Florence Nightingale meeting wounded soldiers at Scutari. No doubt they were awed by her.
When it comes to writing for educational publishers, there are certain topics that are off limits. Most of them are disallowed because they deal with things like sex, drugs, violence, death, magic, witchcraft, etc.--the usual taboos for children as dictated by the most reserved and careful of parents and marketing execs. Then there are topics that are out because they are considered "done to death," as in any kid over grade 4 has probably seen them already a number of times. If you're going to write a little book for a reading program about Abraham Lincoln or George Washington, you better have a new take on the subject. The same goes for people like Ben Franklin (though you can often get by with him because he had such a long, multifaceted life ), Harriet Tubman, Lewis & Clark and Sacagawea, Thomas Edison, Amelia Earheart, and alas, my favorites, the Wright Brothers. In other words, pretty much any of the stalwarts of history in the 18th-19th century. This includes Florence Nightingale.
Statue on St. Gellert's hill, Buda.
I just finished a project where I had to write a little bit about Hungary, which reminded me of my one brief visit there.
I spent my junior year of college in England, and like many Americans, set off with a friend on our version of the Grand Tour during the long spring break. We decided to include Budapest on our itinerary, bbut knew next to nothing about it. Everyone we talked to, though, said, "Oh, make sure you stay in Pest, that's the side of the river you want to be on."
Well, our train from Vienna took us to Pest, and in a few minutes it seemed like a mistake. The city was big, noisy, crowded and the air was incredibly polluted (this was years ago so don't take this as a guide to current day Budapest). It was something of a shock after the toy village and green mountainsides of Austria. Worse, if you know anything about languages, then you know that Hungarian isn't really related to many other tongues. In most of the countries we visited we were able to get by with aour basic French and my rudimentary German (I realized that most of the words I knew in German like "strawberry" and "apple cake" weren't terribly useful, but English and German are related, so we managed). But when confronted with people speaking in Hungarian and all Hungarian signs around us, we were lost. At the train station we were surrounded by people whispering "roma, roma, roma," and pushing brochures on us. We thought they were trying to find the train to Rome, so we tried to help, but then finally realized that the photos they were showing us were of rooms in their homes that they had to rent. We skipped that and booked a room through the tourist information center, and even that was a little creepy; the tiny hedgehog-like woman (seriously, she was straight out of folk tale babushka land) took our passports and that never makes me feel good.
We walked around Pest and realized that we just didn't want to stay there and began to make plans to go to Salzburg the next day. Part of the problem was that the people who told us to stay in Pest had pegged us as typical college students who were interested in night clubs, partying, and drinking, when in reality we were more like genteel middle-class Edwardian tourists, heads buried in our Baedekers.
As it grew darker, we decided to cross the river to the Buda side to see what that was like and found that that was more to our liking--green quiet hills with medieval walls, a castle, and a heartstopping view of Pest, which is really a lovely city. Best of all were these crumbling stairs that zigzagged their way up one of the hills, leading to a statue placed in a half-circle of columns. We had no idea what it was, but I took a picture of it just as the light in the sky was fading. I didn't find out until years later that it was a monument to St. Gellert, an 11th century bishop who was supposedly sealed in a barrel and pushed into the Danube by pagans (take that, uncreative lion-feeding pagans!). Part of the reason it took so long to find out the name of the statue was due to general vagueness ("statue on hill in Budapest" isn't a great search term; more of it though, was due to a general reluctance to unravel the truth about something which had been wonderful precisely because it was so mysterious and unknown.
It was dark when we walked across one of the bridges back to Pest. Crossing a bridge over the Danube, with the lights of the city reflected in the river is probably one of the more romantic things to do in the world, but alas, my friend was purely a platonic friend (three years at a women's college did nothing to move me from the heterosexual team).
We left the next day for Vienna and had a great time there again, before heading away from middle Europe to Italy, southern France, then Paris. I've always felt a bit guilty about Budapest, though, that I didn't give it a fair chance. I'd like to go back someday, though, and hope to be proven wrong. I'm willing to fall in love with this city.
Real Vermeer: "Christ at the House of Martha and Mary"
Fake Vermeer: Han Van Meegeren's Vermeer forgery "Christ at Emmaus"
I don't know much about art, but I like to think that I could tell the difference between a painting by a great master, and an awkward piece by an amateur. However, the art of the forger depends not so much on skill or a copyist's talent, but on viewers' willingness to see only what they want to see. Edward Dolnick's The Forger's Spell is about one of the most successful art forgery scams of all time--at least that we know about. The most successful art forgeries are, of course, the ones no one knows about except for the artist who collected the money.
I am not going to be able to do justice to this book. I finished it about two weeks ago, didn't have time to write about it, and then had to return it to the library. Sadly (and perhaps scarily) my grasp of the details have faded during that time, and rather than say something wrong, I'm afraid I may have to be rather vague.
We had our first reading of Henry V this week and it seemed to go reasonably well. We may be adding some things back in and cutting some others. One thing I wonder--we have a huge cast--even after cutting a number of parts, combining others, and double casting actors, we still have 26 people. With that many people, the majority of whom are playing bits, the odds seem good that we'll have drop outs. All I can hope is that if it happens, it won't be at the last minute.
I am working on a project that has crazy deadlines and won't have any time to write about books until next week. I finished one book that I liked quite a bit and am looking forward to writing about it (if I remember anything about it by then). I am into another one that so far seems a bit...okay. It's a biography, and it does have this absolutely fantastic line in it.
"Fanny Nightingale was anxious to show the world that the Smiths were not crying uncle just because their father had declared bankruptcy and their eldest brother had chosen to cohabit with a milliner."
Everything starts somewhere.
I have a tattoo of the Eiffel Tower on my left ankle. When people ask what made me choose that, I explain that I wanted something very vertical, and I like Paris. This often disappoints the questioner, who is usually expecting some dramatic story about an important event that happened to me in Paris, or perhaps at the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, it's just that simple: practical aesthetics. But I do quite like the Eiffel Tower.
If I had been around in 1886, when it was announced that Gustav Eiffel's design had won a competition to be built as the centerpiece of the 1889 World's Fair, my admiration for the Tower would not have been universally shared. Architechts scorned it. Neighbors in the area where it was set to be built sued to stop the construction. A letter of protest against the "dizzily ridiculous tower...a black, gigantic chimney factory" signed by forty-seven luminaries of the Paris cultural scene--including Meissonier, de Maupassant, Dumas fils, Gounod, Garnier--was sent to the fair's organizers. But construction proceeded, and, as Jill Jonnes writes in Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, The Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count, despite the presence of so many other exciting events, the Tower won over most of its fiercest critics and became the biggest success of the fair.
Marigold is a tough act to follow (look at how she didn't mind getting caught in the rain!).
I'm still looking for a dog, despite the nasty debacle with my landlord (I have a solution to that, which I'd rather not publish). The search is wrenching, though; it's awful to see week after week some of the same dogs popping up who I had passed over other times, still needing homes. So many of them. I keep reminding myself that it is pointless to take a dog that isn't right for me just because I feel guilty, as that's how you end up with a problem. And I remind myself that if you try to save everyone, you save no one. But I still remain paralyzed by the decision, by knowing I can only take one and I am haunted by the thought of all those that I cannot help. I know this is overthinking it, but I can't help it. I feel guilty very easily.
It's not that there aren't a couple of candidates. One interesting one popped up today, but she's not officially up for adoption until later this week, so there isn't a lot of info on her yet. Then there is a rescue group that has a pair that were turned in together. They say they don't have to be adopted together, but I feel uneasy about only taking one. I guess again I feel guilty about the idea of leaving one behind, of that "why not me?" feeling. I know, I know, I am anthropomorphizing in the worst way. Then there is one I've seen for a long time who reminds me so much of my first dog. He probably is bigger than I can have and he is on medication. Everyone keeps telling me that I shouldn't get involved in that one because I likely can't afford the meds he needs. But I can't help keeping on looking at that one, even though I know that the point about the medication and my always, um, interesting, financial status is probably correct. But that doesn't make it any easier.
Finally, there is the one I'm really holding out for. She needed surgery before she could be adopted and the rescue group had a fundraising drive for that. I donated money, but so apparently did lots of other people which means I guess there are lots of other people who want to adopt her as well. She had the surgery and isn't ready to be adopted yet, so I guess I am waiting to see what happens with her before I move on to anyone else. Unless someone else pops up who I see and know is "the one." But until then, I remain a knot of sadness; alternately insistent that I am wise not to just jump at any one just because I feel sad about the state of homeless pets in the world, and that I am a bad person for being so picky and having such specific ideas about what I want. I wish something would happen that would let me just know.
(Yes, I realize that this is the kind of agony and anxiety most people reserve for things like the problems of humans and the troubles of the world. I am a ridiculous person.)
The play I was in just ended, which is somewhat sad as it was very well-received. It's nice to be in something good and to have people laugh. There's a fair chance it will be revived again. It's biggest problem is that it is too long ( a two hour forty-five minute comedy? ohhhh...). Before I left the theater last night I told the director I'd be willing to do an edit and rewrite of the script. Hopefully he'll take me up on it; I could knock that thing down to 90 minutes in a heartbeat.
The one-act festival ended as well, and I'm more than sad about that because I only got to see my play once and because one-acts don't really have much of a life in them; it's not like it's going to get revived. I'm still surprised by how much people liked the play I wrote. I think it was mostly due to the good cast I had. They told me they all loved being in it, and that's what meant a lot to me; I always want to make the actors happy. If they're having a good time, the audience probably is too. So I guess it's a sad goodbye, my Mr. Winnecker.
Meanwhile, "Henry V" has proven almost impossible to cast. The problem is that aside from the king himself, there really aren't any substantial roles, and even with doubling or combining characters, a lot of actors seem to have thought the parts given to them were too small for them to put in that rehearsal time. To that I say it is better to be in something than nothing, no matter how small your part is. Good luck, divas.