Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Break Foley, Alabama

You know that song "Gary, Indiana" from The Music Man? It's okay if you don't. I only ask because it's been stuck in my head for the last few weeks- with one important textual difference. Instead of the words "Gary, Indiana," I've been singing the words "Foley, Alabama." I know, I'm a wordsmith. Will the real Julia Snowden please stand up?

While you're at it, watch this. It has nothing to do with anything apart from the fact that we're sort of talking about American musical theater. One of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Anyway, the city of Foley is in southern Alabama, just a short drive from the lovely beaches of the Gulf Shore. You know the little nubbin thing at the bottom of the state on the left hand side? That's where it is.

View Larger Map

It was founded in the early 20th century by a Chicago businessman named John Burton Foley. Apparently, before he became a fancy land developer he was manufacturing something called "Foley's Pine Tar and Honey Cough Remedy." Nothing says early 1900s like a good "remedy," am I right? You know, dudes in striped suits twirling canes and saying things like, "Pardon me, Cornelius, but I must go to the druggist for Beckham's Essence of Wheat Germ." "Ah yes, Reginald, I do believe I'll join you. My wife asked that I buy her a vial of Whitmore's Licorice Vapors." Then they would die of Tuberculosis.

Back in this century, you'll find a sleepy and refreshingly unpretentious downtown Foley. There are gift shops and antiques galore. I'd like to recommend the adorable old-fashioned soda shop(pe) but for some reason it smelled unbelievably disgusting inside. It was weird. There were all these smiling kids and grandparents sitting at cute wrought-iron tables with ice cream sundaes as though it smelled like rainbows and gumdrops and not the most vile of Gary's sewers. Hopefully it was just a fluke.

South of downtown is the ubiquitous strip of mainstream stores and restaurants. This is where I visited my first Piggly Wiggly. My grandmother on my father's side was born and raised in Alabama and my Dad, as a result, likes to wax poetic on all things Southern. I'm fairly confident he once said, "You've never been to a Piggly Wiggly? Oh, Piggly Wiggly is the best! They don't have stores like that up here." Actually, Dad, Piggly Wiggly is horrible. Sorry. You're right about Wegman's, though. Now that's an excellent grocery store.

Continuing south, after you pass the snazzy outlet mall and just before you cross the bridge that takes you to the beach, (and the ritzy city of Gulf Shores, Alabama) you'll pass a wee amusement park with three go-kart courses, miniature golf, and an elaborate arcade. I recommend the wooden go-kart track. It had three levels. Just don't do what I did and get distracted trying to keep your skirt from flying up. You may get in a small accident and suffer minor whiplash. Yes, I live on the edge.

We also managed to squeeze in a side trip to Pensacola, Florida where we had some really incredible seafood at a place called The Fish House. I'd love to go back in the summer. You might be surprised to learn that Pensacola has been around since 1559. Well, kind of. There was, in fact, a settlement created in 1559 but it was almost immediately destroyed by a hurricane and nobody really came back until 1696. But still.

To close, a sampling of my very average photography:

Downtown Foley

One Horse Town

Orange Beach

I don't care if it makes me less of a New Englander- there are a lot of things I love about the American South.

(This isn't one of them.)

Until next time...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb

I've always had a complicated relationship with March. Where I grew up, we had a break in February and a break in April. March was the interminable month from hell. I think I'll always associate it with melted snow revealing garbage on the sides of Route 128. Under a gray sky. On the way to the dentist.

Of course, March has had its highlights over the years. For example, the birth of my brother in 1988. And the...okay, actually that's all I've got. And let's be honest, at the time, I was pissed. Today my brother is my best friend and I'm quite glad he was born. That day, I was so angry that I climbed into my mother's hospital bed and bit her in the breast. True story.

And Spring Break. Ah, Spring Break. I can't help feeling like I've missed out. I've been doing the higher education thing for almost 7 years and I've never been to Fort Lauderdale with my girlfriends or done a keg-stand in my bikini or thrown up in a sombrero. Witness the wildest moments of my Spring Break career:

Montreal, 2004
Here I am in my mother's minivan somewhere in Vermont. I think I felt I had to wear the aviators with irony because I was too lame to admit I actually liked them.

Massachusetts, 2005
Yup, at my parent's house. That's Seth on recorder. He'll love that this is on the Internet. This may actually have been Christmas.

Michigan, 2006
I'm not in this picture. We went up for a voice competition. Doesn't get much cooler than that. I tied for 3rd in my category, in case you were wondering.

Chicago, 2007
Hancock Observatory. Pretty much speaks for itself.

Nashville, 2007
Okay, so on Spring Break 2007 I was actually in Chicago and Nashville. I went to Vanderbilt to see a good friend whose name also happens to be Julia. This is her. She was around for a lot of my actual wild moments when we were in Europe circa 2006. If you ever meet her, ask her what I did in Florence. She knows details that I will never tell you. The significance of this picture, though, is that I seem to be wearing aviators with irony again. Groan.

Chicago, 2008
Oh man, somebody get that girl under control.

Los Angeles, 2009
You'll notice that my shirt is halfway (!) off. Where were the Girls Gone Wild cameras??

More Los Angeles, 2009
I finally wear aviators without irony.

Anyway, Spring Break lameness aside, I'd really like to get over my hatred of this month. I don't want to be miserable for a 12th of my life. So what can you offer me, March?

Well, if I were in the UK right now, I could see an illuminated Hadrian's Wall. It's exactly what it sounds like: 250 points of light along the length of the wall. Coast to coast. One night only. It reminds me of what would be my favorite part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy...if I were into that kind of thing.

Alternatively, you could go to the Pasifika Festival in New Zealand, a large celebration of island culture. (You already know what a fan I am of the Pacific Islands.) Of course, it's already tomorrow in New Zealand so technically we've missed it.

Now here's a cool one: Falles in Valencia, Spain. All you really need to know is that it's 5 days of people blowing stuff up. Really elaborate stuff. That they spent a lot of time making. Don't confuse it with the other insane festival where everyone fights each other with tomatoes. That's in August. Anyway, you can see some fun pictures here and here.

Savannah Music Festival
Ostrich Festival (No, really.)
Calle Ocho (Where the world record was set for "longest conga line.")

And Of Course:
The London International Antique and Artist Dolls, Toys, Miniatures, Teddy Bears, and Vintage Fashion Fairs

Just a sampling for you. I'm off on my own wee Spring Break Adventure tomorrow morning. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mount Everest Fact Check

Most of the conversations I have with my brother are the really annoying kind that happen between two very close people who spend a lot of time together. You know the ones:

Oh man, that guy is so that guy.
I know, right? Ugh, he's like that one guy with the hair.
Aw yeah, with the hat?
No, the really awful guy with the shirts.
Oh, that guy. Yeah, totally. God, he is awful.

Occasionally, we'll wander into more interesting territory, as in this actual (okay, slightly edited) conversation that took place yesterday afternoon:

I'm freezing. It's [expletive] cold.
"No, don't freeze the police! They'll be cold!"
Wait, what's that-
-one of the bad jokes from-
-right, right. [pause] Man, it would suck to be frozen.
Nah, you'd be dead.
You can be pretty frozen without being dead. That's why I have no desire to climb Mount Everest.
What? Really?
Yeah, what's the point? It's not like you're going to enjoy the spectacular view when you reach the summit. You'd just be like, "God, I'm miserable."
You know, I don't even think it's the tallest mountain in the world. It's just, like, the highest or something. I dunno, it'd be awesome. I'd totally do it.

What followed was a relatively long discussion about whether or not attempting to reach extreme mountain summits is a worthwhile endeavor. Our respective stances on the issue (and the general nature of our relationship) can be summed up thus:

Whatever, like you'd ever actually do it.
[Expletive] you.

Anyway, despite my apparent flippancy, I was actually inspired to do a little research:

Ten Things I Didn't Know About Mount Everest

1. Its Tibetan name is Chomolungma, which is not to be confused with 90s pop sensation Chumbawamba.
2. At 29,029 feet above sea level, Everest is the world's highest mountain, but indeed not its tallest. That distinction belongs to Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano in Hawaii. Mauna Kea is also home to one of the world's most important astronomical observatories. Definitely on my short list.

3. Apparently, in terms of technical mountaineering, Everest is not hugely challenging. It's that pesky weather that will get you. And of course, for those of us who aren't Sherpas, there is the issue of altitude. Climbers refer to anything above about 23,000 feet as the "Death Zone." That pretty much speaks for itself. Removing the fallen from this area is, as you might imagine, pretty difficult. In other words, if you plan to complete the ascent, prepare to see frozen corpses on your way. Seriously.
4. It can cost as much as $25,000 to get a permit to make the climb (see #9).
5. You can make a cell-phone call from the summit.
6. In 1980, Reinhold Messner became the first to reach the summit alone without supplementary oxygen. Technically, I knew this one already. But what kind of Ben Folds fan would I be if I didn't mention it?

7. Everest isn't free of insects. Pardon me, arachnids. There are some wee spiders as high as 22,000 feet.
8. Chew on this: because of "bulging" at the equator, the summit of Ecuador's Chimborazo is actually further away from the Earth's center than Everest's, even though it's nowhere near as far away from sea level. Weird.
9. The youngest non-Nepalese person to reach the summit was a 17 year old from Malibu (read: $) named...wait for it... Johnny Strange. Really? I'm glad he wants to end Parkinson's Disease and genocide, but he also says "alot" on his website. I may never reach the summit of Mount Everest, but I can sleep at night confident in the knowledge that "a lot" is, was, and forever shall be two words.
10. And finally...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Sick Day Potpourri

I'm in bed, sick, without much to do except wander aimlessly through The Internet. Care to join me?

The Journal of the American Medical Association has just released a new study revealing more about the life and death of King Tut. It's pretty interesting. Sounds like the dude and his relatives had some issues, including (but not limited to) clubfeet and cleft palates. I'm starting to imagine Tut looking like Paul Reubens' inbred Prince Gerhardt character in that one 30 Rock episode:

Of course, if the article is to be believed, he may have had some more, shall we say, "womanly" features as well...in which case he'd look more like the "with my by myself" girl from the SNL Lawrence Welk sketch:

In other news, today is Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras. Fastnacht. Carnival is officially winding down. No really, put away your mask. It's over. To mark the occasion, I plan to watch 2002's 40 Days and 40 Nights, starring Josh Hartnett and that girl with the awful hair. That, or dig out my eyeballs with a dull spoon. Maybe I should give up hyperbole for Lent.

Also, I like this. Blame it on Valentine's Day. Or the fact that I watched both Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Paris, je t'aime last night. In case you're too lazy to make that extra click, I'll just tell you that the link brings you to the website for a love-themed mural project in Philadelphia. My favorite is "I Want You Like Coffee," largely because if and when I want someone as much as I want coffee, I'll know it's the real deal.

Speaking of art in public places, did you know that Stockholm has an awesomely art-filled subway system? Look here! I found the link in been-seen.com, which is just generally worth checking out.

And finally, this. I want to go there. Now.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Český Krumlov

What do I know about Český Krumlov? It's a town in the Czech Republic and it sounds like a character from Harry Potter.

Ok, I know a little bit more than that. When I was in Prague it was the word(s) on everyone's lips:

"You must go to Český Krumlov."
"Český Krumlov is my favorite town in Europe."
"Český Krumlov is the real Czech Republic."

The implication being, of course, that anyone uncool enough to visit the Czech Republic without going to Český Krumlov was a losery *sniff* tourist unfit to grace even the world's crappiest shared dormitories. Naturally, I never made it there. In the words of my dear friend Sara: Phooey.

Of course, the fact that Český Krumlov is an obligatory stop for the backpacker set makes it trite in its own way. Obviously, that doesn't mean I don't want to go there. It also doesn't mean that my friend Krista, who inspired this post, is in any way lame for declaring it her favorite town in Europe. In fact, she might be the coolest, most untrite person I know. Hence, this post.

Český Krumlov is a town of about 14,000 in the southwest of the Czech Republic. You might know this area as "Bohemia." (Just as you might consider this post "rhapsodic.")

View Larger Map

Český Krumlov has changed hands quite a few times over the years; Austria-Hungry, Nazi Germany, Czechoslovakia, etc. and so forth. Today its population and geopolitical orientation are firmly Czech. By all accounts it has come through its share of conflicts relatively unscathed and with much of its original 13th century-ness intact. When the Czech Republic was established as a sovereign nation in the years following the Velvet Revolution, much attention was given to the restoration of Český Krumlov and it has since flourished as a popular tourist destination.

Cesky Krumlov Becomes Major Tourist Attraction

Cesky Krumlov Becomes Major Tourist Attraction

Cesky Krumlov Becomes Major Tourist Attraction

Cesky Krumlov Becomes Major Tourist Attraction

I mean, tell me you don't want to go there right now.

Český Krumlov is everything a proper European town ought to be. It has a castle, sits on a famous river, and has been a filming location for a variety of Hollywood movies. Its river, the Vltava, is more famous auf German: The Moldau. You might not know it, but you've probably heard Smetana's symphonic poem of the same name. Before you bring it up at a cocktail party, (or in the library of prestigious music school) remember that "Smetana" has two syllables, not three. Or does it...

The castle is considered quite large, and not just because it sits in the middle of quite a wee town. Now who doesn't love a castle? Each one seems to bring something unique to the table- the Tower of London with its ghosts and jewels, Mont Saint-Michel with its tides...Eureka's Castle with its creepy puppets. In this case, Český Krumlov's contribution is an original Baroque theater.

Not impressed?

A crash course in Baroque opera: That s*** was wack. In other words, opera productions, like everything else in that era, fell prey to some serious decorative excess. It was like the Cirque du Soleil of the 17th century. Of course, all of this spectacle required some crazy stage technology, costumes, sets, etc., much of which the theater in Český Krumlov's castle still uses and maintains. Twice a year the public is given the opportunity to attend a fully staged Baroque opera, complete with simulated candlelight. Awesome.

While the music and drama nerds geek out at the Baroque theater, art nerds can head over to the Egon Schiele center. Schiele and his lover left Vienna for Český Krumlov in 1911 and lived there until the Krumlovers (not what they're actually called) drove him out on account of his artsy fartsy behaviors. I make light but really, his is not a happy tale. He died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 at only 28 years old. If you're not familiar with Schiele, (I wasn't until I studied in Vienna) I recommend checking him out. His work is controversial, dark, and deeply affecting.

Well, that's music and art nerds covered. At this point you must be saying, "Julia, what about those of us who enjoy the odd Renaissance Fair?" Well, RenFair nerds, fear not. Český Krumlov also happens to put on a large festival every June devoted solely to the elaborate recreation of a medieval town. Relatively easy to do in...an actual medieval town. It's called the Festival of the Five-Petalled Rose. If ever I were to go to a Renaissance Fair, this would be the one.

I'll leave you with a final word of caution: Don't confuse Český Krumlov (Bohemian Krumlov) with Moravian Krumlov. That would be embarrassing for you.

Český Krumlov Castle
360 Cities
Schiele Image Gallery
Leopold Museum Wien

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Global Charley Horse

Ever wonder what they call a Charley Horse in other parts of the world? Me neither. But, since I inadvertently found out today, I thought I'd better share:

UK: dead leg, granddaddy, chopper
Australia: corked thigh, corky
Germany: Pferdekuss (horse's kiss)
Norway: lårhøne (thigh hen)
Sweden: lårkaka (thigh cake)
Netherlands: ijsbeen (ice leg)
France: béquille (crutch)
Portugal: paralítica (paralyzer)
Japan: komuragaeri (cramp in the calf...good one, Japan)
NE Italy: lopez (no translation on this one, not sure I completely believe it)
W Italy: vecchia (old woman) or dura (hard/tough one)
S Italy: morso di ciuccio (donkey bite)
Cen. Italy: opossum

My vote goes to Germany. Pferdekuss. Awesome. "Thigh Cake" is a close second.

I wanted to end this post with some kind of YouTube video or equivalent with that guy from Bill Nye the Science Guy saying, "Did you know that? Now you know!" If such a thing exists, I couldn't find it. I did, however, find one of my all-time favorite articles from The Onion. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tony Hawks or My Life's Philosophy

Those of us behind The Armchair (me) have recently suffered a defeat. I wanted something deeply and with my whole heart. I competed for it, and I lost. I was prepared for disappointment and heartbreak. What I wasn't expecting was a crisis of faith. After all, I'm from Massachusetts.

I suppose it's something that even the least religious of us experience over time. Certain ideas hold a particular magnetism. You're drawn to the same concepts over and over again until, in spite of yourself, you've created some kind of individualized belief system. Physics class with Mr. Langlois. Listening to Ben Folds' Philosophy in my high school boyfriend's basement. Reading The Alchemist in my dorm room sophomore year. Coming to terms with sentence fragments. It's all resulted in some kind of wacky personal philosophy I barely knew I had, complete with rituals and tenets and the sacrificing of virgins on the vernal equinox.

Like any system of faith, mine is full of convenient shades of gray and a few glaring inconsistencies, the details of which would probably bore you. For simplicity's sake, and because it doesn't completely stray from the topical bounds of this blog, I'd like to focus on the most important work in the literary canon of my philosophy: Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks.

So who is Tony Hawks? Well, he is not Tony Hawk, professional skateboarder and video game personality. He's a British comedian, writer, and object of my affection. Admittedly, my crush on him is staggeringly age-inappropriate (even for me), given that my father is only senior by about 8 years. But what can I say? It could be worse. I have a friend who lusts after John Cleese:

Around Park City - 2009 Sundance Film Festival Day 2

Anyway, as to the premise: Our hero Tony and his constant companion The Fridge document a hilarious hitchhiking adventure around Ireland. Miraculously, The Universe opens up to accept Tony and help him in his ridiculous endeavor. In the midst of irreverent comedy, you discover a deeper faith in humanity, a deeper love for Ireland, and the realization that you can accomplish any manner of crazy feat if you maintain an open heart and mind. Whether or not you come away with a complete and total schoolgirl crush on Tony Hawks obviously depends on your personality, sexual orientation, and drinking habits.

My dream is London, with or without a fridge. My goal was 2010. So what do you do when The Universe doesn't seem to open up and accept you and your crazy plans? Well, if you're anything like me, (a well-loved, well-fed, well-educated 20-something cliché) you cry, drink, blog, and decide to move to New York, knowing that at some point in the near future, you'll try it all again. And when it doesn't work out that time, you'll cry, drink, blog, move in with your parents, and die a slow death surrounded by cats and old photos of yourself covered in dust and regret. Just kidding.

Just as Tony must have had some rational reasons for wanting to hitchhike around Ireland with a fridge, (perhaps the possibility of writing a best-selling book?) I have plenty of rational reasons for wanting to live in London. I'm a classical musician. Culture. Opportunities. Proximity to continental Europe. Yadda yadda blah blah blah. But really, the nuts and bolts of it is that I just want to. I just really, really want to. And why can't that be okay? Why does my psyche equate desire with guilt? It's a loaded question and believe it or not, one that Round Ireland with a Fridge has helped me to deal with. Shamelessly declare your crazy intention and people will come out of the woodwork with help and support. Trust to The Universe and it will provide for you. Things will, of course, most certainly go wrong. Proverbial s*** will hit the proverbial fan. But with love, trust, hope, friends, beer, and a great sense of humor, dreams can come true. So even though I'm stranded on the metaphorical highway with my metaphorical fridge waiting for a metaphorical ride that might never come, I'm still carrying with me the insane hope that eventually, everything will work out in my favor. Thanks, Tony.

Tony Hawks' Wikipedia Page
Official Website
Round Ireland with a Fridge
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis
A Piano in the Pyranees
One Hit Wonderland
The Fridgetrust

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiti Resources

As we all know, the situation in Haiti is still grim more than a week on. The international community is giving in record numbers but aid is still not reaching people in need due to complications on the ground. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that for me, sending money out into the bureaucratic void doesn't always feel like much of a contribution. Still, as far as I can tell, continuing to give what we can is immensely important. So, I've compiled a few resources in case anyone is still looking for a way to help.

Give with confidence:
BBB Accredited Charity List
Mercy Corps
Red Cross
ChildFund International (formerly Christian Children's Fund)
Direct Relief International
Oxfam International
The Salvation Army

Local resources:
Monroe County Red Cross
IU Hoosiers for Haiti Relief Campaign
IU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
They Recommend:
Lambi Fund
International Firefighter Association

There is a "forum and call to action" tonight, Thursday January 21st, in Alumni Hall in the IMU on the IU Bloomington Campus.

The IU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) has been accepting material donations but warn they won't reach those in need quickly and still recommended cash donations above all else. Their website says:

"CLACS has designated itself as a Bloomington-based collection site for in-kind material contributions. However, we have since learned that such contributions will not be immediately transportable or usable, and that monetary aid to organizations on the ground in Haiti is most urgently needed. We expect to send the items we have collected to an organization directly serving Haiti within the next few months.

Thus, during our normal business hours (8–5), in our Center at 1125 E. Atwater Ave, we will continue to receive materials to be sent to Haiti. For your own sake, please try to notify us ahead of time (855-9097), and if you must park temporarily, do so BEHIND the Center, in the parking lot between Ballantine and Hawthorne Ave.

Helpful items include: Wound dressings and bandages; rehydration packets; Chloroquine (antimalarial); nonperishable foods (Peanut butter, crackers, etc.)"

Also see the BBC's comprehensive coverage of the disaster at BBC News.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Little Something About Graz

Arnold Schwarzenegger is from Graz, Austria. Ok, technically he's from a nearby village called Thal. But since I've never been to "Thal" (which sounds a little made-up to me anyway), I'm going to stick with Graz. I will, however, show you a picture of Arnold's (ridiculously Austrian) boyhood home:

Schwarzenegger's Childhood Home

They call that color Schönbrunn Yellow (Schönbrunner Gelb), after Vienna's most famous royal palace, the Schloß Schönbrunn:

Just kidding, that's my parents' house. Here is the palace:

This wee Habsburg summer palace was first painted yellow under Empress Maria Theresa, who also happens to have given birth to Marie Antoinette. Eventually, the Habsburgs took to painting all of their official buildings in this yellow, sparking a trend across the empire. The Schönbrunn website gives a nice explanation.

Back to Graz. A city of 257, 898, it lies in the southeast of Austria in a beautiful region (as though there's a region of Austria that's not beautiful) called Styria (Der Steiermark). Everyone will tell you it has "old world charm" in spades. I would have to agree.

If there is such a thing as "new world charm," I think Graz must have that, too. Take, for instance, this "island" in the river Mur. It's called the Murinsel and I seem to remember it mainly being a bar:
Or the nearby Kunsthaus Graz, a museum of contemporary art. It is sometimes referred to as the "friendly alien":My trip to Graz in 2006 happened to coincide with the Lange Nacht der Museen, a night when all of the museums in the city stay open until the wee hours of the morning. Let me tell you, the contemporary art museum was frightening in the middle of the night. We also came across sword fighting at some point. Cool idea, right? Berlin did it first in 1997 and dozens of cities across Europe have jumped on the bandwagon since. Too bad we can't do it in the States. We all know what happens at night in our museums...

Don't let the fact that these are Arnold's stomping grounds mislead you. Graz is a hotbed of higher education and has been since the founding of its first university in 1585. Today there are six universities that call the city home. The next Tesla or Kepler could very well be among Graz' 44,000 odd students. And yes, all 44,000 of them are odd. It certainly explains the vibrant mix of old and new.

Let's put Graz on the map, shall we?

View Larger Map

Some tidbits:

-The city's major football arena was called Arnold Schwarzenegger-Stadium until 2005 when the execution of a California prisoner sparked a major debate among the city's citizens. Ultimately the name was changed.
-As of 2001, there were 32,575 buildings in Graz.
-The city's colors are green and white, just like my high school's.
-Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg was born in Graz. Among other things, dude was dictator of Mongolia for 6 months in 1921.

Further Reading:

Stadt Graz
Virtual Tourist
University of Graz
RoboCup 2009