles, certainly From Here To Eternity and also The King And I, she was nominated six times but no wins.  However, in 1994 she was presented an honorary Oscar® for her lifetime body of work.

5)  Richard Burton
Many outstanding performances including an exceptional one in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolfe. Six nominations, five of them for Best Actor, but no wins.

6)  Albert Finney
The British actor is probably best known for Tom Jones, one of his earlier films.  He's garnered five nominations but no wins.  My favorite Albert Finney film is Murder On The Orient Express, show casing his marvelous portrayal of Hercule Poirot (with an incredible cast including several Oscar® winners and nominees, among them multiple Oscar® winner Ingrid Bergman who won an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress in Murder On The Orient Express).

7)  Angela Lansbury
Today she's best known for her award winning role of Jessica Fletcher, the retired school teacher turned mystery novelist and amateur sleuth in the long running television series Murder, She Wrote.  In addition to television, she has an impressive award winning string of Broadway performances.  But oddly enough, even though she started her career in films and received three Oscar® nominations, it's the acting award that has remained elusive.  One of her Oscar® nominations was for a riveting performance in the original film version of The Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey (she played Laurence Harvey's mother even though they were only a few months apart in age).

8)  Fred Astaire
Although best known for a stellar career in a long string of very successful musicals (many with his long time partner, Ginger Rogers), his one and only nomination came for a dramatic role in Towering Inferno.

9)  Charlie Chaplin
He is one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood.  Even though he never won for either acting or directing, I wasn't sure whether to add him to this list of never won an Oscar® because he did win one for Best Original Musical Score in 1952 for Limelight.  However, in 1972 he was presented with an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work and received the longest standing ovation in Academy Awards history (over twelve minutes).

There are, of course, many more nominated actors/actresses/directors who deserve but haven't yet had their name engraved on an Oscar®.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The History of Mardi Gras and the Tradition Of Flashing

 This year Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.  In the Catholic Church, it's Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday.  The date for Mardi Gras depends on the date of Easter—always occurring forty-six days before Easter.

In the most literal sense, the Mardi Gras celebration is the three days prior to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.  It's the last opportunity for partying and indulgence in food and drink.  In practice, Mardi Gras…or Carnival, as it is called in many countries…is usually celebrated for a full week before the start of Lent.

Celebrations take place all over the world with the most famous modern day festivities being in New Orleans, Louisiana; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Nice, France; and Cologne, Germany.

Even though Mardi Gras is a Christian festival, it dates back to the pre-Christian spring fertility rites and embodies many of the traditions of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  In the early Middle Ages, after converting pagan tribes to Christianity, the Catholic Church was still unable to abolish all the ancient traditions.  To combat this, the Church ended up taking many ancient feasts and festivals originally celebrated in honor of pagan gods and adapted them to Christian beliefs.  An example of the pagan roots: today revelers on parade floats still dress as Bacchus, the Greek god of wine.

The first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was near modern day New Orleans on March 3, 1699, but it was the mid 1800s before parade organizations, known as krewes, came into being.  The first Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans on February 24, 1854, by the Krewe of Comus.  They began the tradition of a parade with floats followed by a ball for the krewe and their guests.  The official colors of Mardi Gras were chosen by Rex, King of Carnival, in 1892 and given their meaning—purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

But what about that popular activity that has become a seemingly integral part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, much to the chagrin of the festival purists?  Women pulling up their shirts and flashing their bare breasts to procure some worthless plastic beads?

Exactly where did this tradition come from?

Well, first of all, it's not really a tradition.  It's more along the lines of what has become a traditional activity in the same vein as getting stupid drunk and passing out now seems to fall into that same 'traditional' category.  Over the years more and more media attention has been directed toward the drunken revelry that occurs on Bourbon Street which has helped in defining flashing as a traditional part of the Mardi Gras celebration.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point-of-view, flashing in exchange for beads is mostly limited to the New Orleans' French Quarter.  And even in the French Quarter, it's an illegal activity.  Women flashing their bare breasts run the risk of being arrested.

Maybe flashing is not a true tradition, but you can't deny that it has become a custom.  After all, the history of wild Mardi Gras behavior comes from celebrating the last day before Lent—Lent being a time of atonement.  And this naturally lends itself to activities of excess and craziness.

Which apparently has come to include flashing.
But there is one crazy excess even more daring than the momentary baring of the female breasts known as flashing.  And what, you may ask, could possibly be crazier than flashing and still be done in public?  And the answer is having clothes painted on your bare skin.  There are artists who specialize in this.  It probably started as something simple and basic like face painting, but has grown to include full body artistic renderings.  At a casual glance, it appears that the person is clothed (albeit skin tight clothing).  But on closer inspection, you discover that's far from the truth.  Some of these examples shown above are basic and others are quite elaborate.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

History's Romantics

Valentine's Day is the 14th and then it's gone for another year. Fortunately, romance never goes away.  I came across a list referred to as History's Romantics and, in honor of the day of romance I'd like to share it with you. I don't recall where this list came from, but I'm sure you can think of several truly romantic people (and certainly many romantic couples) not on this list.

I do have to take exception to some of these choices being considered truly romantic.  But I leave that decision to you. Keep in mind that the list refers to real people, not fictional characters—Romeo and Juliet (even though based on real people, according to some) don't count. :)

Sappho
Much uncertainty surrounds the life story of the celebrated Greek lyric poet Sappho, a woman Plato called the tenth Muse.  Born around 610 B.C. on the island of Lesbos, now part of Greece, she was said to have been married to Cercylas, a wealthy man.  Many legends have long existed about Sappho's life, including a prevalent one—now believed to be untrue—that she leaped into the sea to her death because of her unrequited love for a younger man.  

Vatsyayana, author of the Kama Sutra
This ascetic, probably celibate scholar who lived in classical India around the 5th century A.D. is an unlikely candidate to have written history's best known book on erotic love.  Little is known about his life, but in his famous book—actually a collection of notes on hundreds of years of spiritual wisdom passed down by the ancient sages—he wrote that he intended the Kama Sutra as the ultimate love manual and a tribute to Kama, the Indian god of love.  Though it has become famous for its sections on sexual instruction, the book actually deals much more with the pursuit of fulfilling relationships, and provided a blueprint for courtship and marriage in upper-class Indian society at the time.  The Kama Sutra has been translated into hundreds of languages and has won millions of devotees around the world.

Shah Jahan
Emperor of India from 1628 to 1658, Shah Jahan has gone down in history for commissioning one of history's most spectacular buildings, the Taj Mahal, in honor of his much beloved wife.  Born Prince Khurram, the fifth son of the Emperor Jahangir of India, he became his father's favored son after leading several successful military campaigns to consolidate his family's empire.  As a special honor, Jahangir gave him the title of Shah Jahan, or King of the World.  After his father's death in 1627, Shah Jahan won power after a struggle with his brothers, crowning himself emperor at Agra in 1628.  At his side was Mumtaz Mahal, or Chosen One of the Palace, Shah Jahan's wife since 1612 and the favorite of his three queens.  In 1631, Mumtaz died after giving birth to the couple's 14th child. Legend has it that with her dying breaths, she asked her husband to promise to build the world's most beautiful mausoleum for her.  Six months after her death, the deeply grieving emperor ordered construction to begin. 

Giacomo Casanova
The name Casanova has long since come to conjure up the romantic(?) image of the prototypical libertine and seducer, thanks to the success of Giacomo Casanova's posthumously published 12-volume autobiography, Histoire de ma vie, which chronicled with vivid detail—as well as some exaggeration—his many sexual and romantic exploits in 18th-century Europe.  Born in Venice in 1725 to actor parents, Casanova was expelled from a seminary for scandalous conduct.  He embarked on a varied career including a stint working for a cardinal in Rome, a violinist, and a magician, while traveling all around the continent. Casanova's celebration of pleasure seeking and much-professed love of women—he maintained that a woman's conversation was at least as captivating as her body—made him the leading champion of a movement towards sexual freedom, and the model for the famous Don Juan of literature.  After working as a diplomat in Berlin, Russia, and Poland and a spy for the Venetian inquisitors, Casanova spent the final years of his life working on his autobiography in the library of a Bohemian count.  He died in 1798.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
The only child of the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the philosopher and novelist William Godwin, both influential voices in Romantic-Era England, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin fell in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was only 16.  He was 21 and unhappily married.  In the summer of 1816, the couple was living with Shelley's friend and fellow poet, the dashing and scandalous Lord Byron, in Byron's villa in Switzerland when Mary came up with the idea for what would become her masterpiece—and one of the most famous novels in history—Frankenstein (1818).  After Shelley's wife committed suicide, he and Mary were married, but public hostility to the match forced them to move to Italy.  When Mary was only 24, Percy Shelley was caught in a storm while at sea and drowned, leaving her alone with a two-year-old son (three previous children had died young).  Alongside her husband, Byron, and John Keats, Mary was one of the principal members of the second generation of Romanticism; unlike the three poets, who all died during the 1820s, she lived long enough to see the dawn of a new era, the Victorian Age.  Still somewhat of a social outcast for her liaison with Shelley, she worked as a writer to support her father and son, and maintained connections to the artistic, literary and political circles of London until her death in 1851.

Richard Wagner
One of history's most revered composers, Richard Wagner set his work on the famous Ring cycle aside in 1858 to work on his most romantic opera, Tristan and Isolde.  He was inspired to do so partially because of his thwarted passion for Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant and patron of Wagner's.  While at work on the opera, the unhappily married Wagner met Cosima von Bulow, daughter of the celebrated pianist and composer Franz Liszt and wife of Hans von Bulow, one of Liszt's disciples.  They later became lovers, and their relationship was an open secret in the music world for several years.  Wagner's wife died in 1866, but Cosima was still married and the mother of two children with von Bulow, who knew of the relationship and worshiped Wagner's music (he even conducted the premiere of Tristan and Isolde).  After having two daughters, Isolde and Eva, by Wagner, Cosima finally left her husband; she and Wagner married and settled into an idyllic villa in Switzerland, near Lucerne.  On Cosima's 33rd birthday, Christmas Day 1870, Wagner brought an orchestra in to play a symphony he had written for her, named the Triebschen Idyll after their villa.  Though the music was later renamed the Siegfried Idyll after the couple's son, the supremely romantic gesture was a powerful symbol of the strength of Wagner and Cosima's marriage, which lasted until the composer's death in 1883.

King Edward VIII
Edward, then Prince of Wales, was introduced to Wallis Simpson in 1931, when she was married to her second husband; they soon began a relationship that would rock Britain's most prominent institutions—Parliament, the monarchy and the Church of England—to their cores. Edward called Simpson, whom others criticized as a financially unstable social climber, the perfect woman.  Just months after being crowned king in January 1936, after the death of his father, George V, Edward proposed to Simpson, precipitating a huge scandal and prompting Britain's prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, to say he would resign if the marriage went ahead.  Not wanting to push his country into an electoral crisis, but unwilling to give Simpson up, Edward made the decision to abdicate the throne.  In a public radio address, he told the world of his love for Simpson, saying that "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." They were married and given the titles of Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Edith Piaf
Though her life was marked by sickness, tragedy and other hardships from beginning to end, the famous French chanteuse with the throaty voice became the epitome of classic Parisian-style romance for her legions of fans.  Born Edith Giovanna Gassion in 1915, she was abandoned by her mother and reared by her grandmother; while traveling with her father, a circus acrobat, she began singing for pennies on the street.  Discovered by a cabaret promoter who renamed her Piaf, Edith enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom and by 1935 was singing in the grandest concert halls in Paris.  Piaf was married twice, but her great love was the boxer Marcel Cerdan, a world middleweight champion who was killed in a plane crash en route from Europe to New York in 1949.  It was for Cerdan that Piaf sang the achingly romantic Hymne a l'amour, celebrated all over the world as one of her best loved ballads. 

Kathleen Woodiwiss
Born in 1939 in Alexandria, Louisiana, Kathleen Woodiwiss was a young wife and mother when she began writing romantic fiction as a response to her dissatisfaction with the existing women's fiction of the time.  In 1972, she published her first novel, The Flame and the Flower, set on a Southern plantation in the late 18th century.  Its historical setting and theme, florid prose style, and steamy sex scenes inspired a legion of imitators and its smashing commercial success sparked a new boom in romance fiction.  Woodiwiss was given credit for inventing the modern romance novel. In an interview with Publisher's Weekly, Woodiwiss firmly denied the characterization of her books as erotic, maintaining that she wrote only "love stories—with a little spice."  By the time of her death in 2006, Woodiwiss's spicy love stories had sold more than 36 million copies in 13 countries.

Elizabeth Taylor
An actress since early childhood, the dark haired, violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor has won two Best Actress Oscars (for Butterfield 8 in 1960 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966) but is perhaps best known for her rare beauty—and her epic love life.  She has been married a total of eight times—twice to the same man, the actor Richard Burton, whom she has called "one of the two great loves of my life."  The first 'great love of her life' (but not her first husband) was the film producer Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash in 1958.  Taylor and Burton met on the set of Cleopatra, when both were married to other people; their affair soon made headlines around the world and earned a public rebuke from no lesser authority than the Vatican.  After divorcing in 1973, they found it impossible to stay apart and remarried in 1975, only to break up four months later.  Barred from Burton's funeral in 1984 by his last wife, Taylor still received legions of condolences, honoring her and Burton's place in the history of celebrated love stories.