Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Birthday greeting!

Today is my birthday, and I take the liberty to blog about whatever I want.
And so, .................I choose to give a shout out to our "furry" friends that bring a bit of extra joy to our lives.

Recently, I decided it was time to take in my outdoor cat who has been living outside my door for about 5 to 6 years. When she came to my door, she was almost dying, so thin and hungry. I started feeding her, made her a home (a lovely basket) on my landing, got her  special water and food bowls of her own. I would have taken her inside, but I already had an "indoor" cat. When that cat passed away, I was in mourning, and could not see getting another pet. But, my outdoor kitty was there to greet me each day, and slowly, slowly, she worked her way into my heart and home. I am allowing her to live both in and out, because she likes it like that, but I got her shots, had her checked out, and now that she has a clean bill of health, she is coming and going from my apartment. The vet told me she is an "extremely nice kitty" and I am happy to have her as my special friend.

I honor many friends from the animal kingdom this day: Harlow, Holly and Ludwig (my granddogs); Lotterio (my grandhorse); Coconut (a friend's wonderful white kitty); George (a friend's beautiful Burmese); Peanut (a friend's large doggie); Fritz and Lea (a friend's pure-bred German Shepherds); Max (a fellow blogger's not-too-well-kitty); Rajah (my brother's bengal cat); Nemo (my niece's chihuahua mix).

I'm sure there are many more, but at the moment, these are the names that come to mind. They are a blessing to us who love them, and on my birthday, I consider these friends a special gift.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Here's a real gem for you......................

Just the other day, French auction house, Osenat, sold Napoleon's engagement ring, given to Josephine in 1796, for $948,000 (780,000 euros), a record sale! The sale shattered expectations, purchased by an anonymous buyer, almost 50 times the $20,000 price that was expected! When Napoleon purchased it, it is said the ring must have "broken his wallet". At the time, Napoleon was a young officer, and not very wealthy. He must have loved her. They married on March 9, 1796, but unfortunately, later on, as she did not bear any children for him, he divorced her in 1810.

The ring design is called "toi et moi", or "You and Me", a typical 18th Century style, with two opposing rear-shaped stones, in this case, one diamond, and one sapphire. The stones are a little less than one carat each. The auctioneer says there were international buyers in attendance, as well as requests for private spaces a floor above the salesroom, where the ultra rich could bid with anonymity. The buyer's name, of course, will not be disclosed, but someone has a very special gem in their possession.

Interestingly enough, this year marks the 250th anniversary of Josephine's birth.
She was an aristocrat, and already a widow when she married Napoleon. She was 32, and six years older than he.

Perhaps it is the ring he conceals in his breast pocket in the painting above! What do you think? Frankly, I like the pciture of him as seen below, but I think it is more a fantasy portrait. Nevertheless, it is the ring that truly has been the fantasy for the Osenat auction house!

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Labor of Love!

It was my daughter's birthday last Wednesday! She is a remarkable artist/seamstress, and she is a true friend of the 18th Century as well! One must see her wonderful blog to see the kind of work she does:

I know she's my girl, but you must admit, her work is extraordinary! Bravo, Dressedintime!

Anyway, for years now, we have made eachother birthday cakes. They have kept getting more elaborate as the years have gone by, but to me, it's a labor of love, and somehow, it wouldn't be right if we did not exchange them.

This year, because of her 18th Century interest, I made an 18th Century cake. I found a recipe from those days for a "rich cake", as it was called. It basically was a spice cake, with ground cinnamon and cloves, brown sugar, molasses, zest of oranges. It called for a marmalade filling. Yumm. I made it on Monday, frosted it on Tuesday, and decorated on Wednesday. I had a dinner for her Monday night. (You can see the inside at right. )


My decoration included icing stitchery, and I found beautiful fashion silouettes on-line to adhere with frosting, ladies and gentlemen from back-in-the-day encircling the cake.

And so, another year goes by, and another chance to wish my dearest girl all the very best. Now, my birthday is close at hand, and I wonder what creation she will have in store! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The World's Oldest Distillery!

The other day, St. Patrick's Day, as a matter of fact, I was introduced to a new  Whiskey:  Kilbeggan, and 'tis a fine Irish blend, little darlin'.

I was looking to purchase some Jameson to toast up the day, and a friend suggested Kilbeggan. A good price and a nice taste. Somewhat sweet, mild, no harshness here.
I definitely enjoyed my first taste, but it was much later, when I truly noticed the labelling on the bottle that I had to look further into Kilbeggan. The label carried the year 1757, and the line, "The World's Oldest Distillery". That caught my attention! 256 years old!

Kilbeggan Distillery is located in County Westmeath on the River Brosna. It is a pot still distillery, founded in 1757, taken over by 1798 by Matthias McManus, whose son was killed in the United Irishmen rebellion of that same year. Again, it was taken over by John Locke in 1843, remaining in the Locke family until 1943, then purchased by Transworld Trust in 1947. With the depression of the 1920's and 1930's, production ceased for a time. In the 50's, the distillery was turned into a whiskey museum, until Cooley Distillery bought the license to again produce Kilbeggan.

In more recent years, a world marketing campaign has brought Kilbeggan to the attention of the US, and people are giving it a go here in the States, with very favorable reviews. Of course, the Irish are a bit miffed at having their exclusive Ireland-only whiskey offered up to others. In fact the new marketing campaign goes so far as to capture that attitude. Catch "Tight Knit" below:

Or how about: "The Plan"

So, the secret's out. Pour yourself a tot, and let me know what you think!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Thank you, Jules Verne!

In my on-going reading of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, I came upon an interesting chapter, with the lead character, M. Arronax discussing the fate of a particular voyage, where captain, crew and ships  disappeared. He mentions the ships’ names, and that they were dispatched to complete the voyages and discoveries of James Cook. I started to think this must be a real historic account dropped into the novel. Aha! It was true.

Jean Francois de Galaup, the comte de Laperouse was a French naval officer/explorer. He lived from 1741 to 1788. In 1785 he was appointed by Louis XVI to lead a world exploration. He set off with a 114 man crew that included scientists, an astronomer, a mathematician, a geologist, botanist, physicist, naturalists, illustrators, a couple chaplains. The aim of the voyage would help complete mapping of the Pacific, establish trade, open new maritime routes, and collect scientific data.

Laperouse wrote journals and maps, and in March he sent them back to France by the British ship, the Sirius. And it was a good thing, too, because after obtaining fuel and water, Laperouse moved on for New Caledonia and the southern coasts of Australia. Though he was expected back home by June 1789, but he was never heard from again! Much later, after his death was known, the important journals were published.

In 1826, an Irish captain, Peter Dillon, found evidence to support the tragedy. Swords said to have belonged to Laperouse and his officers were found in Tikopia, one of the Santa Cruz Islands. He made further inquiries and found the ships remains near Vanikoro, along with cannon balls, anchors, and other items. The ships were found in waters between coral reefs. Dillon brought back the items to France. The reason the ships went down is not completely clear, though the area experiences rough waters, and coral reefs add to the danger. Today there is a memorial on Vanikoro to Laperouse.

Had it not been for Jules Verne’s 20,000 League escape, I would not know this part of maritime history.  Pays to read, and have an inquiring mind!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Green Day

With St. Patrick's Day fast approaching, I thought I would look into the holiday  as it was celebrated in the 18th Century.  Here are some interesting points:

Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (late 1600's to early 1700's), or Dean Swift as he was also known (being the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin), wrote about the wearing of special crosses on March 17th, as early as 1713. In writing to a friend while he was in London, he remarks, "The Irish folks were disappoited that the Parliament did not meet today, because it was St. Patrick's Day; and the mall was so full of crosses, that I thought all the world was Irish!"

Men wore a cross made of a square piece of paper, with 3" sides on which circles were drawn. The circles were painted yellow, green and red. The cross would be pinned to a cap. For girls, the cross was made of stiff card stock and pinned onto a circle of silk. The arms of the cross were then decorated with ribbons and bows.

In 1727 the Irish botanist Caleb Threlkeld identified shamrocks as white clover, stating that the plant is worn on St. Patrick's Day, as the three-leaved shape help remind the faithful of the Holy Trinity. The botanical name is Trifoleum Repens.
 By the way, why March 17th? Well, becuase on that day in the year 432, St. Patrick was captured and carried off as a slave to Ireland.
On that day in 1780, General George Washington gave a group of Irish volunteers the day off!
Finally, the Crown and thistle Tavern is the site of the first St. Paddy's Day celebration in New York City, the year 1756. And the rest is history! Chicago's green river, shot of Jameson, the piniching, the singing of classic Irish tunes, the jig, the corned beef and cabbagem, a pint or two of Guinness Personally, I look forward to the 17th to raise a glass on Green Day! Slainte!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Modern Marvels

Currently, I am reading Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". It's a marvelous story, and judging by the technological standards of the day, (written in 1870), it is a visionary marvel. I wouldn't have necessarily chosen it for myself, but it was a gift, a beautiful volume of all Verne's best tales, and I am glad I cracked open the cover. The cover of my book is shown at left.

Last night, I read a particular bit, a comment made by the story's principle character, Pierre Arronax after his first under-sea walk in his pressurized suit provided to him by Captain Nemo, the commander of the Nautilus. Arronax states that the suit was quite wonderful, and such an improvement upon the cumbersome apparatus of the 18th Century. When I read this, I had to look into it. I did not know much about the history of diving suits, or underwater exploration of this nature.

And so, I found that actually, diving suits or a way of remaining under water for longer periods of time, goes way back. Even the ancients found crude ways of keeping themselves breathing underwater for extended periods, generally keeping a metal or wood bucket over their heads, trapping air, and walking the sea floor. Of course this is in shallow surroundings, not deep sea.

But, in 1715, two Englishmen developed the first "official" diving suit. John Lethbridge's suit was completely enclosed, basically a barrel of air, with a glass port, and two enclosed sleeves. Andrew Becker's was similar, but included a system of tubes for inhaling and exhaling! The diving bell had entered the scene.

At that time, a Frenchman, Pierre Remy de Beauve, designed his "garde de la marine" suit, one of the oldest known diving dresses, equipped with a metal helmet and two hoses, one for air supplied from the surface by a bellows action.

By the late 1790's a German, Karl Heinrich Klingert, fashioned a suit which also included a large metal belt connected by leather jacket and pants.

Interestingly enough, the first practical submarine was tested in 1800! A drawing of it is shown at right. These technologies were truly something incredible for the times. In the modern era, except for something as revolutionary as the internet or the harnessing of nuclear energy, most new inventions, systems, technologies are merely refinements on past investigations. The marine suit, for example, once perfected for sea-going pressure, could be used for space exploration! What will be the next great thing? Who knows. But, it would have to be something quite spectacular, which is not easily found. Most "incredible" things are based on a previous incarnation.



Monday, March 11, 2013

An Evening of Sophisticated Entertainment

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Smith Center for a wonderful jazz concert, Wynton Marsalis and his Lincoln Center jazz orchestra. He is the quinessential jazz trumpet player, probably the best of our time, a consummate professional, and he is just a very nice person to boot! The music was wonderful, some Armstrong swing, some cool Ellington, some new contemporary, progressive-style pieces either arranged or composed by Wynton or his band mates. The evening flew by!

But, the bonus was the beautiful environment, our new Smith Center for performing arts. It's Art Deco in theme, with a marble lobby, geometrically decorated hand railings, frosted lighting, a marvelous scultpural piece gracing the grand staircase. Inside the auditorium, the ceiling soars up, five balconies worth, with elegant side boxes as well. A magnificent addition to our growing desert cultural scene.

Some tend to think that Las Vegas has no culture, or rather, the culture it has is geared toward strip clubs, boxing matches and poker tournaments. But judging by the enormous crowd on a Thursday night, turned out to see Marsalis, I have to say that sophisticated culture is determined to take root and grow here in our town. Maybe slowly, but surely. People are starved for great entertainment.

While the music played, if I could take my eyes off the event for a minute, I marveled at this beautiful hall. I began to think of all the wonderful opera houses and symphony halls of the world: The Paris Opera House (at right), the Vienna Opera House (above, left), built in the 19th Century.

But as I am primarily concerned with the 18th Century, I looked further and found that the London "Royal Opera House" (below) as it is called, was built in the 1700's, 1735 to be exact. It is also referred to as "Covent Garden" after a previous use of the site's original construction. It is the home of the Royal Opera, the Royal Ballet and the Royal Orchestra. The first ballet, Pygmalion, to be performed was in 1734, and in 1735 Handel's first season of operas began there.

The first opera performed there was the Beggar's Opera, by John Gay, in 1728, in the first building, but it was re-constructed in '35 due to fire, and later again there were more modifications and reconstruction, but all these buildings were constructed on the original site, on Bow Street in the Covent Garden area of London where it exists today. Of course, there is the Royal Box, which adds to the excitement. Imagine being there, and having the Queen or King in the house!

All this grandeur makes me want to get out my lornettes and check out the upcoming opera season!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Gallant Indians

Recently I blogged on Jean Philippe Rameau, French composer in the 18th Century, and highlighted his work, The Entrrance of Polymnie. Since then, I have looked into another of his compositions after talking with a friend who remarked about a YouTube of Les Indes Galantes. I was told that I'd have to see it, to even comment. I was intrigued, and so I did!

Les Indes Galantes is a rarely-heard Opera-Ballet, composed in 1735, with daring harmonies and orchestrations that were considered truly "out there" for the times. It is a love story, with acts from four exotic cultures, including The Gracious Turk, The Incas of Peru, The Flowers (Persia), and the Savages of America. By today's standards, we would have to say, it's not quite politically correct. But for its time, it was definitely well-recieved. It played from 1736 to 1761, a total of 185 times! That's a good run by any standards.

But you have to see the You Tube to fully appreciate this particular performance. The savages are dressed in the stereo-typical Native American Indian costumes. It's a kick. Upon further investigation, I also found another production of the opera-ballet, performers totally nude. But, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I cannot post it here. But I am providing a link for the other. Give it look, see, and have a good laugh!

By the way, In 1962, Frank Stella, American minimalist/abstract expressionist artist, provided us with a series of paintings entitled Les Indes Galantes, an homage of sorts to Rameau's music. Some colorful, and some black and white. Stella considers this particular work to express the musician's orderly, rythmic sense of the music. What do you think?